This is a tricky subject to tackle. Clothing has become such a political and polarizing topic that it’s kind of hard to talk about gender norms in fashion without getting a bit agitated or go on a rant.
I feel like women have a definite advantage when it comes to being allowed to explore and experiment more with their looks. Trying out different styles and dabbing into menswear isn’t seen negatively in most cases. Men on the other hand aren’t allowed the same freedom even though the same principles should apply. Unfortunately, this new age culture of associating dressing a certain way with a specific sexual orientation unfairly targets men and limits their spectrum of styles to try.
We each have both a masculine and a feminine side to us (masculine being associated with survival skill and all things related to that and feminine being associated with emotions and nurturing etc.) and we tap into each side at different times for different needs and fashion is a way that’s commonly been used to express which side of the coin we’re in at that particular moment.
I’ve always felt that the idea of gender based fashion more than being just generally unfair also greatly overlooks the cultural relevancy of certain clothing items that have nothing (and have never had anything) to do with gender.
This western idea of branding a skirt as a feminine item of clothing for example greatly erases the many African cultures where men wear wraps around their waists (resembling skirts) or wearing long tunics (resembling dresses). Not only are these cultural “dress codes” acceptable, they’ve also been present for hundreds of years.
There’s also the issue with clothing colors which is frankly baffling to me where certain colors were seen as feminine and others more masculine, forgetting that these things have changed and progressed throughout the times so much so that there was a point in history where pink was the manliest color you could wear and blue was considered appropriate mostly for women. Who’s making these rules?
Same goes for high heels. Dating back to ancient Egypt where they were worn by both noble men and women (and in some accounts by butchers for practicality – walking over blood and animal remains without injury) in some accounts and in others the trend started with Persian horse riders and cavalry for a matter of practicality and they were then adopted by European noblemen to showcase status.
At some point around the 1600s women started incorporating what at the time were menswear and men’s fashion elements into their wardrobes as a way to assert independence and power and that included shorter hairstyles (not that other cultures, specially African ones, didn’t already include them as both acceptable for men and women) and the high-heeled shoe.
Later on heels became associated with prostitution (funny how when women start wearing them they “suddenly” become associated with something generally perceived as derogative) and then we fast forward to today where, as beautiful and “essential” in any woman’s wardrobe they are mostly seen as a means of showcasing sexuality, many times directed at attracting a partner “because heels are uncomfortable and no woman would wear them other than to entice a man”, and we conveniently forget that they were once a symbol of status and power (which, apart from the pure aesthetics, is still the one of the reasons women still wear them today).
Chiffon shirts are originally thought of as being a female item of clothing but at it’s essence it’s just a shirt made out of a lighter, more delicate fabric. It’s cooler and breathable (which, who wouldn’t want? specially during warmer weather) but the implication that it’s delicate and only “delicate” beings (read: women) should wear them creates a bunch of very prejudicial ideas around something that should be simple: a shirt that keeps you cool when the weather is hot. The idea that men can’t be soft and delicate and emotive creates these emotionally immature beings that don’t know how to handle and/or express emotions and it traps women into fitting only in this small box of “delicate flowers” which might not relate to all of us.
And the same sort of complex origin and evolution story goes for wigs, pants, and other items of the modern-day wardrobe.
Thankfully, the fashion industry is starting to acknowledge “traditional/ethnic” clothing that might not conform to the gender based clothing we’ve become accustomed to more and more these days but it’s still in a slightly fetishizing way and the conversations around gender norms and “acceptable” fashions for men (and women, but mostly men) are still not happening. Some items might creep into the modern man’s wardrobe but the acknowledgement of the origin of the style, specially when it begins as a “women’s” article of clothing or the redefining of whatever style from now on as neither masculine nor feminine isn’t happening and that doesn’t sit well with me.
It leads to ridiculous things like “man buns” instead of calling a bun a bun because there’s still this irrational “need” to label things according to sometimes arbitrary gender norms.
That’s why I appreciate projects and campaigns like men wearing flower crowns or flowers in their beards or Jaden Smith modeling Louis Vuitton’s Spring 2016 women’s line and people in general who aren’t afraid to bend these archaic gender based fashion “rules”.
My point is, associating specific fashions with certain genders is, for the most part, completely unnecessary and arbitrary. I’m not in any way trying to make this a discussion on sexuality and gender identities, I’m talking about in general, the idea that certain items of clothing should be specifically for men or specifically for women seems pointless. I understand that the way certain clothes are cut were made to compliment a “male” figure of a “female” figure and the labeling and separation in stores might still have a place to some accounts but seeing how even things like male and female figure aren’t a cookie cutter phenomenon I do believe the strictness of separation of genders in fashion is unnecessary and creates all this negative stigma around someone wanting to wear something that at present day isn’t considered appropriate for their gender even though it’s been proven time and time again how fashions change and evolve.
This is becoming a very rant-y post so I’ll just end it with: let people wear whatever they want because at the end of the day, they’re just clothes. And if it looks good, why not?
Let me know how you feel about this. Feel free to disagree, as long as we keep the conversation cordial and respectful. Do you think strict gender distinctions are necessary for clothing? Have you ever felt conflicted because your personal style doesn’t conform to what’s “expected” from you gender/culture wise? Leave it all in the comments below!
[This outfit was originally posted HERE. Click the link to get more pictures and outfit details].