Diversity at Men’s Fashion Week

Baby steps towards diversity are being made at Men's Fashion Week.

Diversity is a word that has plagued the fashion industry for a long time. This entails a lack of diversity in models, designers, and even the clothes themselves. To diversify fashion would be to break down societal expectations of what certain ‘types’ of people ought to wear. Yet the world of fashion has often been criticised for endorsing stereotypes and not recognising its role as a vehicle for social change. But this year’s London Fashion Week Men’s saw designers diversify their clothing and models. Unbeknownst to the majority of the public, this event took place in January 2018, and despite major brands such as Burberry no longer showing at event, many young and talented designers showcased their collections, which in many cases, were more diverse than ever.

What could say diversity more than a plus-sized male model wearing a t-shirt with the writing, ‘WE DO BIG SIZES!’? Indeed, this is exactly what Rottingdean Bazaar did, part of the MAN show, a project established by Topman and Fashion East. Likewise, the ultimate fashion model, Naomi Campbell, found herself in cardboard cut-out form, being carried down the runway by a plus-sized male model in an off-the-shoulder t-shirt dress. Other designers also used diverse models, including Wales Bonner, who, herself of mixed heritage, celebrated different backgrounds in her models. Furthermore, Art School, also part of the MAN project, used non-binary models, which raised questions concerning gender specific clothing, making indistinct the line between male and female.

Diversity was not limited to the choice of models, rather, the clothing was also varied. Glaswegian designer Charles Jeffrey presented his LOVERBOY collection, in which he represented his heritage through a tartan suit, worn by a model in a yellow short-haired wig, as well as putting another model in a tartan skirt. Other male models wore dresses and jumpsuits: an evident blurring of gendered clothing.

But what effect will this have, if any? 20 years after David Beckham was slated for wearing a sarong out in public during the World Cup in France, he now claims that the world has changed, and in an interview with The Telegraph, asserted that his masculinity would not be questioned by wearing a sarong. Indeed, The Telegraph quoted him as having made the bold statement that: “Today no-one bats an eyelid if a guy wears a sarong in the street.” Perhaps the diversity that we have seen at London Fashion Week Men’s would suggest that he is right, but would this really extend beyond the fashion world? Would it truly be the case that “no-one bats an eyelid”? Would the world of Twitter remain silent on the matter? This seems hard to believe.

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Even at London Fashion Week Men’s, diversity was not a closed matter. The majority of brands did still use ‘typical models’, of usual size, age, and look. For example, a brand relaunched in part by David Beckham, Kent & Curwen, although using models of different races, nonetheless stuck to models of similar build. So brands such as Rottingdean Bazaar should be praised but it would be an exaggeration to say that they are necessarily representative.

Of course, it cannot be denied that clothing in the fashion world and on the catwalks is less gender specific, but will this go into the public domain? The fact that Topman, a mass-market brand, who can reach a large proportion of the general public, is collaborating in the MAN project suggests a positive progression towards diverse clothing in the stores, but this does not appear to be materialising. When online shopping on men’s websites, you cannot look through a vast array of skirts or dresses, indeed to find even one would be a shock. What is more, many styles that are acceptable on the catwalk are mocked in everyday life, for example, handbags are often the source of many jokes about ‘man bags’. A few shops have started endorsing plus-sized models, but even then, they are the minority and many of the models used are not what we would usually class as ‘plus-sized’. A case in point would be the controversy of Calvin Klein’s ‘plus-sized model’ a couple of years ago. Although the brand never called her plus-sized, she was hailed by many as Calvin Klein’s first plus-sized model, provoking the world of social media to react with anger at the use of a size 10/12 model to bring ‘diversity’ into the brand. What is more, many high street shops for plus-sized women start from a size 12, and although this is clearly to widen their consumer market, it still raises the question of what the high street sees as plus-sized.

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It will be interesting to see if London Fashion Week in February will follow suit and also celebrate more diverse models and clothing. Yet it is hard to believe that even if it is more diverse, this will materialise in stores. High street fashion seemingly is dictated by the norms of society, and until we have a more open society, contrary to what David Beckham argues, many of the fashions at London Fashion Week Men’s will be reserved solely for the catwalk. Of course, the catwalks do also play they role in dictating what high street fashion stores sell, but they are unlikely to be sufficient on their own. For the fashion on the catwalks to filter down to high street stores, it requires a change in society’s mindset, which can be done in part through high-end designers, but perhaps also other fashion figures, such as bloggers. Still, the steps made towards diversity at London Fashion Week Men’s, in combination with the innovative style presented, can only be praised.