Gender and fashion

By Grace Helmke 

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Our society entirely revolves around judging a person based on how they look. We attempt to discern who this person might be through the things they wear, the style of their hair, or the makeup they put on.

Since the day we are born, we have been taught to think a certain way about these choices in style. If a person wears a dress, then they’re a girl. Men can only wear pants. Only women can wear makeup.

Stereotypes surrounding gender and fashion, that have captivated society for centuries, are shifting. Slowly, generations are breaking the bonds of traditional ideals, questioning what is taught, and making their own rules. 

As we are discovering more and more about gender as a social construct, we are learning about fluidity in the fashion world; an industry that has long been the source of exclusion on all spectrums. In a lot of places, websites and stores are continuing to play into the binary definition of gender.

However, there has recently been a wave of gender fluid, or gender inclusive apparel companies. Runway ready brands like Rich Mnisi, Eckhaus Latta, and Older Brother, lead the pack of designer wear that does not conform to gender norms. They have disregarded the tradition of categorizing by gender, and have placed merchandise under types of clothing (trousers, sweater, blouses, etc…) 

The Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston, has also questioned the idea of gender stereotypes through a garment exhibition called “Gender Bending Fashion.” The exhibit discusses gender identity as a spectrum, and explores clothing in history that has challenged what was widely accepted in society. 

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This movement of discovering one’s own identity in clothing, and disregarding the norm, is present in the stars. Billy Porter (he/him) is an actor and singer who has defied any and every societal standard. He questions what masculinity and femininity really is through his own self expression.

Porter has captured the attention of many in a number of ensembles. He has graced the red carpet in ball gowns, glistening onesies, and golden winged garb.

Another celebrity who defines his own dress, is Jonathan Van Ness, a gender nonconforming (preferred pronouns are he/him, but is okay with being called she/her or they/them as well) influencer who gained recognition through the Netflix show ‘Queer Eye.’ His signature style revolves around heels, skirts, and a handlebar mustache. He is melding attire traditionally associated with men and women, and creating his own definition of fashion as it relates to his own identity.

Like many issues that are faced in America, and around the world, there is still a lot of progress to be made. But with gender becoming an increasingly talked about topic, stores are beginning
to shift more and more towards gender inclusive branding.

Exhibitions are being created to get it out to the public that clothing is fluid, and there are historical fashion rebels that have defied society in order to be themselves. Figures such as Billy Porter and Johnathan Van Ness are just two of the many leaders who challenge what is considered normal, inspiring others to wear what they love, instead of what is accepted. 

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