Men step into women’s shoes on the Spring/Summer 2023 runways. Are they going IRL?
In January, Instagram’s favorite fashion critic José Crisales-Unzueta (of ‘Gossip Girl’ reboot fame, and now writing for Vogue) wrote, “Men’s Mary Janes are *officially* for AW22 .” Once a schoolgirl staple, he cited the shoe’s prominence in fall menswear runways, from Comme des Garçons Homme Plus’ two-strap chunky-soled shoes to clock-strap leather shoes. by Fendi and pastel-colored piped chunkies by JW Anderson.
It might as well have been a continuation of the growing fascination with menswear and the adoption of feminine dress codes. Crisales-Unzueta likens it to the proliferation of men in skirts (a continuing trend in Spring/Summer 2023 presentations) and beadwork in past seasons. He wrote: “These had an air of preppiness to them, fitting perfectly into the wardrobe of showmanship notes called ‘neo-dandy’, a contemporary reimagining of the late Romantic figure with unabashedly flamboyant taste.”
Of course, men have historically worn heels beginning in the 10th century with the Persian cavalry. It evolved to literally “elevate” men into positions of power until they finally decide that women are better off for it.
This season, however, it goes beyond heels. Though it was worth mentioning the boots, especially an angular platform sported by Korean popstar Jeno of boy band NCT when he opened the Peter Do Spring 2023 collection during New York Fashion Week.
The designer’s third show also marked his first foray into menswear, incorporating the brand’s codes (pleated skirts, avant-garde leather and metal shoes and pointed cuts contrasting with soft, transparent and puffy silhouettes) in pieces. for men. (While we can argue, Do has some long-standing suits, pants, and shoes that everyone can appreciate.)
In London, designer Simone Rocha, known for her romanticism infused with tulle, beading and lace, also debuted menswear pieces: tactical outfits (bomber jackets, color fatigues, parachute bands) have seamlessly merged with his signatures, along with some standout stitching. But most indicative of Rocha’s efforts toward a more fluid masculinity are his shoes.
Ballerinas, once reserved for dance studios and ballet classes, have found their way onto the streets, thanks in part to Miu Miu’s delicate satin and velvet ballerinas. That influence isn’t lost on Rocha’s latest collection, except that his (for him) are made tougher and tougher, reinforced with buckled straps and soles reminiscent of Raf Simon’s 2013 Ozweego for Adidas. Think of it as a sporty descendant of Alessandro Michele’s strappy print flats in his second menswear collection for Gucci for Spring 2016. Rocha just topped it off with a delicate bow on the toes.
Avant-garde knitwear brand Cormio also presented male models in cinched flats for its spring 2021 ready-to-wear collection. It came in cobalt black and metallic. Margiela’s MM6 broadcast line had a more literal take on the spikes worn by models with ratty pants and tops accessorized with Salomon running vests. Some looks even had models wearing what looked like satin shoes as bags.
In a season littered with highly anticipated debuts, one of the most promising in Milan was Filipino American designer Rhuigi Villasenor, who presented his debut collection for Swiss luxury fashion house Bally. Villaseñor’s debut was filled with quirky touches like unconventional shoe choices for men to pair with tuxedos.
Look 12 saw a rather sharp take on men’s Mary Janes, which also appeared to be in black patent leather. It was paired with an almost monochromatic navy blue suit. Then there is a beige suit worn with a pair of dazzling net slippers reminiscent of the beaded sapatilyas of our mothers, titas and lolas.
As fictional fashion editor Miranda Priestly once condescendingly said, runway trends naturally tend to filter down to department store sales bins. co-opted and milked to death by designers, magazines and fashion houses. Except now, with the rise of “see now, buy now” marketing and dubious fast fashion imitation machines, this is reflected in real time.
When Crisales-Unzueta predicted the men’s Mary Janes trend ahead of the iD magazine article, her followers—mostly fashion-savvy, internet-savvy women, and queer creatives (from what I can tell) deduce, myself included) – were quick to jump on it, expedited deliveries of said fashionable shoes from online retailers so they could wear them within days. Again, that’s if they’re not wearing it already.
But with menswear trends, the media and popular culture tend to confuse Hollywood men (ahem Harry Styles!) and influencers who dress flamboyantly with a cultural shift when in reality they’re just exceptions. What percentage of IRL guys are actually trending, even late? Do they even care about revolutionary new ways of dressing when they can still go with what they’re comfortable with and conform to preconceived notions of masculinity? There’s a reason streetwear’s appeal is inflexible other than its apparent disregard for conservation and, of course, comfort.
There’s a sort of erasure that happens when we generalize this cohort as “men,” implying that straight cis men actually care as much about fashion as the work of adoption, integrating and breaking the gender binary is assumed by queer communities, which are often uncredited.
When a straight cis wears a skirt (which isn’t a kilt), it’s considered revolutionary even when gay people have been doing it for years. But once heterosexuals fully embrace gendered clothing and accessories in ways other than they were once made for, a change of scenery occurs where freshness also involves moving it away from the gay realm.
At best, if and when heterosexual cissexual men wear these novelty shoes as with other previously exclusively female items, it is to assert their own sexuality – if not to poke fun at it and treat cross-dressing as a joke. He shouts, “Hey, look! I’m secure enough in my own “manhood” to be able to wear a skirt or heels and not be called a fagot. “After all, as journalist and former Interview editor Nick Harramis once wrote of boys’ beads, these gendered tendencies”[don’t] challenging gender as much as supporting a binary.
Instead of asking whether men are likely to dip their toes in women’s shoes, perhaps the right question to ask is: what is the rise and possible integration of this type of shoe? for men say about our ever-evolving concept of gender? What if something as mundane as a change of shoes really equaled a societal change?
Maybe not, maybe a shoe is just a shoe.
Art by Ella Lambio
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