In the words of Prince, “I’m not a woman. I’m not a man. I’m something that you’ll never understand.”

World

6.8.2017

5 Androgynous Icons Who Slay

If fashion is the visual articulation of the zeitgeist of a given historical moment, ours is certainly one of manifold identity. Good taste and bad taste are obsolete ideas. So are rigid gender constructions. We’re in a playfully existential moment, where designers are striding with confidence towards shedding the confines of His and Hers. Femme and masc models intermingle on non-binary catwalks. Even big houses like Gucci, Saint Laurent, and Burberry are using mixed gender runways. Plus, the most widely-recognized, household name, top-40 icons—think Young Thug and Lady Gaga—have totally normalized non-binary, gender-fluid aesthetics. Selfridges Department stores have an Agender floor; online retailers are starting to ditch gender categories in favor of labels like “tops” and “bottoms” (so much simpler)the last three years have witnessed an accelerating acceptance and assertion—in the fashion and art world—of genderless expression.

So if we have big fashion houses, top-forty artists, and departments stores embracing gender-neutral aesthetics, it’s clear that “genderless” has firmly been assimilated into what can be thought of as the “woke-mainstream” visual vernacular. In other words, gender-neutral fashion is no longer fringe. But this political and aesthetic moment is more than a trend forecast or a buzzword. It’s the product of progressive faces in art, fashion, politics, and entertainment who have put in labor to give a voice and a face to new subjectivities and a wider field of self-expression. In recognition of this, we’ve rounded up five of fashion’s most iconic gender non-conforming icons.

Grace JonesJones is the American musician, supermodel, and actress who rocked a super-fierce, statuesque, and gender-queer aesthetic that pioneered angular AF androgyny. Some of her most iconic moments include wearing an underbust corset, thong, and metalwork skull face mask, and of course, the power suit she donned for the cover of her 1981 album Nightclubbing (we’re not the first to swoon over her shoulder pads).

Octavia St. LaurentOctavia St. Laurent was an iconic American trans woman, performer, and key figure of the Harlem Ball scene in the eighties. She was one of the original creatives who provided inspiration for Madonna’s 1990 hit Vogue, and she lives on in genderqueer performers and musicians who incorporate Vogueing into their dance aesthetics (Leif, Cakes Da Killa, etc.). Throughout her life, she was unique in her fierce assertion of both her masculinity and femininity.

David BowieRIP Ziggy Stardust. His fashion innovation is still felt in full force, and his legacy is one drenched in glitter, feathers, and wild patterns. The cult that developed around him endowed an almost mystical quality to his star power. All hail the boundary pushing image-maker who dipped in and out of different genders to create a subjectivity all of his own.

PrincePrince led the way towards our gender-fluid present with his cheeky pan-sexuality and campy, gender-queer fashion. On “I Would Die 4 U” in 1984, the icon sang, “I’m not a woman. I’m not a man. I’m something that you’ll never understand.” He owned both masc and femme qualities, and acted out a rad premonition of a more expansive future.

Marlene DietrichGerman-American actress and singer Marlene Dietrich moved with ease between glimmering Weimar-reminiscent getups and structured menswear. She was a prominent face in the 1930s, so her gender-fluid and gender-performative presentation was entirely before its time. Her legacy is documented in photos that speak to her identity range: she’s totally sultry in a cabaret evening gown in one photo, then decked out in a top hat, white tie and tails in the next. 

Images via Time Magazine, Pigeons and Planes, Dazed Digital, The Telegraph, Billboard, and Glamour Daze

Stay tuned to Milk for more icons we love. 

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