From the moment Ezra Miller stepped onto the red carpet for the premiere of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald last week, the actor’s Moncler puffer jacket became a sartorial Rorschach test.
Some said Miller’s ribbed black cocoon turned him into a human sex toy. Dr. Who fans saw a dapper Dalek in Miller. A case could be made for Miller looking like robot actor at a fitting for a futuristic production of Henry VIII. Or even a slightly styled-up Handmaid.
One tweet perhaps summed it up best: “Ezra Miller dressed like a sassy sleeping bag last night & somehow managed to pull it off.”
The fact Miller, who identifies as queer (but told GQ that he is “comfortable with all the pronouns” and “(lets) he/his/him ride”), opted for such a historically female silhouette was not lost on some.
The coat’s full, A-lined skirt subverted the straight lines many have come to expect from fluid dress.
“I’m just puzzled, to be frank, by the fact that it’s marketed as a gender-neutral garment,” Eugenia Paulicelli, a fashion scholar and professor of Women's Studies at CUNY’s Graduate Center, told The Daily Beast.
That could be just the way Miller wants it. The actor has been vocal in his dismissal of gender identity, telling The Hollywood Reporter, “I don't identify as a man, I don't identify as a woman. I barely identify as a human.”
Of course, no single article of clothing a person wears should determine their gender, and Miller has proved to be just as comfortable in a suit and tie as he is in Mario Kart cosplay. However, he seized his Moncler moment and made a statement: people get that gender-fluid clothing is “a thing.” Now, let’s kick it into overdrive.
In the early years of this decade, unisex designs often looked the same—boring. American Apparel sold plain hoodies, T-shirts, and sweatpants for both men and women. As customers roamed the aisles, it could be hard to tell what gendered section they were in.
These silhouettes were a good start, but the simplicity left many craving bolder styles. When Zara imitated the American Apparel-esque breakup-chic aesthetic with a 2016 “genderless” campaign, the Twitterati pushed back, pleading for more than another crop of heather gray v-necks.
“If you’re non-binary, or trans, or queer, certainly it’s not about being shapeless or colorless. That’s the lazy way to approach it,” said Rob Smith, founder of New York’s Phluid Project. The platform has been billed as “the world’s first gender-free store.”
Smith prefers the term “gender-free” to “gender-neutral” because he believes that, “Gender-neutral is so ‘womp womp.’ Gender-free feels like, ‘Boom!’”
Smith claimed to have the bottom line on his side: in his experience, customers do not want to spend their money on straight lines. “We need sparkles to sell,” Smith explained. The shop’s most-purchased item is a bright, neon yellow beanie that screams, “Be kind.”
“What we’re seeing is the evolution of gender-inclusive clothing from what we used to refer to as androgynous and unisex clothing,” Amy Bender, co-founder of the inclusive shopping app RIGIt, said. “The old way was boxy, baggy, shapeless. It almost covered up the body as opposed to accentuating.”
While this “old way” may seem stuffy now, the design was rooted in a type of rebellion. In 1947, Christian Dior presented his now-famous “New Look” collection, hallmarked by cinched waists and ample skirting.
The style became so popular that it is now ubiquitous with the cookie-cutter femininity of the 1950s. According to cultural historian and co-host of the Dress: Fancy podcast Dr. Benjamin Wild, that’s part of why designers ditch the waist when looking to thwart gender norms.
“I think this is why the waist, which is such an identifiable feature of a garment, is often absent or conspicuously re-positioned in clothing described as gender-fluid: this is a sign that a designer is trying something different, and telling us something different,” he said.
Straight lines also recall the tabard, a short coat worn by both sexes in the Middle Ages. “If we look at Western clothes before the 14th century, all were essentially gender-fluid,” Dr. Wild said. It wasn’t until the 1500s that clothing became cinch-able with the development of fasteners. “This enabled clothes to define people's silhouettes, and sex, clearly.”
By re-embracing a fitted waist, designers are not only encouraging their clients to hold in their breath, but saying there is nothing to fear in presenting as what the mainstream consciousness insists is “girly.”
After all, androgynous fashion has long been accepted by women who throw on a pinstripe blazer or Annie Hall trousers. Call it fragile masculinity or straight-up homophobia, but it hasn't been easy to sell men on the idea that skirts can be cool, too.
“Why can’t un-gendered stuff be feminized men clothing?” asked Jo B. Paoletti, fashion scholar and author of Sex and Unisex: Fashion, Feminism, and the Sexual Revolution. “Just because a man is wearing lace bellbottoms doesn't mean that he looks like a girl. He looks like a guy wearing lace bellbottoms, and that’s part of the sexiness of it.”
Or, he could look like a sassy sleeping bag. Just ask Twitter: That’s sexy, too.