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Fashion Choices: Challenging the Gender Binary


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Fashion has been a part of human life since our ancestors began wearing clothes. Since then, fashion has evolved into a way to express our inner selves to the outer world. However, historically we have created a divide between men and women’s clothing that narrow fashion to the binary. Recently, though, people have begun to explore gender neutral clothing; clothing that can be worn by anyone without the label of being strictly for a man or woman. On this page, we explore how fashion has changed over time and what gender neutral clothing is today.

The events that revolutionized fashion in the world

*1817 Women have embraced the chemise as a fashion style

In my class, Gender Studies, we studied the gender binary and gender performativity. When looking at fashion and how, at the moment, gender is often placed into two distinct categories, which can cause people who do not identify as a man or woman to feel constrained by the selection of clothing designated for men and women. Gender performativity is a term created by Judith Butler, a gender theorist. It is the idea that gender is a performance and rather than a biological imperative. Butler argues that gender is a social construct, so social norms and scripts ultimately mold how we present our gender.

Fashion has historically created boundaries for men and women when it comes to clothing. For example, if a person is wearing a dress, we typically assume that person is a woman or, at the very least, more feminine. Gender neutral clothing, however, offers opportunities to challenge these gender norms and performances. To better understand how gendered and gender neutral clothing plays a role in how we think about the constraints of the gender binary, I talked to one of my peers at school who created a gender neutral clothing line and intentionally wears gender neutral clothing.

Gender Neutral Clothing in Philadelphia

While thinking about the different ways to support people who want to adopt a gender neutral style in my community, I came up with the idea to create gender neutral outfits from clothes that I or someone in my neighborhood already owned. I went to my neighbor’s house and raided his and his sister’s closet to put together gender neutral outfits. As you heard from the video, there are no specifically gender neutral clothing stores in Philadelphia, so all the clothes featured on this page were bought from clothing stores in either the men’s or women’s section. While sizing may seem off in some of the photos, this project will give you a better sense of how the same style of clothing can look fashionable, regardless of one’s gender expression. I’ve also added additional images of famous people wearing clothing similar to the styles I put together to demonstrate how the perception of clothing is becoming less gendered.

Scott Disick

Kendall Jenner

Ellen DeGeneres in t-shirt and shorts

Leonardo DiCaprio in t-shirt and shorts

 

These first three outfits are more casual styles because I noticed that the majority of the gender neutral marketed clothing that I have seen are more eccentric pieces. While maybe not the most fashionable, these outfits are wearable without feeling like the wearer is being pushed into the background. I wanted to put together many different types of outfits to show that gender neutral clothing is not a style, but rather another way to market clothing that is inclusive.

 

I felt the need to put together a gender neutral bathing suit because this is one area where men’s and women’s clothing is greatly divided in terms of style. While this might not be the perfect bathing suit, it brings to mind the idea of swimwear as gender neutral.

Leighton Meester

Josh Duhamel

The idea of suits being gender neutral and not just for men is a large movement in the fashion world. Although it is still mostly seen as menswear, many women are wearing classy pantsuits to formal events.

While many of us go through life without giving much thought to our clothing options, there’s value in considering how fashion norms cause us to conform to the clothing instead of the clothing conforming to us. This project, I hope, brings to mind that the idea of certain pieces of clothing being made strictly for a man or woman is a notion, not a fact. Gender neutral clothing is important because it is marketed to everyone, regardless of how they understand their gender identity, allowing anyone to feel that fashion is for them.

From reading about the evolution of fashion and the impact of gender neutral clothing on people’s lives, I hope that the next time you go shopping for clothes you think about and question:

– The differences between clothing labeled for “men” or “women” and “boys” or “girls”.

– If the clothing you are buying could be considered gender neutral.

– The impact that a gender neutral clothing store would have on the community in which you live.

With that in mind…

Made with Padlet

Works Cited

Artist Unknown. Fashion Sketches 2. Crazy Frankenstein. Web. 15 April 2017

Avedon, Richard. The New Look. 1947. The Richard Avedon Foundation. Pinterest. Web. 14 April 2017

Bowles, Carington. How d’ye like me. 1772.  British Museum Department of Prints and Drawings. Web. 14 April 2017

Clemente, Deide. “Fashion: Why and When Did Americans Begin to Dress So Casually?” Time. Time, 5 Aug. 2015. Web. 30 Mar. 2017. <http://time.com/3984690/american-casual-dressing/>.

