Gender norms and fashion go hand-in-hand. At a young age, most children are taught what is socially acceptable attire for boys and girls. For instance, boys wear blue and girls wear pink. Boys wear pants, and girls wear dresses. Boys wear minimal jewelry, and girls wear plenty of accessories. Society establishes these rules as a way to demarcate the genders.
There’s nothing entirely wrong with these rules. If a girl wants to wear a pink dress with jewelry, let her. If a boy wants to wear a blue t-shirt with jeans, let him. But when society starts to take these rules too seriously, boundaries and stigmas are born.
Society believes that a man who wears a skirt must be gay. A woman who wears flannels must be a lesbian. A man who wears makeup must be weak. A woman who wears baggy clothes must be trashy. These mindsets enforce a cyclical way of thinking that diminishes the value and authenticity of fashion.
Someone’s clothing shouldn’t define their sexual orientation, economic status or character. Fashion is a form of self-expression, but it’s also a way to make a statement that surpasses everyday expectations.
These music legends unapologetically broke gender norms by embracing their own style. It didn’t matter if they identified as gay, straight or bisexual — they wore what they wanted. Their bold choices indicated that they didn’t care about their critics; they wore what made them feel creative, comfortable and confident. These audacious attitudes left an impression not only on their fans but on generations of admirers to come.
Today, people can look at fashion forerunners like Harry Styles, Miley Cyrus, Young Thug, Janelle Monae, Pharrell Williams, Billie Eilish and Tyler, The Creator as gender-bending inspirations. Whether they’re sporting floral patterns, oversized clothes or vibrant colors, they fiercely wear what they want like the legends of the past. Sometimes, there’s even a method to their madness.
For example, rapper and humanitarian Jaden Smith brought up his choice to rock a skirt in Louis Vuitton’s 2016 campaign during an interview with Nylon Magazine.
“In five years, when a kid goes to school wearing a skirt, he won’t get beat up and kids won’t get mad at him,” Smith said. “It just doesn’t matter. I’m taking the brunt of [the criticism] so that later on, my kids and the next generations of kids will all think that certain things are normal that weren’t expected before my time.”
In a press release, Louis Vuitton’s artistic director, Nicolas Ghesquière, discussed why Smith was the star of the now infamous campaign.
“He represents a generation that has assimilated the codes of true freedom, one that is free of manifestos and questions about gender,” Ghesquière said. “Wearing a skirt comes as naturally to him as it would to a woman who, long ago, granted herself permission to wear a man’s trench or a tuxedo.”
Ghesquière points out that women can get away with wearing masculine clothes like sweats, hoodies or suits. However, when men try to wear feminine outfits, society is quick to degrade their worth.
Aside from A-listers who are applauded for their valiant dress codes, I wanted to hear from a friend of mine who disregards gender norms when she chooses her outfits.
Jessica Vieira, 25, wears anything from corduroy, mustard-colored pants to a pinstriped vest. She doesn’t wear men’s clothes per se, but she definitely isn’t afraid to shop in the men’s section of Forever 21. She often aims for a look that reveals both feminine and masculine characteristics.
Vieira also chooses her clothes based on comfortability. Many women’s pieces are too formfitting for Vieira’s taste. She prefers looser and more modest apparels.
For the most part, Vieira receives compliments on her androgynous style, but she sometimes gets asked if she’s gay or bisexual.
“Honestly, it’s annoying,” Vieira said. “You’re always fit into some kind of label. There’s, like, a label for everything now. I’ve never been that type of person to just be like ‘Oh, I’m just one thing.’ I just am.”
Vieira believes that the key to stepping out of your fashion comfort zone is wearing what you like with confidence, regardless of any established gender norms.
“I dress for myself. If I feel good in it, I feel like it doesn’t matter what people say,” Vieira shared. “That confidence that you have in how you dress is what gets people to notice you and compliment you.”
Along with showing off her femininity and masculinity, Vieira enjoys the artistic traits behind fashion.
“It’s a side of me where I express creativity,” Vieira said. “It’s annoying when people try to put [fashion] in a box. If you’re a painter, it’s like you can only use green and yellow. But no, there’s all these other colors to create something. The reason I go to the guys’ section and the girls’ section is because I don’t want someone to limit my paints.”
Fashion is a beautiful art form that has no limits. If you’re a guy and want to wear tight skinny jeans and heels, go for it. If you’re a girl and want to wear a button-up and a tie, do it. Rejecting gender norms is not a smooth road to take, but savoring your distinct style is a freedom that everyone deserves.