Beyond the Gender Binary: Fashion's New Movement
For centuries, the clothing we dress ourselves in has not only ensured comfort and survival, but has also served as a canvas for creativity and self expression.
For centuries, the clothing we dress ourselves in has not only ensured comfort and survival, but has also served as a canvas for creativity and self expression. At times when words are inadequate, we turn to alternative methods of expression to make a statement. Fashion designers nowadays use their shows to convey messages that both mirror and encourage worldly changes. Lately, the fashion world has been pushing against gender labels within the industry. This budding change perhaps serves as an important spark for social change, and the adoption of gender fluidity in the ways we dress marks a crucial first step towards improved gender equality.
Clothing and its many benefits have been relevant for a significant part of our existence; its dynamic with society is constantly changing, growing to be more than a means of modesty tailored towards specific genders. For example, the "s-bend" corset, a fashion trend that influenced the 19th century, encouraged elegant posture and tiny waists at the expense of comfort. In stark contrast to corsets, blazers and suits, clothes that are often regarded as masculine and "boxy," have grown more popular amongst women in fashion. The dichotomy between what fashion had been and has become only emphasizes its fluidity and ability to respond to social constructs.
While the range of women's clothing has expanded from proper corsets and gowns to include a variety of "masculine" clothes, the confines of men's fashion have yet to be broken. In the past, it was almost unheard of to see a man in flowy, delicate pieces of clothing. Blind adherence to the traditional male image soon became labelled as "toxic masculinity." Translated into the fashion industry, the ongoing controversy surrounding men in feminine attire and accessories, and the prevalent usage of masculinity as a marketing tactic, highlight how toxic masculinity remains a relevant issue. But while these expectations for men are still largely present in 2021, many have come to recognize them as problems to be addressed. Hence, fashion is undergoing metamorphosis once again.
More frequently today, we see women and men designing pieces that contradict traditional gender trends. Jermey Scott, creative director of Moschino, directs shows featuring men decked out in feather boas and shirts made of fishnet, items that are virtually interchangeable across genders. Raf Simons, Belgian fashion designer and creative director at Jil Sander, Calvin Klein, and Christian Dior, is one of the many designers known to explore gender fluidity in fashion. His first Calvin Klein collection featured both male and female models within the same show, something uncommon within the fashion industry. Simons is also known for hiring male models with a slimmer and leaner physique rather than those with more muscular bodies. Guests of the show have said that it was hard to differentiate the models' genders, which was exactly the designer's intention.
To those who are consumers of fashion, the boundaries of styling are also expanding. Celebrities who aren't directly involved in the fashion industry have aided in changing the existing image of masculinity. Timotheé Chalamet is best known for stealing the show in his Haider Ackerman pieces worn at red carpet events. Although these pieces are still "suits" by definition, they are often more colorful—some are even embellished with rhinestones. Moreover, in East Asia, a recent surge in popularity towards androgyny and more delicate-looking idols is also a step towards another realm of men's fashion. The breaking of gender norms in fashion is quickly becoming an industry-changing, global movement.
Despite the somewhat progressive shifts to modern day culture, beyond the fashion industry, traditional gender stereotypes are still prevalent. Former President Donald J. Trump stated that he prefers that his female staff "dress like women," an opinion that can be interpreted as an attempt to confine women to an "ideal" image. Gender inequality is ubiquitous. Additionally, frequent implications that "boys don’t cry" within Western households proves to have a scientific toll on the male ability to express emotion. A meta-analytic review on the differences in emotion expression amongst different genders conducted Yale University shows that adolescent girls show more externalized and positive emotions whereas boys show more signs of anger and internalized emotion. Through fashion, designers and consumers alike are able to express those emotions with increasingly less restrictions.
Gender equality beyond the fashion industry is still far from satisfactory. However, by making minor improvements upon the standards, images, and labels we are born with, the titans of the fashion industry will continue to play a key role in nurturing the art of creative expression that reciprocates the changes within our culture.