Have you ever put on a piece of clothing and been told that it looks too feminine or masculine? Unfortunately, you wouldn’t be the only one; this happens regularly to my friends and I.
One of my guy friends had parents that didn’t let him wear a dress for Halloween. I know a girl who was ridiculed for wearing tennis shoes to homecoming, but why? Clothes don’t have a gender.
Growing up, I’ve had a rocky relationship with clothing. Up until eighth grade, my mom would buy clothes for me, so I didn’t have to think about what I wore. Clothes were nothing more than a tool to keep me from getting dress coded.
In high school, I used my newfound autonomy to begin shopping for myself, and I started paying more attention to what I was wearing. Buying my own clothes gave me the freedom to present myself however I wanted.
During my sophomore year of high school, I was trendy; my junior year, I was hipster; my senior year I was — well, a bit all over the place. Regardless, it was freeing to have a new sense of control over my clothing to change how I expressed myself.
However, that freedom was followed by an unexpected pressure. I could express myself but only to an extent. I noticed that by challenging gender norms, people around me became uncomfortable. If the way I dressed wasn’t in harmony with what society expected, people treated me differently. I received public stares and snide comments. I was shoved by a stranger.
What makes traditionally male and female clothes any different? As far as I can tell, the only thing separating them is the area of the store they’re displayed in. Advertisers market different clothing to each gender, yet the only thing stopping a guy from buying a pair of heels is the weird look he may get on the walk to the women’s section.
I try to ignore this as best as I can. At the beginning of my freshman year of college, I wore my first crop top on a 90-degree day. Crop tops are considered a woman’s clothing item, but I’d bought it anyway. After all, it’s just a shirt with half of the fabric. I got strange looks, but I also felt more confident than I had in a while.
Once I stopped caring about the perceived gender of my clothing, I had infinitely more options to upgrade my wardrobe. I focused on articles of clothing that I was drawn to, rather than what was marketed to my gender. This led to some eclectic pieces that bring joy to both others and me. Sometimes people can’t even tell what section they came from.
Clothing is an extension of our emotions. When I wear something outside the box, I feel daring. When I wear something I love, I feel at peace. Gender norms should not be a factor that limits our emotional expression through clothing.
It’s liberating to dress in a way that truly expresses yourself, so we should embrace people breaking gender norms. Regardless of the way you dress, opening your mind to the idea that clothing is genderless helps to abolish stigmas surrounding clothing. It benefits everyone in the long-run to have less pressure on trivial things, like how we dress.