1/4 – Performing Gender Through Fashion

Credit: GirlTalkHQ

Throughout history, gender has been viewed a basic biological identification. It allowed for society to be split into two groups, men and women or boys and girls. Gender was assumed and could not fluctuate. From infancy, society implemented certain ideas of gender upon children. From the toys they play with, their hairstyles and the clothes they wear, gender is performed. To ‘perform’ refers to the way in which we portray something to an audience. Thus, “performing culture is an activity that people engage in through their everyday words and actions, which reflect their enculturation and therefore can be studied as performances regardless of whether the subjects are aware of their cultural significance” (Griffith & Marion, 2017, p.2). When talking about the ways in which we perform gender, it refers to how we present our gender to society.  Generally, society thinks of gender as something natural, or simply biological, when in fact it is a cultural concept. Meaning that society created and imposed the ideas of gender and created the two categories of ‘male’ and ‘female’. Which then created terms like ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’. However, this concept is not universally recognized. Every culture has different ideas of gender and recently, western society has begun to challenge previous ideas of gender and sexuality. As stated in Perspectives, “We experience gender and sexuality largely through the prism of the culture or cultures to which we have been exposed and in which we have been raised” (Blumenfield & Harper & Mukhopadhyay, 2017, p.2). These notions have been rejected by some parts of society since gender has a clear biological distinction. Males and females have distinguishing physical features, however, what those against traditional gender rules are trying to argue is that the meanings and behaviours around gender are not natural and are implemented by socio-cultural behaviours. This creation of meaning is a culture’s ‘gender ideology’ which is described in Perspectives by stating, “we learn very early (by at least age three) about the categories of gender in our culture—that individuals are either “male” or “female” and that elaborate beliefs, behaviours, and meanings are associated with each gender” (Blumenfield & Harper & Mukhopadhyay, 2017, p.2). As these children grow up, they continue to ‘perform’ gender, and these performances are deeply culturally coded. In today’s Western society, we see these performances being altered or challenged. Through the clothing we wear, we present ideologies of our gender towards society. Clothing is a key tool for self-identification, especially because it can be conveyed without conversation. Therefore, every day we perform gender through our clothing, and this performance is based on ideas implemented by society. To support this notion, this paper will focus on my life and how I perform gender through the clothes I wear and how society has influenced that performance.


Blumenfield, Tami & Harper, Susan & Mukhopadhyay, Carol. (2017). Gender and Sexuality. In Brown, Nina & González Laura & McIlwraith, Thomas, Perspectives (226-281). Arlington VA: American Anthropological Association.

Griffith, Lauren & Marion, Jonathan. (2017). Performance. In Brown, Nina & González Laura & McIlwraith, Thomas, Perspectives (351-374). Arlington VA: American Anthropological Association.

Rysst, Mari. (2010). I Am Only Ten Years Old: Femininities, Clothing-Fashion Codes and the Intergenerational Gap of Interpretation of Young Girls Clothes. Childhood, 17. Retrieved from: http://journals.sagepub.com.ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/doi/abs/10.1177/0907568209351552

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