Androgyny is the combination of masculine and feminine characteristics. Usually used to describe characters or people who have no specific gender, gender ambiguity may also be found in fashion, gender identity, sexual identity, or sexual lifestyle.
In later Mesopotamian cultures, kurgarrū and assinnu were servants of the goddess Ishtar (Inanna's East Semitic equivalent), who dressed in female clothing and performed war dances in Ishtar's temples. Several Akkadian proverbs seem to suggest that they may have also engaged in homosexual intercourse. Gwendolyn Leick, an anthropologist known for her writings on Mesopotamia, has compared these individuals to the contemporary Indian hijra. In one Akkadian hymn, Ishtar is described as transforming men into women.
The ancient Greek myth of Hermaphroditus and Salmacis, two divinities who fused into a single immortal – provided a frame of reference used in Western culture for centuries. Androgyny and homosexuality are seen in Plato’s Symposium in a myth that Aristophanes tells the audience. People used to be spherical creatures, with two bodies attached back to back who cartwheeled around. There were three sexes: the male-male people who descended from the sun, the female-female people who descended from the earth, and the male-female people who came from the moon.
This last pairing represented the androgynous couple. These sphere people tried to take over the gods and failed. Zeus then decided to cut them in half and had Apollo repair the resulting cut surfaces, leaving the navel as a reminder to not defy the gods again. If they did, he would cleave them in two again to hop around on one leg.
Plato states in this work that homosexuality is not shameful. This is one of the earlier written references to androgyny. Other early references to androgyny include astronomy, where androgyn was a name given to planets that were sometimes warm and sometimes cold.Philosophers such as Philo of Alexandria, and early Christian leaders such as Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, continued to promote the idea of androgyny as humans' original and perfect state during late antiquity.
” In medieval Europe, the concept of androgyny played an important role in both Christian theological debate and Alchemical theory. Influential Theologians such as John of Damascus and John Scotus Eriugena continued to promote the pre-fall androgyny proposed by the early Church Fathers, while other clergy expounded and debated the proper view and treatment of contemporary “hermaphrodites.”Western esotericism’s embrace of androgyny continued into the modern period. A 1550 anthology of Alchemical thought, De Alchemia, included the influential Rosary of the Philosophers, which depicts the sacred marriage of the masculine principle (Sol) with the feminine principle (Luna) producing the “Divine Androgyne,” a representation of Alchemical Hermetic beliefs in dualism, transformation, and the transcendental perfection of the union of opposites.
The symbolism and meaning of androgyny was a central preoccupation of the German mystic Jakob Böhme and the Swedish philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg. The philosophical concept of the “Universal Androgyne” (or “Universal Hermaphrodite”) – a perfect merging of the sexes that predated the current corrupted world and/or was the utopia of the next – also plays a central role in Rosicrucian doctrine and in philosophical traditions such as Swedenborgianism and Theosophy. Twentieth century architect Claude Fayette Bragdon expressed the concept mathematically as a magic square, using it as building block in many of his most noted buildings.
The terms are ultimately derived from Ancient Greek: ἀνδρόγυνος, from ἀνήρ, stem ἀνδρ- (anér, andr-, meaning man) and γυνή (gunē, gyné, meaning woman) through the Latin: androgynus, The older word form androgyne is still in use as a noun with an overlapping set of meanings.
In the 1900s, starting around World War I traditional gender roles blurred and fashion pioneers such as Paul Poiret and Coco Chanel introduced trousers to women's fashion. The flapper style for women of this era included trousers and a chic bob, which gave women an androgynous look. Coco Chanel, who had a love for wearing trousers herself, created trouser designs for women such as beach pajamas and horse-riding attire. During the 1930s, glamorous actresses such as Marlene Dietrich fascinated and shocked many with their strong desire to wear trousers and adopt the androgynous style.
