AU Fashion Society weighs-in on the role of gendered clothing in 2020

As gender-bending fashion trends become popular, AU students share their thoughts on the impact of gender norms in fashion

AU Fashion Society weighs-in on the role of gendered clothing in 2020
The co-founders and co-presidents of Revolution: The AU Fashion Society, Rachel Lee (left) and Natalie Senft (right)

Over the past two decades, the prominence of traditional gender roles has generally diminished in American culture. Several mainstream celebrities, such as Harry Styles and Timothée Chalamet, have been seen wearing traditionally feminine pieces, such as heels, blouses, ruffles and pink shades. Billy Porter created an iconic fashion moment in 2019 with his extravagant ball gown at the Oscars. Social media trends on apps, such as TikTok, allow spaces for boys who want to paint their nails, put on makeup or wear skirts. Girls have the space to wear baggy men’s jeans and oversized sweatshirts.

“Gender norms have a great influence on the expectations of what one is supposed to wear and look like,” said Dean Riley, a spokesperson for Revolution: The AU Fashion Society. “There are consistencies of what a man and what a woman in traditional roles are supposed to look like and represent. We’re seeing more people starting to move to break those norms. That is something exciting, but to be honest, we still have a long way to go.” 

Riley and Kristen Batstone, the vice president of events and logistics for Revolution, agreed that gender norms in fashion are reflective of the deeper patriarchal constructs that exist in our society. 

“A big part of gender norms in fashion is a way to police gender or a way to police identity,” said Batstone, a women’s, gender and sexuality studies major. “[Gender norms] have been influential in constructing these rigid norms of masculinity and femininity. As we start, particularly in the gender studies field, to learn more about gender, we understand that these presentations are not representative to how people actually identify or feel comfortable in presenting themselves as.”

While some people feel comfortable expressing their true identity with fashion choices that might challenge gender norms, many still feel restricted to clothes that fit in with traditional norms. 

“Society tells us that the masculine is right, and masculine is good,” Batstone said. “Fashion puts forth this message that masculine is the standard in which we strive to and conform to.”

Batstone said that men who wear more feminine clothing are often questioned about their sexual orientation. 

“A lot of people will say they support a man in a skirt, but then when it comes to it, there’s an association, like ‘Is he gay?’ ‘Is he part of the LGBTQ community?’” Riley said. “There is this automatic association with the queer community. Sexuality and what you wear should not be linked. That's the whole point of breaking this idea that there’s a box you’re supposed to fit into.” 

Accessibility also plays a key role in peoples’ fashion choices, as celebrities like Harry Styles or Billy Porter have the resources for fashion that most people don’t possess. 

“Not only are the celebrities wealthy, but they also have a lot of social capital, which allows them to explore gender in their fashion,” Batstone said. “They are in an environment that is safe for them. Not everybody is in an environment where they are safe to do that.”

Many high-end luxury brands have designed gender-bending clothing pieces for these celebrities. However, the majority of clothing stores don’t sell clothes like this. 

“My clothing choices are different than the most masculine, straight, cis men, but I haven’t ever worn a skirt,” Riley said. “There, I stop myself. Partly because I'm conscious of what others are thinking, but also accessibility. I can't afford Gucci. When Zara and H&M start selling skirts for men, it would be different. When men have to stop shopping in the women’s section to buy a skirt, then we’ve seen greater change.”

Not only do Riley and Batstone believe that cheaper, more popular stores should introduce more gender-bending clothing options, but they also present the idea of androgynous fashion. 

Riley said that breaking gender barriers within fashion can empower people.

“I think gender norms stop a lot of people from feeling comfortable enough to present themselves to the world as their most true and authentic self,” Riley said.

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