Saturday, 21 July 2012

When Marc wears a dress

The best-dressed list in the August issue of Harper's Bazaar included Marc Jacobs, who has lately shown up at red carpet events wearing dresses. For this year's Costume Institute gala event Jacobs wore a black, see-through, lacy shirt-dress with white boxer-shorts underneath. Unusual and bold, yes, but stylish? Bazaar seems to think so. Mr Jacobs, Bazaar says, is re-defining what it means to be a well-dressed man.

Marc Jacobs with Milla Jovovich, at the 2012 Costume Institute Gala, via

First things first: I have a problem with the supposed rules regarding what one should wear as a representative of one's gender. I don't believe that any form of clothing needs to be gender-specific. It can be, but it doesn't need to be. Every person has the right to wear whatever they want, and the person wearing the clothes should be able to define (or to choose not to define) whatever it is that those clothing choices mean to that person. That's what I, and many others, think. But societies are filled with all sorts of unwritten rules and norms regarding how we should look and what we should wear. Some of those rules are age-specific, some gender-specific. We've come a long way from the days when it was shocking to see a woman in trousers, but for whatever reason, men in dresses is not something that we see all too often. From that standpoint, I applaud Marc Jacobs for choosing to wear a dress if he so pleases. Jacobs might be paving the way to other men who might now have the courage to wear dresses if they choose to, and that, of course, is a wonderful thing.

Jacobs at a Fashion Week afterparty for Louis Vuitton, via

Whatever the personal narrative is behind Jacobs' decision to wear the dresses, I can't help but think that Bazaar's reaction to it is some form of "the Emperor's new clothes"-saga. We are seeing something we don't see often, something that breaks the mold... but at closer inspection, there really isn't much there. I don't think Jacobs looks particularly stylish in his attire. I don't think pink is his colour. Nor do I think that the white boxer-shorts go with that lace dress. In fact, I think they look really frumpy and the dress looks cheap. And I don't think much of his shoe choices either, not to mention the ankle socks. The clothes themselves aren't really all that ground-breaking or even interesting. And something in my gut says that it's not just about a man wearing a dress either. We've seen that before. So what is it?

My feeling is that the answer lies somewhere in the murky waters of the rather boring garments Jacobs wore on the one hand, and the gender-and-celebrity aspect of all of this on the other.  If a random guy at the mall chose to wear a pink polo dress, I honestly doubt that Bazaar would be giving him the thumbs-up. If a famous woman had worn what Jacobs wore, she wouldn't be on the best-dressed list simply because the clothing itself wasn't anything special. Can you imagine, say, Rooney Mara or even Lady Gaga wearing that lace dress with white shorts underneath and landing a spot on the best-dressed list? I can't. The clothes just aren't interesting enough.

It's pretty obvious that the best-dressed aspect of Marc Jacobs wearing a dress has very little to do with the clothes he is wearing. But it's not even really about him being a man wearing a dress either. Our interpretation of Jacobs' identity as a famous, celebrated male fashion designer is what goes with the dress-wearing, not his gender per se. From this viewpoint, I don't think there is anything that Jacobs is really re-defining about what it means to be a stylish man. His gender is not really the point. His persona is. Marc Jacobs is the point, and maybe, just maybe, that is a good thing. Perhaps we are getting closer to a moment in time when our style choices radiate our inner, individual choices rather than our gender. That is no to say that gender doesn't matter. It doesn't have to matter, but it can. Perhaps time will tell if Jacobs encourages other men to wear dresses, too, or whether his influence will give men more room to experiment with their clothing choices. Or maybe women will pick up calf-length polo dresses. In some cases, it might be about gender, and in other cases, gender might have nothing to do with it. And when it comes to the question of whether Marc Jacobs deserves a spot on the best-dressed list... well, my opinion is no, he doesn't, not for wearing those dresses.  (But for this outfit below - hell yes. The guy rocks a kilt and a pair of combat boots.) I'll keep an eye on the dresses Jacobs might wear in the future though. Maybe he'll choose one that I like.

Jacobs with Lorenzo Martone, via


Milla said...

Man, I love it when you dissect high fashion happenings in this manner. Since I've had little or no interest in the genre for years now, it is super fun to have someone intelligent and knowledgeable write about it. Keep it up, when the occasion arises.

Hippocampe said...

I wonder why he didn't choose to design a dress for himself to wear at these parties ? You know : create a dress that would work for male proportions ? He should relish such a challenge, as a designer.
Anyway, it's a fact that we've borrowed every item in men's wardrobe but they're not interested in ours. Actually we don't wear dresses often ourselves, do we ? (I don't). Maybe the damned thing is too impractical for anybody to wear.
So I've no idea what Marc Jacobs was thinking when he chose his costume. If he's sending a message here, I don't get it.

Anonymous said...

I could not agree with this analysis more. I found myself thinking as I read whether men would also indulge themselves in restrictive undergarments to give their bums a nice shape.

Gray Skies said...

I can totally get behind a man in a kilt (mmmmm), but you're right - those other two dresses are just horrible. I'm all for doing something to make a statement, but based on his outfits it seems like that statement is "Men have the right to wear dresses, too, but we're going to look like crap in them." I agree with Hippocampe's comment above - he should have taken on the challenge of designing a dress specifically for himself.