Dressing Outside the Binary

todayNovember 10, 2021 28 1

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By Lea Mercado
Web Content Assistant Manager

In the early 17th century, the Persian army was not only known for their excellent archery skills on horseback, but they soon became highly regarded for their innovative footwear – high heels.

Meanwhile, in Europe, the heel began to evolve into more of a fashion statement rather than a tool for the calvary. The heels became more prestigious as the clientele shifted from soldiers to aristocrats. High heels became such a strong indicator of class that regulations reserving heels under half an inch for commoners and higher heels were only allowed for those who belonged to higher social classes.

It wasn’t until the early 18th century that women began adapting to the trend and largely have not stopped since.

High heels have since become synonymous with femininity and what it means to present as a woman. Despite the trend beginning as a tool for battle and heavily influencing traditional masculine footwear, such as the cowboy boot, today’s high heel is viewed as a polar opposite symbol of masculinity.

The current society’s values heavily influence the evolution of fashion trends. While values shift and vary by culture, clothing has always been used to distinguish specifically gender in addition to other statuses.

It didn’t take me long to figure out that high heels didn’t suit me, nor would they ever. For a long time, I would struggle because typical “feminine” clothing just didn’t feel right, and it wasn’t until coming to college that I realized, it doesn’t really matter. Yes, self-expression is important, but what is not important are the means one uses to feel whole.

Our society is inherently very gendered. So naturally, expressing yourself freely through fashion when it doesn’t align with common expressions of your gender identity can be incredibly intimidating.

It took a lot of learning and candid discussions to understand why clothing is so gendered and ways to mitigate feeling radical simply by shopping in a different section.

The biggest issue that feeds into the stigma of breaking gender binaries through expression or performance is the lack of education revolving around gender identity. As time has progressed, it is pretty common knowledge that gender identity doesn’t always align with how one was born biologically. The distinction between gender identity and gender expression still encounters confusion often.

The term gender identity refers to how someone identifies on the gender spectrum, and gender expression refers to how they choose to show it through style and even mannerisms. For example, someone who identifies as female can dress and act stereotypically masculine, yet that does not invalidate her gender identity or indicate her sexuality.

Many folks encounter stigma because not adapting to trends of style and expression is a form of nonconformity, and conformity in a world that thrives on order and strict binaries is terrifying, but so is the thought of conforming to something that isn’t genuine.

So, what are some ways to navigate outside of those binaries?

When I first started shopping for clothes outside of my style, I found it helpful to go with my siblings. Whenever I saw a shirt or hat that I liked in my brother’s section, he always encouraged me to get it. Surrounding yourself with supportive friends and family members when stepping out of your comfort zone is empowering and crucial.

In addition, to become comfortable expressing yourself, it’s important to put effort towards knowing yourself and digging into who you are as a person and how to express that in a way that makes you confident. 

Earlier it was stated that gender binaries and clothing don’t matter. That is because they are considered social constructs, just like the example of high heels. The good news about social constructs, though, is that they can change, and they already are. Major influences, namely Harry Styles, have stepped out and pushed fashion boundaries, and doing so is quickly becoming the norm.

The truth is, taking a risk with style is scary for everyone at some point, but encountering a confused gaze every so often is worth the authenticity every time.

Featured Image by Lea Mercado

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