Ending Toxic Masculinity with Fashion

Edited by Malavika Suresh


For years, the culture of toxic masculinity has caused people to believe that men who partake in activities that are not strictly masculine deserve to be policed and emasculated. An example of this culture is seen in the belief that men who express certain emotions, like sadness, are weak. Toxic masculinity has been associated with detrimental issues in men concerning their mental health and self-identity. Not to mention, the impact of toxic masculinity is not limited to men. It negatively affects women because of toxic masculinity enforcing the male need to assert their dominance over the people around them to establish their masculinity and in the process of this, they end up hurting women through domestic violence and abuse.


In recent times, people have been raising their voices and standing up against toxic masculinity and the stereotypes and expectations that it imposes on men from a young age. One way this has been done is through fashion. 


Starting with celebrities and social media influencers on the red carpet, fashion has recently acted as a form of fluid expression, through which societies’ typical depictions of male beauty standards and emotional behavior are challenged. Various male celebrities, like Ezra Miller and Jaden Smith, have rejected the confines of ‘male fashion’ and have begun incorporating ‘feminine’ clothing items into their attire. Recently, Billy Porter, an American performer, singer, and actor, pushed through patriarchal confines by attending the Oscars in a Tuxedo style dress. 


Harry Styles is a popular example of using fashion to break stereotypical male notions. Formerly in the boyband One Direction, he has shed his image of a ‘frat boy rockstar’ in the last few years. Styles, who has been labeled as a ‘womanizer’ and sexualized by the media, has used fashion to promote fluid sexuality and femininity in men. Whether it is through flamboyant and lacy shirts, colorful and bright suits, or feminine dresses and tutus, Styles has helped young men and women to see fashion as a way to express themselves. Termed as an exceptional dresser, Styles has been praised by his fans for blurring the lines between genders. 


While Styles is unabashedly breaking gender boundaries and expressing himself in the real world, there is a gaping hole on the screen when it comes to men’s fashion. TV shows and movies, especially ones coming out of Hollywood, seem to have the most uninspiring fashion choices for their male, heterosexual characters. For high school characters, the only option available for years seems to be varsity jackets for athletes and a graphic tee and jeans for the ‘nerdier’ folk. For older, working men, it is just simple, formal, working attire - shirt and pants in ‘masculine’ colors and shades. From Jughead and Archie of Riverdale to Danny of The Mindy Project, the attires just seem recycled for every show. 


However, an iconic character has broken out of this stereotype. Gossip Girl’s Chuck Bass is as memorable for his clothes as he is for his deep, throaty voice. His brightly-colored and elaborate suits are a refreshing break from the usual dull, male outfits. His character emphasized that a man can put effort into his look while still being masculine. Chuck Bass uses fashion to show his elegant and feminine side. His sophisticated, sartorial taste in clothing is completely aligned with his personality. He is a confident man and his wardrobe reflects that confidence. He pulls off full suit pieces with style. His wardrobe contains pieces that we rarely see young men in the context of young adult dramas wear on-screen like waistcoats, sweater-vests, and ascots, all in bold, bright colors. Therefore, Chuck Bass’s style makes it evident that heterosexual men do not need to shy away from bright colors, accent pieces, or, formalwear in the fear that it will take away from their masculinity. Instead, they should use these clothing items to reclaim their masculinity. 


Fashion, for years, has been used to push the boundaries of the society we live in. It has been of utmost importance in propagating feminism and liberating women’s bodies. Now, slowly and steadily, it is also helping men break past the threshold of toxic masculinity.