Early November, pop singer Erik performed in front of thousands of Saigon fans. After the show, instead of talking about the performance, netizens turned their attention to Erik’s outfits during the night: a crop top with a see-through detail showing off his belly, and tight leather pants.
“Why do you keep wearing feminine clothing, this is weird,” a netizen commented when seeing people share photos of the singer in his attire.
But Erik is not alone in his plight. Over the past few years, a host of Vietnamese male celebrities have redefined their masculinity by opting for feminine fashion, raising many eyebrows.
Erik performs in a black crop top with a see-through midriff. Photo courtesy of Erik.
Male stars in gender-fluid outfits with fabrics, colors, and designs formerly associated with women, have been seen on catwalks and on the street.
Materials that are soft and bright, such as voile, sheer, and chiffons in summer to heavier materials like wood tweeds, velvet, and fur-like fabric in winter, are now entering men’s wardrobes.
Recently, Tran Thanh, an HCMC-based comedian and TV host, joined a number of male celebrities including rapper Karik and singer Ngo Kien Huy to bravely don frayed edge jackets made of tweed, formerly thought to be exclusive fabric for women. Later, singer Ngo Kien Huy donned a shiny blue sequined suit at an event in HCMC.
Some other male artists have joined the trend by appearing in colorful outfits like rising rapper Binz with a wardrobe bursting with pink and red colors, a luster satin-like look contrasting with his muscular build and tattoos.
Other male stars are not wary of performing in clothing bearing designs and details associated with women.
Early 2020, hip-hop star Son Tung MTP did not only embrace ladies’ wool and duffel coats but also high heels with a pair of high-rise wide-leg jeans and a red sweater to mirror the nostalgic look of a hip Vietnamese woman from the 90s.
Designer Ly Qui Khanh even pushed things further by crossing the runway in a long black gown with flower detail as a vedette for a wedding collection by a local designer.
Love it or hate it
The fact gender-neutral trends are rising among Vietnamese male celebrities and fashionistas struggle to persuade locals, who hold divided opinions about their idols choosing womenswear.
When comedian Tran Thanh posted a photo of himself in a tweed jacket, his fans told him to return it to his wife. Singer Erik was criticized for not being “socially suitable” and unmanly when performing in his mesh-trimmed body crop top.
Some news outlets ran headline images of male stars in these outfits, calling it “strange”, “controversial”, and “shocking”.
Meanwhile, many others have expressed their admiration and support for their boldness and praised these male stars for their novel transformation.
“He is a star and should be encouraged to try out many fashion styles,” a netizen commented under a photo of singer Son Tung MTP wearing a beige sweater with relaxed jeans. Many agreed, maintaining some male stars give womenswear a new breath.
Son Tung MTP caused controversy in a beige sweater with relaxed jeans. Photo courtesy of Son Tung MTP.
Celebrities have their own “excuses” when it comes to showing off their supposedly controversial fashion tastes.
Saigon-based stylist Le Huynh Tan Phat said he does not care about the controversy, as long as his client, TV host Tran Thanh, feels confident about his outfits.
“This is the first time he has worn tweed,” Phat lamented when receiving comments about Thanh’s new jacket.
Echoing Phat’s opinion, stylist Hoang Ku said he was willing to try as many fashion styles as he could, including womenswear.
According to fashion insiders, the popularity of women’s clothing among Vietnamese male stars reflects the global trend of the past few years.
Across the world, fashion design to accessories and cosmetics are being “gender-bended” and the borderline between feminine and masculine erased.
While women have embraced menswear for years by wearing suits, military jackets, blue jeans; the trend for men to reciprocate has been slower, only taking off in the last few years.
Recently, pop singer Harry Styles made his first solo appearance on Vogue’s December 2020 cover in a dress to an inevitable backlash.
“When you take away ‘There’s clothes for men and there’s clothes for women,’ once you remove any barriers, obviously you open up the arena in which you can play,” Styles maintained.
Many fashion experts gave him kudos, including Italian fashion designer Alessandro Michele, who said he is “the image of a new era, of the way that a man can look.”
In Vietnam, unisex fashion has grabbed the interest of Vietnamese youngsters in the last decade thanks to the popularity of television and the internet.
Tom Trandt, designer and owner of “Moi Dien” fashion brand confirmed this, saying the unisex style is a part of Vietnamese culture, and most brands would focus on personal customization to meet their clients’ demands.
The popularity of womenswear among Vietnamese male stars did not take off until the social and economic changes inherent to rapid industrialization, modernization and international integration made young people, including these celebrities, want to portray the nuances of their personalities.
“Through style, I want to stand out in the crowd and show people that I am different. Why we have to wear the same clothes as in the past?” asked Le Hoang Ha, 24, fashion student in HCMC.
For those working in showbiz, where people appreciate personal discrepancies among artists, fashion always plays an important role.
“Artists have a big ego and want to have diverse styles for their fans to enjoy,” stylist Hoang Ku said, adding nothing is exclusively for men or women in fashion because there are no rules.