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Dressing to Express, Not Identify

Dressing up to constantly define or confirm your gender identity can be tiring. People in society have grown accustomed to dress a certain way to appeal to a binary definition of identity. Boys can’t wear pink and girls can’t dress “manly,” but then again, who defined pink as “girly” and blue as “manly” fashion attributes that confirm gender identities? Who decided that we have to dress in accordance to what society thinks we should look like instead of allowing us to be ourselves? 

We’re assigned gender roles depending on our assigned sex at birth and, over time, this influences what’s deemed as appropriate behavior for men and women in society, including how they dress. These roles are taught almost unconsciously through family, culture, mass media, and other social venues. They start with something so seemingly small as “blue for boys” and “pink for girls,” but continue escalating throughout every stage of our personal development. Pants are for boys, skirts are for girls, and even jewelry falls in the mix, because wearing clothing and accessories assigned to your opposite gender makes people question what you are more than what you are trying to express.

woman wearing colorful clothes on a street
Photo by Godisable Jacob from Pexels

This gender identification and color struggle is what inspired JeongMee Yoon when she created the The Pink and Blue Proyect in 2005. “Blue has become a symbol of strength and masculinity, while pink symbolizes sweetness and femininity,” expressed the author in an article for National Geographic. According to Jo Paoletti, a professor at the University of Maryland: “Linking gender with these colors is relatively recent. In the 19th century pastel colors were fashionable in most Europe and the United States and were worn to flatter the complexion, not denote the gender.”

Further on, Paoletti mentions that the United States has contributed significantly to the “pink for girls” and “blue for boys” movement, thanks to the color palettes used in manufacturing children’s toys and media, such as Barbie and superhero movies. Superman can’t wear pink, right? This big struggle on how colors define gender takes a huge toll on fashion as well. Many designers can’t launch a brand with pink designs for men because of the social construct in the fashion industry that states those pieces won’t sell. However, fashion can’t work without style, and this is where the fight for fashion made for expression, instead of gender, comes in.

black makeup palette
Siora Photography/Unsplash

People often confuse fashion and style. Style is searching through your closet and choosing pieces in a way that matches with how we see ourselves. With style, we create an expression, despite what fashion states is “correct” to wear. Fashion has rules that individuals often break when it comes to style. Our wardrobe is always full of possibilities—it just depends on what aspect of our creativity we want to present through our outfits that day. It’s time to normalize style regardless of the rules that fashion has dictated for gender. 

Expressing style is important, and often undervalued because it is very misunderstood. Style is what we really want when we say we want to be fashionable. It’s also amazing because it’s always fresh and has a little ode to creativity and expression, giving a hint of personality and self-expression. It is a reflection of your uniqueness as a human being.

male fashion model posing in a skirt
Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

Some artists, like Harry Styles and Billy Porter, have challenged fashion rules and embraced their style regardless of their perceived gender identity. In December 2020, Harry Styles posed for the cover of Vogue in a strapless, light blue dress topped with a simple black blazer. It’s also not the first time that Harry has battled the gender faux-pas. “He co-hosted the 2019 “Notes on Camp” #MetGala, dressing in a nipple-freeing black organza blouse with a lace jabot, and high waisted, accessorized with the pearl-drop earring…”, said Vogue for Paper Magazine.

Various attempts to create “genderless fashion” started trending in 2020. This trend consists mostly of neutral colors and over-sized clothing. While it is slowly rising, is this the only fashionable solution for genderfluid people? This is why style has more weight now than ever, as it is more than mere clothes. For one thing, it takes less in the way of clothes to express style than you might think. Style is an excursion into self-expression through clothes and accessories. It is self-knowledge and self-confidence expressed through what you choose to wear, and embracing it. In the end, it’s a life-affirming expression of your character and spirit—not the labels used to define your identity.

José is majoring in Public Relations, Publicity and Journalism. This communication undergraduate student from the UPR Río Piedras campus is an energetic Pisces with a passion for fashion, coming of age films, books, crossfit, and dance. Currently, José is a writer for HerCampus, the Public Relations director at Pulso Estudiantil, and a Account Manager Intern at celevideos.com.
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