Re-defining the closet

The early 2000s—a turning point for top fashion, with cowl neck tops, low-rise jeans and raccoon tail hair making its way into the mainstream. But in the awkward yet charming Y2K era of fashion, wearing clothing that doesn’t conform to gender norms was a rare sighting.

In stark contrast, the public eye today—for the most part—embraces women donning suits or bearing some features of traditionally masculine clothing. However, men’s fashion still suffers from the archconservative values that have plagued most of history, and are often shunned when they are seen wearing anything remotely feminine.

“Clothing has no gender” is a commonly heard phrase when discussing traditional gender norms and fashion, specifically with androgynous clothing. 

Femininity, masculinity and androgyny are social constructs based on customs and regions; for instance, outside of Western cultures, skirt-like garments are commonly incorporated into mens daily wear. The feminine or masculine aspects of clothing is in the eye of the beholder—different depending on who you ask.

Clothing can have association with a certain gender, but shouldn’t be used as a direct correlation as such because a piece of cloth isn’t indicative of one’s entire identity.

Menswear is often restricted to more conservative styles, taking on an almost uniform-like approach. While it isn’t inherently bad for people to want to conform to societal ideals, it is negative when it’s driven by a fear of ostracization.

In the same vein, while not without criticism from some conservatives, womenswear tends to embrace clothing from both sides of the spectrum. While one may not bat an eye at a woman wearing pantsuit, the same person might raise a brow at a man wearing a dress.

Strictly perceiving menswear as the norm in accepting the tomboy style but shunning the men who wear feminine clothing reeks of toxic masculinity, and displays a blatant double standard in gender roles.

But all this isn’t to say that there has been zero progress in challenging the constraints of gendered clothing over time. Broadway star Billy Porter is known for his flamboyant looks, challenging gender roles one snazzy outfit at a time.

Fashion is a more creative and enjoyable form of self-expression that everyone has a right to pursue, regardless of gender identity. Everyone wears clothes—otherwise you’d get charged with a misdemeanor—so why place so much stigma and hatred upon a piece of fabric?