Understanding Gender in Fashion: Androgyny & Real Power Dressing
We have seen how clothing dictates gender, with the most common example being the usage and the representation of the color pink. In an episode of the popular sitcom, f.r.i.e.n.d.s., Joey is teased and ridiculed for wearing a black bag as though the only wearers of bags are women. As though the usefulness of the bag is secondary to the gender of the bag (or that it has a gender at all). Fashion, over the years, has a history of dictating gender and is one of the many ways in which society deems a woman as woman-enough or a man as man-enough.
Fast-forward to today, we have come a long way in terms of better, more inclusive, queer representation in fashion. And we must. If fashion dictates the way a person is and ought to be, it only makes sense that it includes the terms that make it accessible for all. All the more in today’s day and time where our external appearances like clothing, hairstyle, choice of accessories and overall presentation reveals so much about our personalities and identities. In a world, where one’s clothing and style reveals much about them, it is rudimentary that style takes into account all the different possibilities of human existence.
Seeing beyond the gender binary -
Over the years, we have seen how clothing has been very specifically targeted toward sexes - male and female, and often categorized separately in terms of color and style. That means, for several years, there existed a whole segment of humans who fell outside of the gender binary and were excluded in terms of the possibilities and privileges laid out.
Since our biological sex is determined at birth, it makes most sense that our identification with gender would happen much later. Perhaps as a combination and culmination of societal factors and expected behaviors that consciously or unconsciously prescribe a gender to us. Even today, many of us make the mistake of interchanging the words sex and gender, without paying attention to the nuances that set them apart from each other. Below, we talk about the differences between gender, sex and sexuality, and how these factors tie together to define one’s choice of clothing. Understanding this, will help us understand gender fluidity, and androgynous fashion choices as extensions of one’s gender identity and as something that is independent of one’s biological sex.
Understanding the difference between sex, gender and sexuality -
In simple words, one’s biological sex refers to “the different biological and physiological characteristics of males and females, such as reproductive organs, chromosomes, hormones, etc.”
Gender, on the other hand, refers to “the socially constructed characteristics of women and men - such as norms, roles and relationships of and between groups of women, men and intersex.” Gender is a broader term that attempts to include genders that fall outside of the gender stereotypes of male or female. One can be born biologically male and identify as a woman, and one can be born as biologically female and identify as a man. One can also assume the gender of both male and female and identify with the characteristics that define both types. Gender allows for all types of sexual identities to exist irrespective of their biological sex.
Sexual Orientation/ Sexuality -
One's sexual orientation or sexuality is a broader term that categorizes who you’re attracted to sexually. It encapsulates a person’s sexual or erotic feelings. The terms that define one’s sexuality could be either or not limited to heterosexual or straight, gay/ lesbian, trans or bisexual.
Getting the terminology right -
When it comes to setting any societal norm, it is imperative that the norm takes into consideration every strata of society. Since social structures define the possibilities of one’s existence, it is important that those structures include one and all. Throughout history we have seen how older, regressive structures and ways of living have paved the way for newer ways of existing. This only proves that what defines the “human” and the ways in which the human exists are terms that are constantly changing and evolving.
Revolutionary feminist writer and thinker Simone de Bouvoir says, “one isn’t born a woman, rather, one becomes a woman.” This sentence applies to all genders, races, classes and structures. If an act is performed enough times such that the majority recognizes and adheres to it, it eventually becomes a norm, a fixed belief, a system. What Simone Bouvoir is essentially saying is that one isn’t born with the tag of a woman even if they are born female, but that the moment one is born female, a set of norms, expectations and behaviors are prescribed to them over time, eventually forming one’s identity - a woman. What defines a woman or a man are not necessarily a result of factors that are biologically postulated, even if they are born male or female.
At one point in time, a woman’s place was considered the home and the kitchen. She was prescribed a set of duties and expectations to adhere to, which defined her identity to the world. The same goes with men - men were once considered sole breadwinners, the hunters or the ones to ensure that there’s a roof over the family’s head and food on the table. With these responsibilities, the human body evolved to adapt to duties - for women it was home-making and child-rearing, for men it was more physical labour and that showed on their bodies. Over time, these roles became fixed rigid structures and characteristics that defined one’s gender. Men were known for their strength and women for their sensitivity and compassion. These were not necessarily our identities but rather roles that evolved from humanity’s need for survival and yet became stereotypes that still have their roots in society today. If one did not fit into the sexuality prescribed to them, there was no other mode of recognition by which they could be dispossessed. Coming out of the closet was not an option.
