What Androgynous Means: Definition and More

Tilda Swinton

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k

Prince. Twiggy. Annie Lennox. David Bowie.

These are just some of the celebrities who have sported the androgynous look in the past and in the present day. In fact, many of them popularized it and brought it into mainstream culture, with others praising the look and even trying to copy it on the runway and in everyday life. 

Androgyny is not just about appearance, though. It can describe a biological condition and a form of gender expression. It has been around for centuries in all forms across many different cultures; some have embraced it, while others have criticized it. 

What is androgyny, how do people express it and what should you know about it? Find out what it means to be androgynous.

What is androgyny?

Stemming from the Greek words andros (meaning male) and gyn (meaning female), androgyny refers to the exhibition of both male and female characteristics. 

In its literal sense, the term describes an intersex person who has genitalia or other physical attributes that are not characteristic of a specific gender. 

However, it is also frequently used to describe the physical appearance of someone who does not appear feminine or masculine, as well as a person who is gender non-conforming. It is important to keep in mind that an androgynous appearance does not necessarily serve as an indication of someone’s gender identity or expression. Some people do identify as androgynous, meaning they consider themselves to be both masculine and feminine or to have both masculine and feminine traits and characteristics and do not conform to either gender.

What is the androgynous look?

The androgynous look is becoming increasingly popular in fashion. Someone exhibiting this style does not have the appearance of a traditional male or female or portrays characteristics generally associated with the two genders. People may exhibit an androgynous style in their clothing, makeup, accessories and other vehicles. For example, someone might pair trousers and a button-down shirt with lipstick and a full face of makeup.

Generally speaking, the casual androgynous style could be as simple as an oversized sweatshirt or tee-shirt and jeans, slacks and a loose sweater with sneakers and flannel or button-down shirts paired with trousers. People of all different genders frequently sport these combinations, some with the intention of looking androgynous and others simply expressing their personal style choices. 

Some more elaborate androgynous looks and clothing items that are frequently seen in fashion shows on the runway today include:

• Clokes

• Capes

• Overcoats

• All-black clothing

• Geometric prints

• Kilts

• Patterned neckties

• Experimental makeup

Designers who pioneered the androgynous look and style include Yves Saint Laurent and Jean-Paul Gaultier. As the style becomes increasingly popular, numerous current designers are incorporating the look into their collections or focusing exclusively on androgynous clothing. Some notable current designers with androgynous clothing styles are Ludovic de Saint Sernin and Charles Jeffrey.

There are also many celebrities and people in popular culture who have famously sported the androgynous look and/or identified as androgynous. Current and late androgynous style icons include David Bowie, Annie Lennox, Marlene Dietrich, Pink, Grace Jones, Tilda Swinton, Boy George, Marilyn Manson and Bianca Jagger.

What do you call an androgynous person?

Androgyny is a gender identity. Someone who identifies as androgynous is called an androgyne. This describes people who exhibit both male and female characteristics and consider themselves both genders, although not necessarily in equal parts — an androgyne may feel more feminine or more masculine at all times or at different points. 

It’s important to note that this doesn’t necessarily indicate someone’s sexuality. An androgyne may identify as gay, straight, bisexual, asexual, queer or any sexuality. They may also express their gender identity in different ways, describing themselves as genderqueer, nonbinary and other terms, and use different pronouns, such as he, she or they. If you’re in doubt about how someone wants to be called or have questions about their gender identity, it is generally best to just ask.

Androgyny also falls under the umbrella term “genderqueer,” indicating nonconformity to gender norms or going outside of the typical gender distinctions and constraints. However, not all genderqueer people identify as androgynous.

What causes androgyny?

An intersex person is someone who is androgynous in the most literal sense, meaning they have both genitalia or other physical characteristics that make their gender neither strictly male nor female, such as reproductive organs that are not consistent with a single gender or the development of some physical attributes during puberty. The condition is thought to be caused by exposure to testosterone, estrogen, androgen and other hormones at abnormal levels while in utero. Some possible reasons for these hormone levels include congenital adrenal hyperplasia, ovarian tumors in the mother, aromatase deficiency or hormones taken by the mother during her pregnancy.

Behavioral androgyny, the refusal to conform to specific gender norms associated with one’s gender at birth, and psychological androgyny, a non-adherence to or ambiguous feelings about having a specific gender identity, are not the result of any biological factors.

Looking to the future

At one time or another, you may have heard someone say, “The future is androgynous.” Is that true? And what does that actually mean?

Simply put, some people believe that gender will become less of a constraint and more fluid in the future. All forms of gender expression will be welcomed, and no one will have to conform to a specific gender. 

As gender roles become less defined — although it’s an exaggeration to say that they are completely eradicated — perhaps the future could see more and more people exhibiting traits that of both traditional “maleness” and “femaleness” or neither. In fashion, we are already seeing a movement toward the androgynous look, with the exhibition of male and female traits in one person increasingly seen as attractive in the mainstream. Perhaps the entire construct of gender will become less of a factor in everyday life. Could androgyny in its base form become more of a cultural norm? That remains to be seen.

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