Aesthetics Of A (Wo)man


Aesthetics is commonly understood as the visual characteristic that appeals to the onlooker. So, conventionally, men are thought to be fond of blue while women like pink. But, can men like pink? Or women like blue, the manly ones? Divya Nagar explains if aesthetics can free itself from the conventional gender norms and whether we have taken our first step in that direction.

Illustration by/ Oriana Fernandez & Shulabh Gupta
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Recently, I had an interesting experience while shopping for my 2-year-old. Standing in Zara, with a yellow canary-coloured cap in my hand, I wondered if this was made for a girl or a boy? I went looking for the salesperson who showed me how to spot the difference: Two concentric squares on the label meant it is for a boy and two concentric circles connoted it is for a girl. It was a useful piece of information and made me feel more empowered and confident to shop at Zara. But the yellow canary colour also got me thinking about the colours and how they have been typecast – blue for boys and pink for girls.

An article in the Smithsonian magazine reported that for centuries, children wore dainty white dresses up to age 6. Gender-specific clothing came with time – pink and blue arrived, along with other pastels, as colours for babies in the mid-19th century. Yet, the two colours did not became gender signifiers until just before World War I. Even then, it took time for the popular culture to sort things out. An article in Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department in 1918 said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger colour, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”

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This morning, I worked with my class on appreciation of Aesthetics. Most often the students understood aesthetics as an object with a visual appeal. However, aesthetics is polysensual, it encompasses all the brand elements belonging to the sensory world: the brand manifestations, which include not only the visual elements but sound, taste, touch, and odour too. Let us look at world’s best perfumes: of course, often the packaging, the shape and design of the bottle, its crystal exterior has a strong visual appeal, but it is the fragrance that reigns supreme. The fragrance for him and for her. A traditional women's fragrance exudes delicate femininity with soft, sweet aromas, or says sultry with spicy and musky tones. Men's fragrances typically convey strength and power, or earthy and outdoorsy. The notes in women's perfumes often tend toward the floral and fruity; men's are more green, leathery and woodsy.

Lately, we have seen a shift where women are preferring the perfumes originally meant for males and like to wear these. This, to me, underlines the transcending of gendered idea of aesthetics – one of the many means to make aesthetics ‘genderless’ that is different from the squares and circles of Zara. In an article, written by Janet Kinosian for The Los Angeles Times (2012), ‘10 men’s fragrances that women love — for themselves’, she stated, “If you are a woman who loves to wear fragrance but only if it’s not too floral or girly, maybe it’s time to expand your choices. This year, why not try a men’s scent? Odd? Not at all. Much, if not most, fragrance is unisex. It’s mainly the packaging, marketing and strength of the fragrance that categorize it as “male” or “female” and determine in which part of the department store the bottle is sold.”

The legendary French perfume house ‘Guerlain’ launched its original Guerlain Vetiver for men in 1959. A fresh, bracingly light but earthy scent, it has spawned endless copies and remains a strong-selling classic that crosses gender lines. Increasingly, the world seems to be moving towards gender fluidity – we are becoming more conscious of our choices which do not necessarily conform to the stereotypes created by the marketing departments of the companies.

Shift Roshini R