Fashion is synonymous with personal expression: It’s a large part of who we are, how we present ourselves and how others perceive us. It’s supposed to make us feel comfortable and confident in our own skin, while also allowing us to showcase our individuality and personality. Whether you would personally categorize yourself as “stylish,” at the end of the day, your fashion is a part of who you are.
Outside the rigid boundaries of the gender norms too often imposed by our society, fashion is a place where people can be whoever they want to be and provides us with the freedom to express ourselves in any way we want. And because fashion’s main purpose is to promote individuality, it’s, therefore, genderless.
While it seems that society has made great strides toward escaping the grasps of the traditional gender binary, both generally and in terms of fashion, this progress has really only come in recent years.
When I first think of the gender binary, I picture the classic portrait of a 1950s husband and wife, whose imagery projects harmful gender stereotypes on society. The man, a strong and handsome breadwinner, and the wife, a fit matron tasked with looking pretty and taking care of the household, were once the blueprint of how “both genders” should behave and look.
Fast forward to today, while some gender stereotypes may still be prevalent, people have certainly begun to fight back against traditional norms. For instance, society is beginning to recognize that gender and sex are not the same and that people can identify with whichever gender or identity they feel that they embody, regardless of their anatomy.
And in terms of fashion, we’ve seen it progressively drift further away from the gender binary. While there’ve been those who have challenged gendered fashion, like singers David Bowie or Prince, it’s become much more common over recent years to see people wearing whatever they want regardless of their sex or gender.
Women dressing in “men’s” clothes or men dressing in “women’s” clothes are no longer atypical sights, and our generation has generally been more accepting of the idea that clothes are fundamentally genderless.
Celebrities like Ezra Miller, Billy Porter and Cara Delevingne are just some of the few prominent figures that often boast gender-neutral looks and defy the traditional gender binary of fashion, and in recent history, singer Harry Styles has joined this shift in fashion.
In November 2020, Styles was pictured on the cover of Vogue wearing a dress, which sparked a huge conversation regarding gendered fashion over social media. While many people supported and gushed over Styles’ gender-bending outfit, there were others who publicly hated on his look.
One critic, conservative political commentator Candace Owens, said on Twitter that society ought to “Bring back manly men.”
This tweet not only perpetuates harmful gender stereotypes but also suggests that men who wear traditionally “feminine clothes” can’t also be “manly.”
Styles’ fashion choices do not in any way invalidate his identity as a man, nor his masculinity, but rather allows him to authentically express himself, regardless of what society thinks.
“Clothes are there to have fun with and experiment with and play with,” Styles said, according to Vogue. “What’s really exciting is that all of these lines are just kind of crumbling away. When you take away ‘There’s clothes for men, and there’s clothes for women,’ once you remove any barriers, obviously you open up the arena in which you can play.”
When society perpetuates the idea that fashion is gendered, it ultimately only hinders our ability to not only develop our personal style but also the ability to genuinely show who we are — that’s why it’s so important to allow anyone, regardless of their sex or gender, to be free to explore and allow them to wear what they want to wear.
By destroying the boundaries of the gender binary in fashion, everyone can be who they truly are without having to conform to meaningless and oppressive societal standards that shouldn’t even be there in the first place.
Fashion is genderless! Get over it. Wear that dress, rock that pantsuit, strut in those heels — the best look is wearing what makes you feel like you.