In some ways, the awakening to the “other” is not new for London, or many other large international cities that attract a diversity, which results in acceptance and a flourishing sub-culture.
A shift in public consciousness is underway in fashion, and the ideals of conformity have once again come into question on what is less strictly accepted as masculine, feminine and in-between. More and more, I see new editorial perspectives in mainstream media discussing the emerging attitudes in society—the topic of gender fluidity is paramount.
The mass pop-culture attention and current shifts in men’s fashion in the United Kingdom has now created a domino effect into the mainstream. The result is a climate where many men are questioning what it means to ‘be a man’ in contemporary culture. Curiously, this is coming on the heels of what I call the ‘beard renaissance’ of five years ago, where a classic masculine style was also considered a symbol of liberation.
Now, we’re seeing men from all walks of life breaking the restraints imposed by traditional rules—with real societal implications. One example is a mental health crisis. Men in the UK aged 20 to 49 are more likely to die from suicide than any other cause of death. A new atmosphere of open dialogue between men, once considered ‘un-manly’ and weak, is now allowing us to look at some very real issues. Men’s groups like Fathers for Justice have emerged to campaign for issues like suicide and equal parenting rights, and the visual image of what it means to be a strong male is being redefined.
On the streets of London, I’ve noticed many men experimenting with their look, adding items usually reserved for women to their wardrobe—a softer approach with fluidity and flair. Many of these men will likely identify as heterosexual with ‘normal’ jobs, but this really isn’t the focus. The trend is about self-expression, no matter your background.
For this Esquire ‘Taboo’ special issue, I photographed British men wearing a mixture of traditionally men’s and women’s clothing that adds to their new and unique style. On a stereotypically rainy weekend in London, we captured their avant-garde looks and discussed self-image, the men they admire, and how they view masculinity today.
"I’m confident being myself in London because the culture here is to accept anything and everything. I really don't care about what others may think of me. I can only be myself so why would I try to be something else." —Jordon B
"I'm comfortable expressing my own identity and I've learned that not everyone will accept it for what it is. Acceptance comes from within and there is nothing sexier than someone being un-apologetically themselves. I've struggled to find this balance and I'm ready to continue allowing this to dominate my life, whether it be a bumpy journey or not."—Tommy
"I feel confident, liberated and very masculine in a dress. Wearing this particular dress is not about female impersonation or trying to be somebody else I’d say it is more about blurring set gender norms and amplifying my own masculinity through something we consider to be very feminine."—Marc
"Wearing a dress is invigorating. When I was growing up I was indoctrinated to feel like I shouldn't cry and shouldn't like pink. I was told to be tough. As time went by, my need to portray masculinity has become less important. I am perfectly comfortable not to be viewed as typically masculine."—Dominic
"The diversity of culture in the city means people are accepting in London. I see a global trend of expressing individuality and that’s resulted in typical masculine ideals shifting. I consider my style to be conventionally masculine as I’m a traditionally trained tailor but I find wearing a dress liberating."— Oli
"I’m an open minded man. At home I have a book by Mick Rock: “The Rise of David Bowie”. In almost every page, David is wearing something that I wish I was cool enough to pull off, including some incredible dresses from the Hunky Dory era."—Kirk
"I would say that my everyday sense of style is effeminate, and interestingly wearing a dress makes me feel more male than ever. By allowing my feminine side to come out, it meant I was able to find a sense of style and taste. It also helped me to be honest with my emotions and vulnerabilities. Masculinity and me broke up years ago."—Jordon