Day 4 After Bowie: not sure if you're a boy or a girl

Bowie was known for his androgynous style. His best looks transcend gender without compromising masculinity. For me, this is one of his most important contributions to fashion. It’s also damned sexy on a man with the charisma to pull it off.

This image from the back of Hunky Dory (his first real masterpiece) is one of his more restrained looks, but it’s also one of his most subversive. Young Dude in a Dress has given way to something altogether more ambiguous: a man dressed as a woman dressed as a man. It’s an out-and-out appropriation of the classic mid-century menswear glamour pioneered by Coco Chanel, Katharine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich.

I don’t think he ever improved on this as a template for androgynous style that transcends the very notion of gender altogether. It’s both genders simultaneously and yet it is neither. It brings to mind Helmut Newton’s iconic shots of Le Smoking, which move beyond mere cross-dressing and suggest an erotic synthesis of both masculine and feminine archetypes.

But wait. This mysterious creature is next seen out and about pushing a pram in the company of another glamorous androgyne. The first Mrs Bowie is sporting high boots, proto-Ziggy hair and a teddy-fur jacket. Hard to tell at a glance which of this couple of kooks is the mother of the child and which the father.

Incidentally, the teddy-fur is the very same one worn by Bowie in the picture on the front of the album, leaving one wondering whether Ziggy Stardust wasn’t first conceived when Bowie randomly plundered his wife’s closet.

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18 Comments

  • Thin White Duchess replied 2 years ago

    I love these looks. They are the most "accessible", but still so fantastic. And I never noticed that about Angie's jacket! Ha!
    I'm so glad you're doing this this week. It's a wonderful tribute. And bless your heart for the kooks reference. That made me smile.

  • Sal replied 2 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge!!
    Fascinating.

  • Firecracker replied 2 years ago

    Another fascinating little essay! And I love your outfit. Clearly it's Bowie-inspired and echoes Hepburn, but it's also very you. I love your clunky oxfords with this outfit, and the cross-over front on the pants.

  • Cerinda replied 2 years ago

    Lovely outfit, exquisite text, and thank you for the photos (#7 is utterly new to me and I adore it!)

  • Style Fan replied 2 years ago

    Fascinating.  I love your outfit.  I read that Angie Bowie is in a strange reality show in the UK.  She found out that David died on the show. 

  • rachylou replied 2 years ago

    Superb - you and Bowie.

  • Elizabeth P replied 2 years ago

    My goodness, you just keep getting better and better! This is SO interesting.

  • Kaelyn replied 2 years ago

    Love it so much. Androgynous style is my favorite. I'd love to have an outfit like that! :-D

  • SandyG replied 2 years ago

    He was such a beautiful boy/man/alien. Love the photos.

  • shevia replied 2 years ago

    I especially like the comparison to Marlene Dietrich - fascinating and thought provoking. Also the contrast between their poetic personas and the prosaic pram in the park. What can I say but thank you again.

  • skylurker replied 2 years ago

    The parallel with K. Hepburn outfit is spot on. I find wide leg pants very glamourous, because I associate them with the film noir heroes.

    Yes, he challenged gender social norms, and by looking like a sexy man in womens clothes, he just proves gender is made of piles of social norms distinct from natural gender, in my feminist opinion.

    Btw, That photograph of Newton : it's a Ysl pinstriped suit, not a Ysl smoking. We say smoking for tuxedo (yeah, we often translate an English word to another of our invention :)
    Here's YSL first smoking (1966) for comparison - ruffled shirt, satin large belt, satin stripes along the pants sides...

  • viva replied 2 years ago

    Approprio: what a provocative essay on Bowie, gender, and fashion! And I love your rendition of this man-as-woman-as-man. Fabulous.

    I am also enthralled by the images of the first Bowie couple with child. There is SO MUCH THERE in terms of Ziggy (the hair, the jacket, the poses) (maybe just looks of the times and that place?) but still -- his wife's influence, or his on her, is clearly part of the story. Thank you for posting these pictures which I had never before seen.  

  • Sara L. replied 2 years ago

    Great pictures and great outfit.  I can see the inpiration but it's also very "you".

  • La Pedestrienne replied 2 years ago

    Just wonderful. Thank you approprio!!

  • bonnie replied 2 years ago

    I just saw the movie The Danish Girl and the actor wore an outfit just like the first photo. This is one of my favorite looks, too. I wish I could carry it off like you do. I've really been enjoying your posts about Bowie.

  • approprio replied 2 years ago

    Thanks everyone! 

    TWD: heh yeah, I can't look at those pictures without hearing that song in my head!

    skylurker, totally agree with you! From a feminist perspective, I think fashion can do a great deal to break down those constructs, which is why I'm so in awe of Bowie and men like him who are willing to challenge them. After him came Prince and Eddie Izzard and now I have high hopes for young Jaden Smith. 

    And thanks for putting me right on Le Smoking. I'd always taken it for granted and never noticed the pinstripes! That'll learn me to check my facts. Don't trust a word I say! ;)

    viva: now I come to think of it, that makes me a woman dressed as a man dressed as a woman dressed as a man. I should get Mr Edge to wear this one day and then he'll be a ... you get the idea. 

    At the risk of being a saddening bore on the subject, here's a bonus pic of a middle aged man rocking stiletto heels.

  • Angie replied 2 years ago

    Bowie did an amazing job transcending gender, didn't he? A man dressed as a women, dressed as a man. The New Romantics in a similar era did a great job too, IMO. Lots of frills and make-up, yet masculine all the same. (I'm taking about Simon le Bon in-particular who happened to be a huge Bowie fan). It always makes me question the social norms of gender, and how we are a mixture of both despite our official gender. Great outfit too, Liz. 

  • approprio replied 2 years ago

    Angie: you're right, that era was the last time a dandy/androgynous look was genuinely fashionable for men. It's definitely creeping back on the catwalks and seems to be drifting into the zeitgeist once more. 

    For real gender equality, I think feminine identity needs to be truly acceptable for men, and fashion can do a lot to change that. This is why I get so angry with that end of feminist thought that says that we shouldn't be interested in it for some reason.

    Off my soapbox now. I like to play a thought experiment with some of my dresses where I try to reimagine them as menswear. It's a fun thing to do, particularly looking at some of the designers who are pushing those boundaries at the moment.

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