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The problem with gender bending fashion

For centuries our gender has directly controlled what we wear, but the gender bending fashion movement has been changing this. Gender fluid fashion isn’t new. In fact historians have traced it right back to ancient Egypt when the Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut ruled Egypt as pharaoh wearing male regalia and a false beard in 1479-1458 BCE.

The Gender Bending Fashion exhibition at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts showcased decades of gender blurring fashion last summer for the first time. But throughout its entire history, from ancient Egypt all the way to David Bowie, gender fluid fashion has never seen the surge it has had over the last few years.

Designers like Givenchy and Prada jumped on gender fluidity, giving it its big moment in the fashion world. Their progressive outlook is celebrated but their real impact has often been overlooked, and it’s not all good.

Defining gender bending fashion

Gender bending is defined as expressing yourself differently to the traditional norms associated with being a man or woman. In the fashion world its commonly confused with the term gender neutral. Whilst sounding similar, both are actually very different things.

The concept behind gender bending fashion is to redefine the association of clothing with a specific gender. Gender neutral differs because it seeks to find a type of clothing suitable for both genders. High street shops are stocking more gender neutral clothing. This has been great for giving non-gender conforming more choice.

However, people have critiqued it for overlooking the role that feminine fashion could play in gender neutral clothing. Some criticised Zara’s line for containing baggy jumpers and t-shirts but no skirts or dresses. This re-enforced the perception that men can’t wear typically feminine clothes.

Expanding gender perception

Gender fluid fashion’s surge has expanded people’s perception of gender, blurring the lines between how it relates to fashion. Blue is for boys and pink is for girls is now an outdated stereotype. Gender bending has introduced the wider population to a world where masculine and feminine stereotypes can be challenged by what we wear.

In 2016 rapper Young Thug made headlines for defying gender expectations. How? By wearing an Alessandro Trincone dress on the cover of his Jeffery album. The rapper regularly wears clothes intended for women. He’s just one example of the many celebrities challenging not just the concept of masculinity but also the perception of sexuality and gender, showing that they don’t go hand in hand.

Young Thug started a global conversation when pictures of him quickly went viral. Gender bending, when paired with power social media, is redefining the fashion world and forcing designers to listen to what consumers are interested in.

Self-expression through fashion

Society has learnt more about a non-binary gender because of the expansion of the LGBTQ+ movement. Your identity is so closely related to what you wear and it’s become important to explore clothes away from gender boundaries.

For many, gender fluid fashion is more than just about a look. It’s a way of identifying yourself and discovering who you are. It gives people an identity away from gender and allows them to explore what this means for them. Gender bending fashion means that those who feel like they don’t fit into either of the rigid categories don’t have to. Instead, they can find clothes that make them feel like themselves rather than someone else.

The problem with gender fluid fashion

But this self-expression is also one of the main problems with the rise of gender bending clothing in mainstream fashion. Because whilst many people think it’s great that it’s getting it’s moment it can overlook the reality for many people. Fashion designers haven’t considered their impact on the communities who founded gender bending fashion. They have been criticised for treating gender-bending fashion as a popular trend or fad.

Designers are still under-representing Trans and queer communities and communities of colour. Instead, a large number of the people celebrated for breaking these boundaries of fashion are CIS white men and women with the privilege to do so.

By telling people to push the rules of fashion, these companies are often overlooking the realities that trans and non-gender confirming people face on a daily basis. The choice to be who they are by wearing the clothes they love can often put them in danger. 2 in 5 trans people have been a victim of hate crime in the past year, yet whilst encouraging breaking the rules of fashion, many designers don’t engage in conversation around the problems this clothing can create for many.

Gender bending fashion is more than just a trend

The reality is that for many people, gender-bending clothing isn’t just a fashion trend. It’s a lifestyle and should be taken more seriously. Designers should involve trans and queer communities in every aspect of the creation process, rather than using them as a face to sell a trendy product.

Eden Loweth, designer of Art school a non-binary fashion label, puts it very clearly. Describing some corporations as “monetising something that is almost day-to-day hate for people like me on the streets.”

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