Fashion has a long tradition of reflecting what’s happening in its surrounding culture and society, serving as a barometer of sociopolitical and economic movement. It can take a fun house mirror to these issues and even serve as a catalyst for change.
That spark-plug moment could be felt at the fall ’20 men’s collections, where designers from Pitti Uomo to Paris seemed to be boldly asking: What makes a man?
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This question, at the start of the decade, is certainly loaded. In the midst of a presidential impeachment trial, a post-MeToo moment and myriad questions of how to approach gender, pondering it can feel existential and urgent, even accusatory. But this season designers addressed masculinity with ideas that questioned both the traditional gender codes of feminine and masculine dressing and what a separate category of genderless fashion might look like in practice.
Men’s high heels were one of the more obvious and not entirely unexpected suggestions for the evolved man.
In past few seasons — as the fashion sneaker craze leveled off — the heel began a process of normalization. The Cuban styles or like-minded stacked Chelsea boots, made popular by brands like Saint Laurent and Amiri read not as performative (like a drag queen in exaggerated platforms) but rather a suggestion of everyday elegance.
For fall, Christian Louboutin introduced his highest men’s heel yet, a 60-mm stacked style with a tapered square toe. Western heeled styles were scattered throughout Jimmy Choo’s collection and Giuseppe Zanotti debuted a stacked plexi heel. It’s curious that these silhouettes are beginning to normalize just as the societal pressure for women to wear heels has significantly tapered off.
There were more outré examples on the runway, too. Rick Owens brought his Frankenstein-like platform boots to his men’s collection, styles that he first introduced in his fall ‘19 women’s show. They had the heft of combat boots, as did Fendi’s supersize rubber soles. Dries Van Noten’s refined platforms for men also mirrored those from his women’s spring ’20 show. All three options emanated an exciting mixture of power, utility and David Bowie-esque sex appeal.
At Loewe, J.W. Anderson put dresses on his male models, but it was more about the tenderness of a child — boy or girl — playing dress-up with their mother’s clothing than about subversive or performative shock value. Alessandro Michele also explored the idea of pre-adolescence in Gucci’s fall ’20 collection (the first dedicated a men’s show since 2017). “In a patriarchal society, masculine gender identity is often moulded by violently toxic stereotypes,” read the show notes, explaining the school uniform-like coats, shorts, white knee socks, loafers and Mary Janes on the runway. “It’s not about suggesting a new normative model, rather to release what was constrained.”
The show’s thesis paralleled the ideas of author Peggy Orenstein’s new book, “Boys and Sex.” “Masculinity … becomes not only about what boys do say, but about what they don’t — or won’t, or can’t — say, even when they wish they would,” she writes. The entire season seemed to offer ideas on how men could wear things they might wish to wear but were still teetering on the edge of taboo.
Could fashion’s proposal for male decorum help boys and men undo toxic masculinity and find joy in self-expression? The high heel’s potential for a physical — and emotional — step up is a powerful start.
Jason Momoa’s Pink Suit and Louboutin Boots Show What Masculine Dressing Can Look Like in 2019
How Designer Francesco Russo Is Fueling Genderless Fashion in Luxury Footwear
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