The problem with gendered clothing


When Billy Porter stepped out onto the Academy Awards red carpet in 2019 wearing a lavish, black ball gown by Christian Siriano, everybody in fashion and on the internet could not help but express excitement. Finally people are starting to realize that clothing does not have a gender and that we should wear whatever we want. 

Dressing norms have been around for centuries and are sadly enforced in school and professional settings. Gender stereotypes are enforced on children from birth; blue is for boys and pink is for girls. In schools dress codes and uniforms further reinforce this idea. 

So where did the concept of gendered clothing come from? It wasn’t until the 17th century that gendered clothing became a thing. Up until that point womenswear and menswear were similar in many aspects; they were based around a tunic-style garment made by tailors. Clothing was based on class and not gender. However, this started changing in France during the reign of Louis XIV when a group of seamstresses started to dedicate themselves to the construction of womenswear. Right then a divide was created between womenswear and menswear. However there are countless examples throughout history that show that the construct of gendered clothing is arbitrary. For example, high heels were first introduced in the 15th century for men so that they could ride horses better. Yet with time they became more feminine to the point where they now symbolize femininity in its entirety. Overtime clothing became more and more gendered to the point where various countries even had prohibition laws against crossdressing.

Over the course of history women have often borrowed stereotypically menswear such as pantsuits and shirtwaists. Sadly, the opposite is not true as men who wanted to wear more ‘feminine’ clothing were told that it would damage their masculinity. Hence, forcing a mindset onto them that could inevitably lead to issues surrounding toxic masculinity. 

Despite this, Society has started to move to a more gender neutral view of fashion. 

Yet too often do gender neutral clothing lean to the side of masculinity as it is viewed as more ‘neutral’ compared to more ‘feminine’ clothing. This enforces the idea that menswear is the standard.  Instead of creating an entire new category for fashion, we should move towards removing labels from clothing as a whole and acknowledge that clothing is already gender neutral. Instead of titling clothing ‘women’s tops’, why can’t they be more specific yet remain gender neutral: ‘blouses’, ‘tank tops’ ‘graphic t-shirts’, etc.

Although it will take years to uproot an institutionalized idea, it is a step in the right direction. 

To conclude: dress however you want. Clothing and fashion is a form of self expression, its art and has nothing to do with your gender. Do not limit yourself to society’s perception. Wear what makes you comfortable. Wear what makes you feel like you. People feel empowered to wear clothing that makes them happy, not what gender the clothing has been assigned. With idols such as Elvis Presley, Mick Jagger, Freddie Mercury, Harry Styles, Sam Smith, Lady Gaga,  all showing that clothing does not have a gender.