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Katie Trotter: Womenswear is blurring the boundaries

Just when we've spent the best part of a year whittling our wardrobes down to emulate the femme fatale of last season's collections, we are dealt the menswear card. Or more simply, the art of borrowing from the male wardrobe.

Ah, fashion is a fickle beast. Just when we've spent the best part of a year whittling our wardrobes down to emulate the femme fatale of last season's collections, we are dealt the menswear card. Yes, that's right, menswear - as womenswear. Or more simply, the art of borrowing from the male wardrobe.

Androgynous style isn't new; it's really just the mixing of masculine and feminine attributes. Think of the David Bowies, Marlene Dietrichs and Patti Smiths of the world; all figures that historically chose to step outside preconceived society gender boxes. Interestingly though, perhaps as boundaries have changed over the years between the sexes, so have the somewhat blurred edges of fashion.

From Yohji Yamamoto, Martin Margiela, and Rei Kawakubo of Commes des Garçons (who previously produced collections of men in long, skirted silhouettes and women in utilitarian looks) to Yves Saint Laurent's Le Smoking Jacket and Prada's platform brogues, the concept of designers exploring sexual ambiguity isn't exactly revolutionary. But there are always ways to push further. More recently, Rick Owens offered dresses and high-heeled shoes for men. Plus, there are designers' recent choices of models, such as Andrej Pejic (who walked both the men's and women's shows for Jean Paul Gaultier) and Casey Legler (a former Olympic swimmer who was the first female to be signed to Ford Models' male division, and featured in the May 2013 issue of Vogue).

It doesn't stop on the runway. High-street hipster brands such as Urban Outfitters and American Apparel are leaning on the trend by offering unisex clothing to the masses, including non-gender-specific shirts, trousers and shoes.

Personally, I don't really want to dress head to toe like a man. I'd look ridiculous; firstly, because one needs to be shaped like a knitting needle to look in any way cool, and, secondly, few (and I am saying "few", here, before you get shirty) of us can actually wear menswear without appearing, well, you know - a little butch. I don't trust the trend, for it pretends to be comfortable, flippant and easy, when really it involves a tremendous amount of deliberation. It's simply not as straightforward as slinging on a pair of slacks and an oversized jacket, for you'll only appear to be wearing what seems to be somebody else's clothing. Every last detail has to be scrupulously taken care of and expertly orchestrated. The hair, the cut, the silhouette, the shoes.

Perhaps the elephant in the room is that most men are shaped entirely different from women; the very reason that we have two very distinct collections in the first place. But there are elements that can be fun to experiment with. The battle between traditional rules of dress and modernism shouldn't exist. The rules are simple: stick to understated, well-put-together choices and the progressive stuff will start to form by itself. Think of grungy shirts, smoking jackets and men's straight-legged trousers from the likes of Hedi Slimane, the French-born, Italian-Tunisian designer who was responsible for a seismic shift of ideals of gender in dress in the 1990s. Dries Van Noten, Alexander Wang, and Helmut Lang are worth a look if you wish to explore.

My rule of thumb when it comes to a trend that asks us to change the basic silhouette suited to our form is that if you're questioning it, it's normally your subconscious throwing you a bone. Borrowing from the boys should not necessarily mean sacrificing your femininity. My advice: put a plug in the persistent prattle they call a super trend - for it doesn't exist unless you are perfectly comfortable within it.

ktrotter@thenational.ae

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