“Andro-” means “man”, and “gyn-“refers to “woman”.

Androgyny is that velvety soft genre coloring societal fringes. It’s naughty and fun. It wears ties and g-strings, it sports shaved heads and wigs and moves across the room holding out its perfumed wrist. Those with staunch Victorian sensibilities shake their heads and huff aloud. Androgyny just laughs a bold laugh and knocks back a flute of champagne. Firmly rooted in history, it continues to possess many art forms of note.

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A popular fashion strategy in fashion, music, movies and even literature today, androgynous figures were quite visible in classical paintings.

According to Jill Burke, lecturer in Renaissance Art History at the University of Edinburgh: “An explanation that people often given for the Michelangelo men-with-breasts phenomenon – which we should properly call the aesthetic of androgyny – is that they couldn’t get female nude models in the Renaissance, so artists just juxtaposed the head and breasts of women on men’s bodies. Because of stringent controls over female modesty, the idea goes, it was inappropriate for women to get undressed in front of men. In fact, this is the explanation given in Gill Saunders 1989 book, The Nude: A New Perspective– ‘female nudes in the painting and sculpture of the [renaissance] period were derived from male models … so they appear unconvincing”. Now, this is both right and wrong. It’s true of course that for many women, especially women from the upper classes, there was strict control over their dress and comportment in the Renaissance. It’s also true that many of the female figures in renaissance paintings were based on male models – this is common practice, and goes well beyond Michelangelo. There were more men available around a painter’s workshop after all. ”

We can see in modern times the multiple venues of success of the androgynous figure. The characters are interesting provocateurs antagonizing traditional thought. The casting of actress Tilda Swinton as the angel Gabriel in Constantine was brilliant; she looks JUST LIKE a remediation of the Renaissance portrayal of Gabriel. Tim Curry’s lingeried character, Dr. Frankenfurter from Rocky Horror Picture Show sees a cult following and the King-Queen of 1970’s androgynous recording artist – David Bowie, (Space Oddity is actually my phone ringtone) set a very high standard for those who followed.

An interesting observation is that in Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson chose to portray Satan (Rosalinda Celentano) as an androgynous character. This could be dissected in a few ways: either his personal homophobical nervousness was showing or he wanted Satan to be more of an “it”…and if that is the case then it opens a Pandora’s box of questions on the precise “sex” of God. Even the angels were portrayed as being androgynous, so it is a state of being that illicits further questioning.

Androgyny doesn’t seem as fixated on the sexuality “answer” as it does on posing “the imaginative question” – the one opposing the status quo, making many nervous.  And from a philosophical (and maybe even pedagogical) point of view, I really love that.


Strike A Pose, There’s Nothing To It…


[I am actually doing the arm movements to Madonna’s song “Vogue” here. Stop laughing. Please, I’m very sensitive.]

On a recent visit to the bankrupt Borders store on Chicago’s North Avenue I won the liquidation lottery; I found these four postcards, which were originally marked $1.25 for…(omg)… $0.17 each! I know, big deal, right? But it is those rare little art-victories that sweeten life. Believe me, I go through life with the “not paying alot for this muffler” mentality when it calls for it. As I sit back in my Winston chair and arch my fingers like Mr. Burns from the Simpsons, I secretly plot to descend upon Dick Blick for their Wednesday spin-the-wheel promotion. I want that damn Dick Blick t-shirt. For free. I already have the sketchbook and — (slaps self in face) — allow me to refocus.

The one thing about fashion photos of the 60’s and 70’s is that they all look like they were tinted in the hot colors that kitchens of that era were decorated in: a hue of orange or lime or yellow. Fruit-flavored taffy colors. But the core enduring style in these vintage-seque postcards, all from British Vogue, seems to rear its head (every, what, 30-years or so?) if you buy into the school of thought that fashion is cyclical. It seems to be true.

Catch the Sun Looks, May 1966 (cover) Vogue

While gorgeous and artfully shot, this model looks a bit like Uma Thurman turned Oompa Loompa, but it still is an amazing cover. 

Latin American Flamenco Ruffles, March 1968, Vogue. Dress by Gerard Pipart at Nina Ricci

I don’t know if this flamboyant traditional Latin ensemble will ever come back into fashion, but I can say that the ballet-style strappings hint at flats that have been seen on the streets the past couple of years. The bold colors are popular for spring and summer still, but hats like this? Maybe at the Kentucky Derby. Looking at this postcard makes me happy. It makes me think of the primary color bus on “The Partridge Family”. Admittedly not a fashionista myself, I had no idea that Nina Ricci was around back then.

This postcard taught me something, so, Lesson #1 – look for bits of education in the most obscure of objects.

Silver Pink, February 1966, Vogue

 This postcard is my favorite. This could have been shot today, in 2011. And that type of visual endurance demands respect. The glasses, the scarf, the hairdo, the muted colors – they all put my closet to shame. And the use of the silver crackly surface that is matted just enough to suggest reflection is brilliant. This postcard makes me want to scour eBay for a pair of those kickin’ tinted glasses.

Jerry Hall, May 1975 (cover), Vogue

The blue theme in this postcard is lovely and what imprints this little doozy in time is the obvious landline phone and the swim cap, but the photographer did an interesting thing: he created a triangle shape within this very organic photo, having her hold the line behind her head. It wasn’t just about beauty but the design of the shot. And I have to say that something isn’t right about Jerry Hall. It isn’t right that she still looks fabulous today. Is the secret to her beauty-longevity in all the fruit-flavored colors of the 70s? I don’t know.

Lesson #2 – don’t accidentally spill your coffee on vintage-esque postcards. This is what I did following this post. (Sigh)


A Chic Direction

From the Valley to the Hills: Keeping You In the Loop

I will be the first to admit that, while an artist, I lack fashion skills. I tragically wear unflattering horizontal stripes, I wear my favorite heels until the heels themselves looked like a pack of cheese graters attacked them, and I wear (gulp) tennis shoes with my work clothes when I walk to work. Tennis shoes. Nothing frumpifies an outfit quicker. And I loathe the trends: skinny jeans, Bieber hair, sparkles, heroin chic. 

I would, however, like to get more educated on fashion so I can appreciate a good seam, or hemline. And I do currently appreciate fashion illustrations – they look great on ALL body types. One site I would like to point out for artistic fashion artifacts, trends, deals and beautiful illustrations is A Chic Direction. One of the bloggers, Amelia,  is a colleague and friend and her flair and love of this art form is unmistakeable. If you’re like me and  in need of some “fashion police” tips and ideas (without the bitchy television hosts) then I highly recommend checking out A Chic Direction.