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A Historical Overview of Transgender Fashion

Westernised culture is finally widely accepting of the term ‘Transgender’ in society. Today, the fashion industry and media allows us to explore clothing choices to portray our identities rather than gender. Although exploring identity through the way we dress has not always been this way inclined.

From a young age most children were (and some still are) lulled into false ideologies. That there were ‘boys’ colours and ‘girls’ colours for clothing. That girls and boys were different. And, in a way, it was assumed that it was unacceptable to venture out of these cultural constructions of gender.

Transgender Models in Fashion

In the 1960’s people often ridiculed and were nasty towards transgender people. This happened mostly when transgender people were seen in the media.

Looking at a BBC interview from last year it became clear to me the struggles they experienced. It is very sad they felt the need to hide the fact they had been through gender reassignment surgery.

In 1960 the famous model, April Ashley, hid that she had been through this process. Ashley knew, like many others, it could be damaging to her career in fashion if anyone were to find out.

In 1961, the Sunday Paper wrote an article about her called: “The extraordinary case of top model April Ashley: ‘Her’ secret is out”. After featuring in Vogue and other magazines, this article unfortunately shattered her career.

1960’s – 1980’s

She was not the only model in the fashion industry that this affected. Numerous people including: Tracey Norman and Caroline Cossey (also known as Tula) were also shunned for their modelling. You are probably thinking surely this can’t be right?! But in the 60’s this was seen as a normal reaction from the media. Hence why fashion models hid their transitions.

Moving forwards into the 80’s, Thierry Mugler was very keen to have trans models in his runway shows for his collections. Mugler began by having Teri Toye in his couture shows. He then went on to feature in Vogue, as well as modelling for Chanel, Commes Des Garcons, and Jean Paul Gaultier.

Most trans people were celebrated during the 80s, and were considered extremely beautiful in the industry. As time has gone on the fashion industry seems to be even more competitive than ever for transgender models.

Exclusion in Victoria’s Secret

In a Vogue interview Ed Razik, Victoria’s Secret Chief Marketing Officer, discussed his views on trans models. Ed said they would not be cast in the Victoria’s Secret shows as he considered these as “fantasy”.

Victoria’s Secret received a huge backlash from this (as they should have!) and their show in 2017 had a 30% decline in views, despite Razek apologising.

This comment also resulted in customer defection. Many customers lost interest in the brand and chose to go to other underwear competitors. A huge decline in sales followed. As a consequence, many of their trademark stores in New York, Florida and other US cities were closed down.

Huge Stepping Stone

Late last year (2019), Razek retired from the brand. Not long after, Victoria’s Secret confirmed that Valentina Sampaio would be their first transgender model for their sub brand ‘PINK’.

This is a huge stepping stone for the company. Hopefully they will start to become an inclusive brand that welcomes many different fashion models.

Empowering Transgender Women

We have also seen Caitlyn Jenner empowering transgender people throughout the fashion industry. With her chic outfits, many trans people see her as a symbol within fashion for older women. In her book she discusses the unhappiness she went through for years before she came out. In 2015, Jenner came out as transgender in Vanity Fair. She posed in the magazine in a beautiful, Agent Provocateur corset.

Her story is inspiring to many people and it was great to see that magazines like Vanity Fair were celebrating her bravery in coming out. Magazines frequently post about Jenner’s style, including Elle, Marie Clarie, Vogue and Glamour. The fashion industry adores the way she styles outfits and continues to take pictures of her newest clothes, due to an obsession with her wardrobe; she is a style icon to many older women and what she has done is inspirational for the trans community.

In this article you can see how throughout history the fashion industry has become more accepting of trans people. However, there are still people who have their awful, out-dated views. Hopefully with a bit more time (not that people need any more time!) everyone will all be accepting of the LGBTQ+ community.


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