Gender norms and fashion fall hand-in-hand. When we were kids, society taught us what was socially acceptable for boys and girls to wear. Pink is for girls. Blue is for boys. Girls wear skirts and boys wear pants. There is no in-between. For some reason, our society established these rules to distinguish gender.
There isn’t anything wrong with these “rules.” If a girl wishes to wear a dress with a pearl necklace, all power to her. If a boy wants to rock ripped jeans and a t-shirt, let him be. But the problem begins when society takes these preconceived notions too seriously. Stereotypes and stigmas begin to form, and the second a boy steps out wearing lace, it’s as if all hell breaks loose.
One’s desired fashion sense always comes with judgment. Society will always believe that if a girl is sporting a short haircut and a flannel, she must be a lesbian; and a boy is surely gay if he often wears makeup and nail polish. This ignorant mindset reduces the value of individuality and authenticity of one’s character, and frankly fashion in general.
History of Gender-Defying Fashion
The need to distinguish between masculinity and femininity perpetuates harmful misconceptions. In fact, a study was conducted at the University of Wisconsin, which explained that men and women aren’t as different as many would think. They only differ depending on the situation’s context – and fashion shouldn’t be one of them.
Fashion has always been one of the best forms of self-expression. Not only that, it is a way to make a statement that surpasses everyday expectations. As a result, gender-inclusive and sexually neutral styles have been created for this purpose.
The goal of androgynous fashion is to undo the damage society has inflicted on gender expression. It is considered to be the driving force that inspired many designers today. Instead of tailoring clothing for either men or women, many modern designers decided that gender will no longer be a contributing factor.
This started in the 1910s when Gabrielle Chanel introduced the gift of pants to women. Ironically, this small action coincided with the timeline of the Women’s Suffrage movement. Many consider this to be the birth of androgynous fashion. A domino effect ensued when Yves Saint Laurent further pushed this normalization in women’s fashion. Actresses like Katherine Hepburn and Jodie Foster famously sported androgynous outfits, supporting this movement in the industry.
Revolutionary changes in men’s fashion began in the late 1960s, starting with the “Peacock Revolution“. The counter-culture movement began with the original trendsetters such as David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, and the Beatles. Their use of floral and bright colored patterns, heeled boots, skinny jeans, and ruffled shirts loosened the conforms of masculinity. Thus, this inspired the next generation’s artists to follow in their footsteps.
Diminishing Gender Norms for the Next Generation
The path of progression in the fashion industry continued with icons like Prince, Little Richard, Annie Lennox, and Joan Jett. In fact, Prince happened to be one of the biggest advocates for challenging gender norms. Through his music and especially his fashion sense, he encouraged others to express themselves in their desired way, despite assigned gender or “fashion rules”. Artists like them have inspired today’s fashion forerunners, normalizing the importance of blurring gender lines.
Therefore, there are a number of gender-bending inspirations that constantly challenge the norms the public perpetuates. For instance, predecessors like Janelle Monae, Harry Styles, Miley Cyrus, and Billy Porter are known to unapologetically dress opposing society’s standards. Whether it be a long-flowy gown, baggy clothing, a pants-suit, or even nail polish, these artists refuse to conform to the established image of what their gender should abide by.
One of the most iconic trendsetters of androgynous fashion in our generation is Jaden Smith. In 2016, Smith made headlines when he became the face of Louis Vuitton’s womenswear line. He received backlash and retaliation because of this choice, but Smith had no regrets. He told Nylon magazine, “In five years when a kid goes to school wearing a skirt, he won’t get beat up and kids won’t get mad at him. It just doesn’t matter. I’m taking the brunt of it so that later on, my kids and the next generations of kids will all think that certain things are normal that weren’t expected before my time.”
Let’s Normalize Dressing the Way You Want
What Smith and many others are trying to do (and have done) is commendable. These societal rules are detrimental to future generations. Children should be able to wear whatever they want, without restrictions. Clothing has always been a way for people to show their true characters, not a false image of what society thinks one should look like.
Fashion will always be an alluring form of art with no limitations. Rebelling against gender norms in the industry will never fail to spark a conversation. And although it’s difficult to be a nonconformist, having the freedom to savor your own distinct style is something everyone deserves.