Gender-fluid dressing could lead to renaissance in fashion, says advocate

In recent years, the fashion world has offered far more unisex clothing than we have seen for generations, rejecting the idea of ​​a sharp division between two genders.

But until now, many of these forays into genderless fashion have been particularly subdued and shapeless, with neutral colors and boxy silhouettes.

Alok Vaid-Menon, the author, artist and activist behind the #DeGenderFashion movement, says a truly gender-fluid approach to dressing could leave room for a much more expressive, flexible and even flamboyant wardrobe.

“Gender-free isn’t really about… the death of fashion. It’s about its rebirth,” said Vaid-Menon, who lives in New York City and uses their / them pronouns. “When do we get rid of this strict idea of ​​’Am I making clothes for men or women?’ we actually begin to dwell on fabrics, colors, meaning, sentiment, the affection that is often lost when we are just regurgitating gender stereotypes “.

Alok Vaid-Menon is a writer, artist and speaker. (Bronson Farr)

Author of several books, including Beyond the gender binary, Vaid-Menon said Tapestry guest Mary Hynes that what our culture considers feminine or masculine “comes from the particular point of view of Euro-American people in the Western world.” But this isn’t the only prospect out there.

“I grew up with men who wore so many bright colors, who had different accessories, even men who wore skirts,” said Vaid-Menon, whose parents are Punjabi from India and Malayali from Malaysia.

With designers working to break fashion’s gender tracks and prominent celebrities challenging them in highly visible ways – like Billy Porter walking the Oscars red carpet in a velvet suit or Harry Styles wearing a dress on the cover of Vogue – insiders say it could be time for a broader acceptance of gender-fluid fashion.

Just this month, Canadian women’s magazine Chatelaine, which has been publishing for 93 years, featured Vivek Shraya, a genderqueer writer, musician and professor at the University of Calgary, in a trendy spread of women’s clothing.

Experiments in the drag scene

Vaid-Menon said their experiments challenging typical gender divisions in dressing began on the drag scene.

Vaid-Menon, seen at the New York Comedy Festival in November 2021, came to their gender-fluid approach to dressing by performing as stage performers, before asking, ‘Why am I denying myself this joy just to be on stage when I could dress like this? everyday wherever I go? ‘ (Desmond Picotte)

“I was born as a theater artist, where due to drag traditions in this country, it was socially allowed for me to experience genre and fashion.

“But then I was having so much fun on stage, probably more fun preparing myself than actually performing. And I said to myself, why am I denying myself this joy just to be on stage, when I could dress like this every day wherever I go?”

During a year when Vaid-Menon only wore skirts in public, it became clear to them that audiences were much more comfortable with their clothing in the context of art or performance. “But when she is next to you on a train or walking down the street, people are so uncomfortable.”

Vaid-Menon said it was during the 19th century that Western society saw greater gender segregation in fashion. “Things like lace or makeup or wigs or heels were seen as feminine and something like a dress was seen as masculine. And the strange thing is that it was relatively recent in human history. Yet people [now] I can’t imagine anything outside of it. “

In North America until the 1960s, Vaid-Menon said police used a loosely defined “three-article rule” whereby people could be arrested for wearing less than three items of clothing associated with their assigned gender. . Basically, she was fine dressing up for a drag performance, but not wearing women’s underwear.

Jonathan Walford, director and curator of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario, argues that there was a subtle gender differentiation in wardrobes dating back to ancient times, expressed, for example, in the different ways men and women tied their garments. , kimono or kilt.

But these differences became “extremely evident” in the 19th century, when women wore two-meter wide crinolines.

Jonathan Walford, director and curator of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario, says gender differentiation in wardrobes dates back to ancient times. (Posted by Jonathan Walford)

Those gender divisions were less evident in the 18th century, which Walford describes as “a very feminine century” in Europe, where “everyone wore a lot of lace and powdered hair.”

Achieving the “truest sense of self”

Harry Styles and Billy Porter aren’t the first public figures to challenge the gender tracks of fashion in contemporary times. Artists such as Boy George, David Bowie, and Prince have challenged the norms of menswear with their experimental and cutting-edge approaches to makeup and clothing.

Today, a new cohort of designers is working to expand what ordinary people can wear.

Designer Mic Carter creates collections for his company The Strange Man during breaks from teaching in grades 5 and 6. (Matteo Carter)

Mic Carter is a Toronto genderqueer stylist who creates collections for his company The Weird Man in creative shots during breaks from teaching Grades 5 and 6. He said his main focus is on using clothing to empower people non-binary, including men identified but presenting people like him, to “feel like their truest sense of self”.

Carter describes his products as an imaginative set of garments that can be wardrobe staples without taking away the signs of gender.

“When I started The Strange Man, there were rumblings of androgyny or gender-neutral fashion, but often what it would have seemed like would have been some kind of boxy, squalid and uniform thing, offers that really kind of gesture to the side. gender neutrality masculine. And it wasn’t what I was looking for. I was looking for sequins and sparkles and, at times, like a well-placed ruffle. “Carter’s work includes many custom designs that suit the needs of a particular individual desire to express gender through clothing.

It’s a natural extension of the fashion world he was introduced to as a child, first through the sewing jobs of his grandmother and aunts visiting Barbados, making “clothes for everyone who needed them.”

WATCH | Mic Carter explains his design in this video provided by Ryerson University:

She said her parents were resourceful in embracing “vintage before it was cool”, taking their kids to thrift stores to assemble a “tailored identity”. It was a good foundation for him later as a young homosexual who would subvert uniform guidelines in his strict private Christian school.

“One year I had this kind of very big camouflage hat that looked a lot, you know, Parisienne. I would, like, pull it up one eye. It was pretty cute,” said Carter, who launched the first non-binary fashion design course. in 2018.

“I also played baseball for a while, [although] I could never take it at all. But they gave us these very cute three-quarter length shirts. And I would wear them under my uniform to add some sparkle and panache. “

Gray style may seem “more palatable”

Carter said that while he’s always been comfortable with standing out from the crowd, an androgynous approach to genderless fashion can feel more confident.

“I think if you see someone who is tall and looks masculine, but is wearing something a little more flamboyant, the attention they can get may not be the most positive. It can be, at times, quite dangerous.” said.

Conversely, a duller, more amorphous style of gender-fluid dressing is “more palatable” to the general public, Carter said.

Models Victor Keita, left, and Robin Barnes, right, sport models from Carter’s show. Hope this email finds you well. (Mark Binks)

It’s also less risky as a commercial venture, Walford said. “I think you’ll reach a wider audience by being a little more conservative in the way you do it.”

That said, Walford notes that the world has come a long way since 1988, when his partner caused a stir while working at the Simpsons department store to get an earring.

“He went out at lunchtime, took a button earring and came back and was told to take it out or he would be fired. And he was fired.”

Written by Brandie Weikle. Produced by Arman Aghbali.

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