Breaking Gender Boundaries on the Red Carpet

The extravagance of red carpet events provides a space for gender expression, exploration, and fluidity. In the last few years we have seen utterly eccentric looks on the red carpet from icons like Billy Porter and Harry Styles.


Let’s discuss breaking the boundaries on the red carpet, stepping outside the mould of male fashion, and blurring the lines between masculinity and femininity.


2019 Met Gala – fashion forward?


With the 2020 Met Gala cancelled in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, the most recent Met Gala celebrated the Costume Institute’s “Camp: Notes on Fashion”. This theme created a catalyst for the most luxurious, stand out fashion that blurred gender expectations and where almost anything was acceptable.


The most memorable looks were the ones that represented gender fluidity, worn by men.


A look that caught everyone’s attention was Harry Styles’ Gucci, neo-Victorian, outfit. He wore a black sheer pussy bow blouse paired with tailored trousers, heeled boots and pearl earrings. This look perfectly merged femininity and masculinity without appearing as an uncomfortable costume, separate to Styles.


Instead, the understated look complimented the character of former pop star Styles while still pushing gender boundaries. Styles’ tattoos peaked through the traditionally feminine blouse giving it a masculine touch. His pearl earrings were counterbalanced with dark nail polish and heavy metal silver rings, giving an edge to the look and a contrast to his usual 1970s esque style.


This merge between femininity and masculinity seen on Harry Styles breaks down the idea of what a straight passing man looks like, taking inspiration from David Bowie, Prince, and Mick Jagger, Styles uses fashion to create ambiguity and join the conversation of gender fluidity.


More than just an outfit


Actor and style icon, Billy Porter is known for his extravagant looks to make fashion history. He is constantly mixing masculinity with typically feminine silhouettes.

“My goal is to be a walking piece of political art everytime I show up to challenge expectations.” Billy Porter

Porter’s 2019 Met Gala look was royal, grand and extravagant. Making an entrance in Cleopatra style, Porter was carried onto the carpet by six shirtless men in gold attire. Porter himself wore an embellished catsuit designed by The Blonds, a standout from his usual gowns.


He accessorised in 10-foot gold wings and a 24-karat gold headpiece, a look far from understated, more an art piece. When discussing Met Gala’s theme, Porter said “Camp is often used as a pejorative” but through the beauty of the red carpet and the Met Gala “It brings honour to a word and genre that can be discounted very often, or thought of as cheesy. When its done properly it’s one of the highest forms of fashion and art”.


The red carpet provides a space for experimentation in fashion and identity where nothing is fixed and everything is accepted. These looks are more than just costumes but are conversations, questioning societal boundaries when it comes to gender and identity and seeing how far these can be challenged.


New androgynous fashion?


When thinking of androgynous fashion, I think of women wearing pant suits, monochrome and neutral tones, and typically masculine silhouettes. I think of women asserting their power through experimentation with masculine pieces and claiming these.


This is a style that has been relevant for decades and still is today, but this style has shifted from being less masculine but rather, gender neutral. Currently, the red carpet is becoming an experimental safe-ground for gender-fluidity, both feminine and masculine pieces can represent strength and power, not just masculine ‘power suits’.

“For me, it was very important to break and update the code of menswear – the typical men’s red carpet look […] I wanted to show that boys can have fun with makeup and fashion too.” Nicola Formichetti

Billy Porter’s 2020 Academy Awards red carpet look claimed this ‘new androgyny’ perfectly. Outside of the 2019 Met Gala’s “Camp” theme, Porter still used the red carpet as a space to experiment and step outside gender norms. Porter’s look played with both feminine and masculine silhouettes, wearing a tuxedo jacket over a full skirted, velvet ball gown.


Porter appeared to have a makeup-free face and neat facial hair, adding to the gender-fluidity created. This look is a political statement, representing diversity and inclusivity on the red carpet. Porter is using his platform to express and explore this identity as a gay, Black man in an industry that is often exclusive and white-washed.


The extravagance of the red carpet allows for expression and exploration in gender, identity and race through fashion. Porter’s experimentation through masculine and feminine silhouettes challenges the patriarchy and expectations of what a man should look like, following the likes of Prince, Porter is crushing these gender and identity boundaries through fashion.


Is the conversation over?


While the red carpet provides a fantastic space for freedom in identity and expression through fashion, this conversation has not transferred to everyday life. The clothes worn on the red carpet and award events are known for their extravagance, being captivating and questioning what is normal in fashion.


Red carpet events aim to be controversial and invite scrutiny from the media. While this extravagance starts the conversation of gender fluidity and creates icons in the fashion world, it is not easily transferred to street wear.


The fickleness of fashion means styles are changing constantly but there are still boundaries needing to be broken outside of the red carpet.


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