Growing up, I was taught that there were only two genders and that each one had a stereotypical set of colors and clothing which correlated to my gender. As a girl, I was expected to love the color pink and wear cute frilly dresses, whereas my brother would like the color blue and wear tiny bow ties and button ups. Our culture has firmly developed ideas of how boys and girls should and shouldn’t look, but with more people using fashion and beauty as a platform for self expression these gender norms have become confining.
The time to break out of these stereotypes has come. The gendering of fashion is an outdated way of looking at dressing, especially with more LGBTQ+ people coming out as nonbinary and trans. Fashion doesn’t fit into just two genders; it’s an overflowing and messy closet which allows people to choose garments from both sides to help them express their sexuality and gender however they want. It’s time for the idea of gendered clothing to be left behind.
As I grew up and discovered more about my personal preferences and how I wanted to express myself, I realized I didn’t fit into the stereotypical box I was supposed to. I much prefer blue to pink and I certainly don’t like dresses. Everyone has their own unique preferences. What I wear goes far beyond the simple but stereotypical ideas I was taught as a kid.
People’s definitions on what each gender should be wearing has been constantly but gradually changing throughout history. According to a Huffington Post article titled, “Women And Pants: A Timeline Of Fashion Liberation,” prior to the invention of pants in the 13th century, all men and women wore robes. This made fashion the same for everyone, showing that even the roots of the fashion industry are genderless. As society has evolved, so have our fashion trends; while men started to wear pants, women, for the most part, stayed in dresses and skirts until the mid-19th century. Today, pants are commonly worn by most people in America, no longer is it taboo for women to wear trousers but instead it is normalized.
My point is that the evolution of pants shows the potential for all clothing to be seen as a gender non-conforming garments. I prefer wearing pants to dresses and skirts, and seeing the evolution of them through history has made me more aware of the standards we hold men to when it comes to fashion. While women have normalized wearing pants and even suits, the idea of men straying from their traditional gender roles often sparks debates.
Oyster River High School student Riley Brown (‘21) uses fashion and makeup to express himself. Since coming out as gay, he has found himself dressing with more confidence and experimenting more with fashion. “I feel so much more complete and confident when I’m fully dressed and made up. Expressing myself through things as little as a nice outfit or colorful makeup is all it takes,” said Brown. This confidence didn’t develop overnight for Brown. “It took a lot to start wearing out of the ordinary things to school, even things such as an Ariana Grande t-shirt, as it can seem too gay for a man to wear,” said Brown. With his growing confidence, his regard for what others thought about his fashion taste diminished, “I don’t know when, but at some point, I just stopped caring,” Brown said.
Similar to Brown, dressing in a way that makes me comfortable has helped me a lot with my confidence. My freshman year I focused a lot on what other people would think about what I wore instead of thinking about what I wanted to wear. I tried to follow the most popular trend with girls my age but it never made me feel confident. After I came out as gay and stopped caring about meeting the gender norms of clothing, I was able to dress how I wanted. I started wearing clothes more traditionally associated with men and my confidence soared.
Brown’s choices, like mine, in how he wants to express himself should be his to make. There shouldn’t be a debate over if his clothes are “manly” enough but rather celebration over him embracing his confidence and dressing how he wants. “I think breaking fashion stereotypes is simply something scary for people with closed minds to comprehend,” said Brown. “I don’t understand why somebody so unrelated to your life feels the need to have an opinion on the way you dress.”
The origin of this controversy can be traced back to the traditional gender roles pushed on kids. With men being more highly scrutinized for dressing how they want due to ideals that men need to be and look masculine. This mind set portrays to kids, specifically young boys, that they shouldn’t dress how they want if it deviates from how society expects them to dress. “Young children who want to express themselves through their clothing are pushing their desires down deep so that they aren’t judged,” said Brown.
One of the greatest influences on normalizing the genderless boundaries of fashion is media exposure. One of my inspirations for this article was the controversy over the December issue of Vouge. The cover featured British singer Harry Styles wearing a dress. This prompted both celebration over Styles’ boldness to project what he wanted to wear to the world, and backlash over him wearing a traditionally feminine outfit. “Clothes are there to have fun with and experiment with and play with,” Styles said in his Vouge interview. This sparked my interest because I realized it was the only time I had ever seen a man in a dress being publicized.
The criticism over Styles wearing a dress really struck me because of how passionately some people felt about the need to assign gender to fashion. Yet, if all fashion were to be gendered, then there would be no place for people who don’t specifically identify with any gender. Oyster River High School student Juno Ball (‘23) identifies as non-binary, meaning they don’t identify as male or female. Ball has had to work around the frustrating gender norms in fashion. “The fact that some clothes are considered ‘for girls’ makes me feel like if I wear it, people will take my identity less seriously. I really enjoy wearing skirts, but it’s the association with girls and femininity that steers me away from that kind of fashion sometimes,” said Ball. By considering all clothing as genderless, it would open the doors for people like Ball to not have to worry about being associated with a gender they don’t identify as.
With more people, specifically in younger generations, coming out as non-binary, transgender, and other identities, the fashion scene has already begun to change. With more willingness to disregard gender norms it provides people with more opportunity to change up their style. Despite not being in school this year, I have still noticed subtle moves towards genderless fashion within our community: boys wearing makeup and skirts, girls who go out in suit jackets, and people who seem happy to be able to dress how they want. “Communities of people who like fashion (especially the younger people) are definitely changing and there’s more of an emphasis on how fashion doesn’t have gender,” said Ball. “This is something I feel very strongly about and I’m excited to see other people pushing for [the] change in the way we think about clothing!”
Big brands in fashion have also started to adjust their clothes to fit more non-binary fashion styles. In July of 2020, Gucci launched Mx, their first non-binary collection of clothes, which according to the Gucci website, is meant to, “deconstruct preconceived binaries.” Having more representation like this in the media allows for people to feel more comfortable with dressing how they want and being confident in their fashion preferences.
Fashion is a fluid industry designed to provide consumers with products that help them express themselves. By making fashion a non-gendered industry, it provides the ability for anyone to find clothing that makes them feel confident without discriminating against gender non-conforming people. It’s time to leave gender norms behind and embrace the fluidity of the society we live in.