Jean Paul Gaultier specializes in joyfully rejecting conventional distinctions between masculine and feminine dress. 'Une garde-robe pour deux' (A wardrobe for two), a 1985 Gaultier illustration, portrays a man and women in nearly identical ensembles of wide-legged trousers, midriff-baring tops and oversized jackets. In a play on expectations, Gaultier gives the man a long pony-tail, while the women sports short hair. Gaultier's most notorious experiments in gender-bending are his skirts for men. First introduced in 1985, Gaultier played with the idea of men in skirts through the 1990s. He offered a variety of styles, including kilts, sarongs, tunics and long maxi skirts. Gaultier's comment, "masculinity is not connected to the clothes you're wearing--it's in the mind," offers a basis for his belief in this sometimes controversial mode of dressing.1 For Madonna's 1990 Blond Ambition tour, Gaultier designed a blue velvet cone bra to be worn by male back-up dancers. This bra complemented Madonna's own outfit, a pale pink corset.
Gaultier's belief that men should adopt clothing typically worn by women is unusual in the history of fashion. Though women have a long history of borrowing and adapting elements of menswear, women's dress rarely influences men's sartorial choices. The realm of functional sportswear is one in which women have borrowed heavily from men. In particular, women adopted a feminized version of male riding attire beginning in the late seventeenth century. A woman's riding ensemble usually included a fitted jacket worn with a full skirt designed specifically for riding side-saddle. For the dedicated horsewomen, full skirts could be both embarrassing and dangerous. If a rider fell, a voluminous side-saddle skirt could become entangled, endangering the rider, or it could fall aside and reveal a woman's undergarments. For both of these reasons, by the late nineteenth century, many female equestrians began wearing riding trousers, either under their skirts or as a garment in its own right. By the 1920s, women's riding habits frequently included the style of trousers called jodphurs; some daring women even wore jodphur-based riding habits as everyday dress. These high-waisted jodphur-style jeans from Gaultier's JPG Jean's line update riding trousers in street-worthy denim.
Knowing that they're by Jean Paul Gaultier, you should expect some kind of twist. Buttoned-up, these look like a basic and very wearable version of the ubiquitous jeans. But unbutton the high waist and a trompe l' oeil corset is revealed! The contrast of white cotton with darker denim also suggests the typical menswear pairing of white shirt with dark suit. This playful combination of masculine and feminine elements is pure Gaultier.
A survey of Gaultier's work is currently on exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art. The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk will be on view through February 12, 2012. See a short video filmed inside the exhibition here.
1 Polan, Brenda and Roger Tredre. The Great Fashion Designers. England: Berg, 2009. 202.