The Stonewall Riots -
The Stonewall Riots took place in the wee hours of June 28th, 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in Lower Manhattan, NYC when the police resorted to violence on the LGBTQIA community. Police raids were quite common in the region due to the resistance toward the community, however, this one turned bad and violent too soon and became the symbol of the gay rights and gay liberation movement. The riots became a major event in history that shaped the entire discourse for the LGBTQIA community and paved the way for a wider representation and equal rights for all, irrespective of gender, sexuality or identity.
Possibilities for one, possibilities for all:
Gender identity -
Gender identity is the identity that one feels internally as opposed to the gender identity that is prescribed to them at birth neither stems from an external social understanding that doesn’t take all human possibilities into consideration. Feminist theory believes that one’s gender identity and sexuality are fluid and may or may not fall into categories of man/ woman or gay/ straight.
Gender identity and representation in fashion -
In a world where the binaries of gender can be loosely held concepts, it pegs the question of what happens to gendered clothing? The simple answer is that nothing happens to it - a shirt remains a shirt once it is no longer attributed to a gender, skirts or stilettos will remain what they are without being defined as belonging to one gender only.
Ken Downing, Neiman Marcus Group’s fashion head said in his interview with the New York Times in 2015 that according to him, “we’re seeing a seismic shift in fashion, a widening acceptance of a style with no boundaries - one that reflects the way young people think and dress.” Today, with our fierce youth and a younger, self-actualised and fearless generation demanding better representation and a change in the fashion industry’s standards for gendered clothing, brands have stopped to listen. It only makes sense that other brands too pick up cues and are open to the evolving needs of an evolving society.
Clothes really are more than just body-covering. We spend every minute of our days in the clothes we wear - it has become a part of our day-to-day living. The clothes we wear are means by which we communicate, express and represent ourselves. It is no wonder that on certain days, certain outfits make us feel different, or that there exists the term power-dressing in fashion. Clothes help us feel a certain way, and paint a picture to the outside world by revealing details about our personalities. We talk and walk differently in different outfits, clothes can make us swing the extra mile or stay someplace longer, they dictate our mood and have the power to change it, clothes are conversation starters and canvases where we are ourselves both the subject and object.
Androgynous Fashion: The True Power-dressing -
Speaking of gender-neutral clothing, the immediate impression one gets is that gender neutral means lacking in flavour and essence, without much glitz and glamour but just the right amount of plain, in other words, literally translating to “neutral” clothing. However, that isn’t the case. Androgynous clothing has some of the brightest and most eccentric styles, borrowing notes from gendered fashion and fusing them together. The room to be creative is endless when it comes to androgynous clothing as there is no definitive boundary that outlines it. Androgyny does not mean the absence or presence of one particular gender, but rather the ways in which both come together to a seamless blend, redefining fashion on a moment-by-moment basis.
T-shirts: The King of Androgynous Fashion
The best thing about t-shirts is that it has always been powerful in the sense that it doesn’t dictate gender in the ways other pieces of clothing do. A t-shirt is a friend to all kinds of identities and fashion preferences. In fact, a t-shirt can be worn a zillion different ways and each time look like a new outfit altogether. Not just that, t-shirts allow you to wear your thoughts on your sleeve. Today, there are a lot of gender-queer t-shirts that speak in support of the community and also lets the world know that they are one us. T-shirts don’t just reveal things about yourself, but can also be canvases for thought-provoking slogans and quotes to raise awareness on the importance of gender sensitivity and inclusion.
As a brand, we stand in support of the community and believe that the possibilities for one, should be the possibilities for all. Our gender-queer collection is to help give a voice to the community with a wide range of designs, slogans and quotes that stir thought and represent the community through and through. Shop from our queer collection here.
You can visit our design Studio to design your own custom T-shirt. And you can also browse some best selling collections like Bikers Collection, Stock Market Collection, Travel Collection, Couple T-Shirts and Abstract Collection.