If I were to tell you that men should paint their nails in transparent color or wear pink attire to their friend’s birthday party it would sound ridiculous enough to even finish reading this article. But when women wear suits or even men’s underwear it is not considered to be as funny and nonsense as if a man who ever decides to wear skirts and thongs. While women are considering a wide range of alternatives for everyday wear, men’s fashion is mostly limited to what is considered to be the norms of fashion within their sex, especially in Armenia. And Armenian men’s fashion where the topic of taboos is strongly pronounced pushes on a thought of what kinds of forces are influencing the men’s fashion lifestyle. Does it make fashion sexist or is the sexist culture imposes certain rules for the society? Why Armenian men dress in a certain way? And what role does the Soviet Union play in shaping Armenian men’s consumer behavior in the fashion industry?
Sometimes going back to roots, in our case to historical facts, is a good way of revealing the changes in fashion or lifestyle that determined borderline of masculinity and femininity. Oftentimes, when I suggest males to pull off a “man bun,” they would negatively react to my question either pointing out to its dullness or the possible hidden insult. However, little do we know that the man bun was used in China around 200 BC and later it was transformed into other hairstyles including long hair to knees and topknots that prevailed in Asia’s men population. Yes, men with long hair were considered to be masculine. In modern days, the hairstyle survived with vivid examples including a former footballer David Beckham, actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp, and Orlando Bloom. Even though those celebrities can boast of their impeccable hair, the difference in few centimeters from the norms of a “manly hairstyle” does not make them less man. “There are fashions today that are considered acceptable, at least in urban areas, that would have been dismissed as ‘gay’ earlier this century: the color pink, tight trousers, or the ‘man bun,’ though it’s worth noting that that particular hairstyle has its provenance in samurai warriors and sumo wrestlers, not women,” Anja Aronowsky Cronberg from the London College of Fashion told DW.
What else should a “true man” not wear? Short shorts, for instance? Remember 80’s sportswear where men’s summer shorts were as short as women’s? There was a time in the early 19th century when men wore corsets. Heels, corsets, long hair, short hair, trousers, costumes – women left nearly nothing in the men’s wardrobe that could only be called masculine; top hats, perhaps? After the Second World War, the men’s fashion
distorted from the classic suits and conservative looks to “teddy boys” with skinny jeans, elongated jackets and hair above the forehead fit into a particular hairstyle of the subculture. After, we saw a decline in a “masculine” fashion with stilyag’s bright costumes and colorful shoes, and hippie style in the 80’s. Nowadays, designers also introduce femininity in men’s looks that are considered to be less masculine but because of the trend in freedom of self-expression especially on the topics of homosexuality, feminism and transgender ideology, the fashion industry tries to respond to the trends inside the social environment. When homosexuality and feminism become “trends” in media outlets it follows by collections that introduce more feminine looks for men and more masculine looks for women indicating that regardless of sex people have the right to wear whatever they want. Even Dior, one of the largest luxury fashion companies, introduced shirts with a “We should all be feminists” print on its front.
Now if we switch to the case of Armenia, can we apply the freedom of self-expression in the country where mentality already has a set of conservative rules in the fashion that precisely distinguish what is considered to be feminine or not. In the U.S. and Europe, the high numbers of men wearing “feminine” clothes indicate that with the change of ideologies the mentality of the culture also falls under transformation. But since, we Armenians are not yet ready, or maybe are not yet convinced in the rightness of wearing pink short pants with knee-high socks and sandals during summer, we wear what we consider, what we heard is considered to be a truly masculine look or at least a practical go-to combination. Armenian fashion history did not see a drastic change in appropriating various styles from Western cultures. The main source of “inspiration” derived from the Soviet Union where the idea of acquiring practical wear and consuming limited in the sense of colors and materials clothes prevailed. Being “isolated” to some extent from the Western market during the Soviet period, men’s style in Russia mostly saw minimum experimentation and focused mainly on practicality. The image of masculinity generated in Russia vastly influenced Armenian image of what should men wear. Hence, the corsets in the Western history or man buns in the Asian culture could not be applied to Armenia’s vision of masculinity, where the cultural features in history were mainly tight with its geographical territory. Even though women’s fashion was falling under the changes throughout the Soviet period, men’s fashion was fluctuating between 50 shades of grey, brown and black suits and some colorful shirts inspired by stilyag’s movement.
On the other hand, how can we buy things that are not offered in the stores? If women having a wider range of choices in buying clothes still struggle with finding a piece that will reflect a peak of creativity, imagine what a men’s store looks like? According to the editor-in-chief of “Style Zeitgeist,” Eugene Rabkin, “They don’t sell much outside of the clientele that has already been predisposed to wearing feminine clothes. By and large, catwalk fashion speaks to fashion people – the press and the buyers – and they operate in a bit of a bubble that allows for a more risqué approach to dressing.” Here Armenia hardly can be included in the list of the clients who are in need of feminine clothes for men. I guess the majority of Armenian men or even women are not quite “predisposed” to wear heels and dresses, are they?