Dietrich is remembered as one of the first actresses to wear trousers in a premiere. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the women's liberation movement, sexual liberation and the Stonewall riots that were happening at that time are likely to have contributed to ideas and influenced fashion designers, such as Yves Saint Laurent. Yves Saint Laurent designed the Le Smoking suit and first introduced in 1966, and Helmut Newton’s erotized androgynous photographs of it made Le Smoking iconic and classic. The Le Smoking tuxedo was a controversial statement of femininity and has revolutionized trousers.
Elvis Presley, however is considered to be the one who introduced the androgynous style in rock'n'roll and made it the standard template for rock'n'roll front-men since the 1950s. His pretty face and use of eye makeup often made people think he was a rather effeminate guy, but Elvis Presley was considered as the prototype for the looks of rock'n'roll. The Rolling Stones, says Mick Jagger became androgynous straightaway unconsciously because of him.However, the upsurge of androgynous dressing for men really began after during the 1960s and 1970s.
When the Rolling Stones played London’s Hyde Park in 1969, Mick Jagger wore a white 'man's dress' designed by British designer Mr Fish. Mr Fish, also known as Michael Fish, was the most fashionable shirt-maker in London, the inventor of 'the Kipper tie', and a principal taste-maker of 'the Peacock revolution' in men’s fashion. His creation for Mick Jagger was considered to be the epitome of the swinging 60s. From then on, the androgynous style was being adopted by many celebrities.
During the 1970s, Jimi Hendrix was wearing high heels and blouses quite often, and David Bowie presented his alter ego Ziggy Stardust, a character that was a symbol of sexual ambiguity when he launched the album 'The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and Spiders from Mars'. This was when androgyny entered the mainstream in the 1970s and had a big influence in pop culture. Another significant influence during this time included John Travolta, one of the androgynous male heroes of the post-counter-culture disco era in the 1970s, who starred in Grease and Saturday Night Fever.Continuing into the 1980s, the rise of avant-garde fashion designers like Yohji Yamamoto, challenged the social constructs around gender.
They reinvigorated androgyny in fashion, addressing gender issues. This was also reflected within pop culture icons during the 1980s, such as David Bowie and Annie Lennox.Power dressing for women became even more prominent within the 1980s which was previously only something done by men in order to look structured and powerful. However, during the 1980s this began to take a turn as women were entering jobs with equal roles to the men.
In the article “The Menswear Phenomenon” by Kathleen Beckett written for Vogue in 1984 the concept of power dressing is explored as women entered these jobs they had no choice but to tailor their wardrobes accordingly, eventually leading the ascension of power dressing as a popular style for women. Women begin to find through fashion they can incite men to pay more attention to the seduction of their mental prowess rather, than the physical attraction of their appearance. This influence in the fashion world quickly makes its way to the world of film, with movies like Working Girl using power dressing women as their main subject matter. Androgynous fashion made its most powerful in the 1980s debut through the work of Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo, who brought in a distinct Japanese style that adopted distinctively gender ambiguous theme.
These two designers consider themselves to very much a part of the avant-garde, reinvigorating Japanism. Following a more anti-fashion approach and deconstructing garments, in order to move away from the more mundane aspects of current Western fashion. This would end up leading a change in Western fashion in the 1980s that would lead on for more gender friendly garment construction. This is because designers like Yamamoto believe that the idea of androgyny should be celebrated, as it is an unbiased way for an individual to identify with one's self and that fashion is purely a catalyst for this.
Also during the 1980s, Grace Jones's a famous singer and fashion model gender-thwarted appearance in the 1980s which startled the public, but her androgynous style of heavily derivative of power dressing and eccentric personality has inspired many, and has become an androgynous style icon for modern celebrities. This was seen as controversial but from then on, there was a rise of unisex designers later in the 1990s and the androgynous style was widely adopted by many. In 2016, Louis Vuitton revealed that Jaden Smith would star in their womenswear campaign. Because of events like this, gender fluidity in fashion is being vigorously discussed in the media, with the concept being articulated by Lady Gaga, Ruby Rose, and in Tom Hooper's film The Danish Girl.
Jaden Smith and other young individuals, such as Lily-Rose Depp, have inspired the movement with his appeal for clothes to be non-gender specific, meaning that men can wear skirts and women can wear boxer shorts if they so wish.