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I still remember my Twinkle Toes lighting up the tile as my feet clip-clopped around my favorite store. Sequin shirts were folded on the table and neon pink dresses hung on displays galore. Little containers held grape lip-gloss and palates of pastel eyeshadows that caught my eye as I shopped. Justice was every little girl’s dream store, or at least, that is what I believed at the time. It was not until the “Brother’s” collection launched that I had cared about or was exposed to boy’s clothing. In my head, I was frustrated because it was taking up the space of the girls’ items. However, I cannot blame my eight-year-old self for thinking this way when I was conditioned to only choose items that were acceptable for my sex assignment at birth. 

Flash forward a decade, I walk into Saver’s, and it is a breath of fresh air. I still see the signs labeling the men’s clothing from the women’s, but I choose to ignore it. After decluttering my brain from years of gender norms, the store feels massive. Instead of being confined to one side, I glide through the mazes of the silver racks and fill my arms with whatever I can find. There are so many selections and outfits I can create from a wide variety of pieces, regardless of the M or W tag on the inside. It is quite beautiful to feel free and look at the articles of clothing for what they are instead of which category they belong. As someone who does not fully identify with being a woman, this was my personal moment of euphoria.  

I work in retail, and on most occasions, I cannot identify the difference between a men’s hoodie compared to a women’s. If I were not the one organizing the sections or checking out items at the register, I would not be able to tell in public that the person in front of me was not following societal rules. However, when male customers check the pin-pad and a graphic tee is ringing up as a women’s item, they tell me to leave it out of their purchase. This has occurred multiple times in my experience and with my coworkers. The mindset of gendered clothing, however, does not apply to everyone. After a few weeks, I noticed my cisgender coworkers purchasing pieces from all over. While they wore items from their opposite gender, they still appeared confident in their outfit because it was something they genuinely liked. Even though some did not identify with the LGBT+ community, they just simply chose whatever outfit, without a care of its label. My coworker Anthony Lee, who identifies as a straight man, decides not to care about anyone else’s opinion if he wears a women’s sweater.  

“Women buy guy’s clothing all the time, and I feel like it doesn’t really matter. Who’s going to stop me? Why do you care?… Honestly, it makes me sad to think about that.” Lee said.  

It is so odd that we enforce the idea that only a certain gender can claim specific patterns or styles. In the women’s section, it is more common to find vibrant colors and cropped tees whereas in the men’s section colors are muted and button-downs are the only appropriate form of a top. Even though some boys would like to wear clothing from the other side of the store, it can be exceedingly difficult because women’s sizing does not cater to men. Those born with female bodies can wear oversized men’s clothing, while those born with male bodies — who are often taller than women — will have a snug fit. This may not apply to all men shopping around the store, but it sends the message that feminine men are still not accepted in society. Some men, like Anthony, may not care about rocking a women’s fashion piece, but if it is noticeably feminine, there are risks. The bright side would be random strangers complimenting the outfit. The negative could be harassment, or worse. Corby Schmitz, who identifies as a gay man, loves the variety of women’s clothing that he feels the generic men’s side does not provide.  

“Being where I’m from, it’s been drilled in your head that men are masculine and women are feminine,” Schmitz said. “I have a lot of second guesses of, ‘Should I be wearing this right now?’ But the more I wear them, the more comfortable I am with them, and the more I realize clothing is not gender specific.” 

While the boundaries of being masculine are more rigid than feminine, wearing laidback masculine clothing can often result in unwanted opinions. Being declared lazy for opting for a pair of oversized sweatpants with functioning pockets can be a struggle among women. Owning a fashionable closet can be exciting, but it is not helpful when women’s clothes aren’t always moveable, breathable or designed to appeal to the male gaze. If women do not dress to impress, there is a stereotype they are prude, but if they do flaunt their outfit, they are promiscuous. Struggle is prominent on both sides of the spectrum. The concept of trying not to be like “other girls” is dividing women based on appearance when all our differences should be celebrated. There is a skyrocketing standard for women to be attractive, yet Aubri Stewart wonders why we do not have the same expectations for men. According to Stewart, there is not a correct way to dress as a woman, so she chooses to create outfits solely for herself.  

“I don’t dress for the male gaze. I dress for myself,” Stewart said. “I think we should all just dress sexy.” 

My dream is to enter a clothing space without feeling restricted or limited to what I can choose to wear. I want to be able to waltz back and forth around the floor and between the shelves without feeling I am acting outside of my boundaries. Pink or blue, this or that, is just so one-sided. Sequins, ties, skirts or dress shoes should not only belong to one group. Instead, it should be shared among everyone, because all people regardless of gender deserve to feel that sense of euphoria when they find an item that speaks to them.  

Belle Yennie (they/them) is from Independence, Missouri. They are currently majoring in English at the University of Missouri - Kansas City. Belle was named Outstanding Mass Media Journalist in 2021 at Fort Osage High School. They enjoy writing about almost anything, but their favorite topics to cover include wellness and fashion. Living in the KC Metro has allowed Belle to go on mini adventures, such as browsing antique stores or trying out new restaurants.
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