Nina Edwards discusses gender-bending fashion

By Amanda Powell
apowell@kykernel.com

Nina Edwards is a writer and an actress based in London. Her first novel, “On the Button: The Significance of an Ordinary Item,” is a cultural history of the button that explores its symbolism and different meanings.

For the past year, Edwards has been studying clothing worn during World War I for her novel “Dressed for War,” being published in 2014.

Her lecture in the Student Center last week discussed the significance of gender in clothing patterns and questioned if there is a difference between unisex and androgyny.

“Neutral seems to spell masculine,” Edwards said. “This seems unjust, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.”

She went further by asking, “Can men be masculine in pink? You could say it’s a game (the idea of gender-neutral clothing) to be enjoyed.”

She emphasized this point throughout her lecture by discussing trends and materials that were worn during the World War I time period.

For example, in the 1890s wool was a masculine fabric. If a woman bought clothes made out of wool, it would cost her a significant amount of money.

As World War I continued, women became munitions workers. And when they won the right to men’s clothing, Edwards pointed out how they feminized the look by putting ribbons on their laces.

The idea of gender bending, or women wearing more masculine apparel, became more popular as the years went on.

When Coco Chanel began making her clothing with jersey, a typical men’s fabric, it was revolutionary. The clothing was expensive for women to buy, but Chanel was one of the few people who kept her shop open during the war.

Edwards also talked about the significance of men in feminine clothing. She showed a picture of Jean Paul Gaultier, a French fashion designer, wearing a kilt and noted how different it is to see men in feminine clothing from women in masculine clothing.

The discussion after her lecture provided some insight into this topic.

Women have shown they can be masculine and feminine. They can wear almost anything a man wears. But men have a more difficult time. It’s harder for a man to be respected in something feminine.

Chatting about her inspiration for “Dressed for War” Edwards said, “I yearned to show how serious clothing could be. I don’t think it’s only serious, but I wanted to somehow persuade all those many men who assume it’s a trivial subject.”

Edwards started writing because she loved reading and because she’s an actress, “and that, for most of us, means you have lots of time to do other things,” she said, jokingly.

“I think most actors would say they’re very interested in clothing, and as actors, we often have to wear old clothing. It might be from a store for theatrical clothing. It may even have some eminent actor’s name in it, which is very exciting. So clothing has a certain power,” Edwards said.

“Also, just at a very simple level, I like dressing up, like many of us.”