4/4 – Performing Gender Through Fashion

Credit: StyleCaster

With all these influences surrounding me my entire life, I have adopted a certain ‘style’ or ‘dress code’. As someone who is heavily involved in fashion and pays attention to Haute Couture designers and what they create each season, I am aware of the direction that fashion is heading in and the messages it is trying to convey. As a child I always wore what I wanted too, but I wanted to look ‘cute’ but also ‘strong’. I wore bright and colorful clothing, but I rarely wore traditional female garments like dresses or skirts. On days that I wanted to wear boys’ basketball shorts, I did. On other days if I felt like wearing a pretty dress and tights, then I did. I never conformed to any stereotypes and on different days I appeared to be performing different genders. However, my socio-cultural environment created standards or expectations as to when and where these performances can be. For example, growing up and attending church every Sunday, I had to wear a dress or skirt, with tights and nice shoes. Whereas when I went to my softball games, I wore pants, sneakers and a baggy t-shirt. Had I worn these two outfits in opposition, I would have been met with judgement or disapproval. Today I prefer to wear baggy and straight-lined clothing. I feel uncomfortable wearing tight or low-cut garments that accentuate my femininity. The image I present is influenced by designers like Gucci and Balmain that present a ‘strong’ or ‘tough’ image of a woman. I prefer to be viewed as ‘unique’ and ‘edgy’ as opposed to ‘feminine’ or ‘girly’. Thus, by abandoning traditional female silhouettes, I perform gender in a much more non-binary way. While I self-identify as a heterosexual woman, that is not something I purposefully try to convey through my clothing. I wear what I feel is more comfortable and stylish, and that can change every day. For the most part, the clothing I buy comes from the women’s sections of stores, however, I do wear quite a lot of my dad’s old sweaters and jackets too. I shop in the women’s section because I know it will fit me better and because I like the clothes better, however, if I saw an item in the men’s section that I like, no ideas of gender restriction would stop me from buying it. When I am getting ready in the morning, I think about what kind of ‘look’ or ‘image’ I want to portray that day with my clothes, makeup and accessories. However, I always want to feel comfortable and secure and would never compromise that for anything. Although I don’t feel as though I am purposefully performing gender, these views on what I think looks good or looks best on me are based on my socio-cultural upbringing where certain gender expectations were created. When I think about performing gender through my clothes, it isn’t as much as how I present it as it is how society perceives it. I myself, know that I am a female but don’t try or care to portray that through clothing, therefore, the assumptions and or judgements made by those around me are based on their own socio-cultural beliefs of gender. If a stranger were to pass by me on the street they would most likely assume I am a woman. This is because I have shoulder length hair, I usually wear makeup and I wear clothing from the women’s section. However, these are all biological and physical assumptions that our society has deemed ‘female’. On another day if I am wearing a more ‘masculine’ outfit, no makeup, and my hair cut short, I could be interpreted as ‘male’ or ‘transgender’ or even have my sexuality called into question. Overall, I do not try to convey myself as male or female but due to my upbringing and socio-cultural surroundings, the way I dress and how I feel about it is largely influenced.

The times we live in are so important in creating a cultural shift. As fashion designers continue to defy traditional gender roles and stereotypes, they create a pathway for the future where children can be raised in a non-binary environment. For so long, society has felt that they can understand so much about a person simply based on their physical appearance, clothing included. However, what this movement strives to do is create a fluidity throughout the world, where gender is not a determining factor. Thus, by removing the rules of gender and creating a world of fashion where the clothing matters more than who is wearing it, gender is called into question. To ‘perform’ gender means to act a certain way that a culture associates with a certain meaning. Fashion is removing this meaning, leaving those who won’t let go of gender rules in the dark.

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