2/4 – Performing Gender Through Fashion

Figure 1

Being a young girl in the late 90s and early 2000s meant having a lot of ideas of gender surrounding you. As a young girl I wore rather extravagant clothing, with lots of bright colours and ‘funky’ accessories. My clothing portrayed me as ‘female’ to society. In those years, young girls clothing had lots of pinks and purples, sparkles and sequins, and girly imagery in their wardrobes. A very popular store when I was young was called “Lasenza Girl”. Their clothing represented a ‘groovy’ or ‘funky’ young girl, who wore bright coloured clothing. The store presented an ‘edgier’ or ‘cooler’ idea of a young girl, but still heightened femininity. (See Figures 1.0).  The clothing created by popular stores like Lasenza Girl, Aeropostale, and The Children’s Place, were heavily influenced by popular culture. Specifically, television series and pop stars from the Disney and Nickelodeon channels. A popular show at the time was Zoey 101 who teamed up with Lasenza Girl to create a clothing line. Therefore, when young girls such as myself watched the show, we wanted to look like our favourite characters and would go buy Lasenza Girls clothes. That show portrayed the females as smart, pretty and stylish girls, something many young viewers aspired to be. Fashion was a large focus on the show and it presented girls in a ‘cooler’ and ‘unique’ way.  Before this, young girls (elementary school age), dressed ‘prettier’. They wore light colours, skirts or dresses, and tights or stockings. This created the idea that girls were more ‘delicate’ or ‘sensitive’. Therefore, what companies like Lasenza Girl did, is create a different image of what a female is that young girls, like myself, can adopt and perform.

Figure 2

While this progressive interpretation of femininity was important, there were still very strict rules of gender in clothing put in place throughout my childhood. This new clothing added a sense of maturity, as these kinds of clothes were more commonly worn by teenagers. Therefore, as stated by scholar Mari Rysst, “fashions for preteen girls tend to construct them as older than their culturally understood age” (Rysst, 2010, p.76). In addition, Rysst states, “designers seem to assume that 10-year-old girls want to dress ‘older than their age’, and construct clothes according to such a norm (Rysst, 2010, p.77). This attempt to dress young women in more mature clothing, created the ‘tomboy’ style. Girls that dressed ‘masculine’ or ‘boyish’, were called a ‘tomboy’ and girls who dressed overly ‘feminine’ were called a ‘girly girl’. ‘Tomboy’s’ were influenced by pop culture icons like Avril Lavigne or movie characters like Lindsay Lohan in Freaky Friday (See Figure 2.0). This wardrobe consisted of baggier clothing, darker colours, and male accessories like ties, sneakers, or hats.

Figure 3

The ‘girly girl’ style was influenced by actresses like Mary Kate and Ashley, and even popular toys like the Groovy Girls or Polly Pockets (See Figure 3.0). These ideas of a how a girl should dress were implemented by socio-cultural views created and implemented by popular culture. Over the years of my childhood, I fluctuated between the two terms. As fashion has always been a large part of my life, I liked to wear various things and never conform to one style, no matter my gender.

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