Lately, gender has been perceived differently than I think it ever has been in history. If someone introduces themselves as “they/them,” people (if they’re not hicks) don’t really question it., but being able to identify as genderless has not been socially acceptable for very long. A lot has changed even within the last few years regarding gender, especially in the world of fashion.
Let’s take a little trip into the history of gender in fashion, because it’s INSANE. Women have been persecuted for hundreds of years for wearing men’s clothes, and vice versa. It can be seen in iconic historical figures such as Joan of Arc, also known as the Heroine of France. In 1431 she was burned at the stake for many counts, one of which was dressing like a man. Although people in more recent times were not burned at the stake, people were arrested for bending the gender barriers in fashion well into the 20th century. From the 1940s-’60s, an unspoken three article rule was imposed, which basically meant that if someone was not wearing at least three articles of clothing that coincides with their gender, then they would get arrested and thrown in JAIL. For a woman at this time period, wearing jeans and a T-Shirt could mean jail time. Same goes for men “masquerading as women.” Police would raid bars and arrest anyone presenting as female. It was a way to oppress the LGBTQ+ community, but also discouraged anyone else from wanting to experiment with gender in fashion. If people were getting dragged off the street for shopping in the wrong section, why would people want to test it?
Then, came along some pioneers. In the second half of the 20th century, some pop culture and fashion icons helped change the game. Let’s look at David Bowie really quick. He made up a whole alter ego named Ziggy Stardust with his 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. This character was meant to be an androgynous alien, and the album tells of this whole storyline where Ziggy was sent to earth to try and save it, yet is completely consumed by his fame (it’s pretty cool you should check it out). Anyways, this album was so good that instead of rejecting it because of the makeup and the feminine clothing, people embraced it. Bowie changed rock n roll, he changed fashion, and paved the way for more to follow in his footsteps.
In the ‘80s, gender was becoming less and less important in pop culture, especially in music. Men leaned into their feminine sides while women experimented with more masculine styles. Prince, Grace Jones, Madonna, Kiss, all those 80’s hair bands, etc etc made it cool to blur those lines that had restricted people for generations. Then in the ‘90s, it was even more normalized with the likes of Marylin Manson and RuPaul. It took a cultural change to influence the world of fashion, and how gender is viewed. Iconic designer Alexander McQueen’s Fall/Winter 1998 collection was titled “Joan of Arc,” paying homage to her life, featuring androgynous styles, models with bleach blonde hair and red contacts. This collection was so weird and different, in true McQueen style, but also reflected the change in how people perceive those who dress outside the constraints of their gender.
Today, you can watch almost any top designer’s show and see looks that bend the “rules” surrounding what men and women should wear. Look at some people in pop culture: Harry Styles, Billie Eilish, Ezra Miller, Jeffree Star, Jaden Smith, Frank Ocean, Johnny Venus from Earthgang, even the boys on Tik Tok. Now take a look at your own style; it’s so normal for guys to paint their nails or for girls to wear pants, no one would think that just 50 years ago you might have been arrested for not dressing strictly according to your gender. So, the moral to this story is that clothes are clothes. Fashion should be used as a way to express yourself, not to oppress others. That’s just sad. Now that we live in a time where it is socially okay to dress however the fuck you want, people should do just that.