Christus, Petrus. Portrait of a Female Donor. 1455. Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art. Web. 14 April 2017.

HOWARD, ELLA. “Feminist Writings on Twentieth-Century Design History, 1970-1995: Furniture, Interiors, Fashion.” Studies in the Decorative Arts, vol. 8, no. 1, 2000, pp. 8–21., www.jstor.org/stable/40662756.

Kennedy, Alicia, et al. “An Illustrated Timeline of Fashion” Fashion Design, Referenced: A Visual Guide to the History, Language & Practice of Fashion. Rockport Publishers, 2013. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=576544&site=ehost-live.

Le Brun, Élisabeth. Marie Antoinette in a Chemise Dress. 1783. Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met. Web. 14 April 2017

Lemire, B., and G. Riello. “East & West: Textiles And Fashion In Early Modern Europe”. Journal Of Social History, vol 41, no. 4, 2008, pp. 887-916. EBSCOhost, http://web.a.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail/detail?sid=86f4e503-dfba-494f-aab5-959fffb13b3e%40sessionmgr4007&vid=0&hid=4204&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#AN=32848232&db=mfm.

Mijtens, Daniel. Charles I, King of England. 1629. Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met. Web. 14 April 2017

Newton, Helmut. Le Smoking. 1975. nijhumsabiha. Web. 14 April 2017

Photograph of Ellen Degeneres. 2008. Photograph. DailyMail. DailyMail. Web. 15 April 2017

Photograph of Josh Duhamel. 2010. Photograph. Zimbio. Livingly Media, Inc. Web. 15 April 2017

Photograph of Kendall Jenner and Scott Disick. 2014. Photograph. ENews. ENews. Web. 15 April 2017

Photograph of Leighton Meester. 2010. Photograph. SkinnyvsCurvy. Skinny vs Curvy. Web. 15 April 2017

Photograph of Leonardo DiCaprio. 2014. Photograph. Express. Express Newspapers. Web. 15 April 2017

Winterman, Denise. “History’s Shocking Fashion Trends”. BBC News, 2012, http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-16870841.

 

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COMMENTS: 5
  1. April 29, 2017 by toyin E

    I really enjoyed your presentation, do you think that in it’s possible for all clothing to be gender neutral in future? If not that extreme, do you think its possible for society to stop placing such strict rules on what people wear?

    • April 29, 2017 by Lia W

      Hi Toyin. I think it could be possible for all clothing to be gender neutral in the future. Though I think it will be a long time before that happens if it does because men’s and women’s clothing has been an idea for such a long time that it would be hard to take that away all of a sudden. I do think though that it is a good thing that companies and designers are starting to make gender neutral clothing lines because it brings awareness to gender neutral clothing.

  2. April 29, 2017 by Jesús Maldonado

    I really enjoyed learning about the history and development of fashion in different world and time contexts. I was also really interested in how your gender neutral clothing designs were less, “eccentric,” and more day-to-day. How did you come about deciding which kinds and types of clothing you wanted to use for the photos?

    • April 29, 2017 by Lia W

      Hi Jesús. I tried to come up with different outfits for different occasions because I wanted to show that gender neutral clothing can work for formal wear, swimwear, and casual clothing. We also used clothes mostly from my neighbor’s closets who is a bigger size than I am, so I tried to find clothes of his that didn’t look too oversized on me.

  3. April 30, 2017 by Katarina Yepez

    Hello! I really liked your project. Being part of a very open minded community at my school, I guess I never really noticed what clothing was gender neutral or not. I often don’t pay much attention to the way people dress, but now that this has been brought more to my attention it is an interesting concept. I suppose that we all wear gender neutral outfits at some time, however, with what I noticed in this project gender neutral clothing only really has two styles: casual and very dressed up. Did you also notice this? How might someone create a gender neutral look somewhere in between without coming across as any one gender?

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