Fashion is a powerful tool for expression.
It can define a culture, an aesthetic, or even become representative of a movement. It can be used to reinforce societal traditions and roles, but it can also be used to defy these same expectations. Just by choosing to dress the way we do, we are making a statement.
But the divide over gender fluidity and well-defined gender roles in clothing is nothing new.
Throughout history, fashion has been wielded as a weapon to challenge culturally enforced gender roles, specifically in the manner that they are represented in clothing.
Take Coco Chanel, and the way that her designs challenged the notion of femininity by manipulating the way that women’s clothing emphasized a role in society within a historical context. She designed clothing solely for women’s bodies, rather than the male gaze, and utilized traditionally masculine shapes- straight silhouettes and broad shoulders- as a way to allow women to exist and to feel beautiful outside of conventional ideas of beauty and gender.
Clothing is also, in a way, evolutionary.
To fit into the context of society’s standards, the clothing that we would now consider as feminine, was often once thought of as masculine and vice versa. So then, defining what constitutes “masculine” and “feminine” clothing is entirely subjective.
Let’s look at some traditional “masculine” garments that we consider “feminine” today:
Beginning in the late 1600s, men in the Scottish Highlands wore kilts, a skirt-like garment whose purpose was to allow the wearer the ability to move more freely. It also served as a form of protection, creating a barrier between the skin and harsh weather conditions.
And in ancient Rome, the equivalent of today’s suit was actually a dress! Known as togas, they served as identifiable status symbols, and only men were allowed to wear them. When worn by women, they were considered a display of her exclusion from the Roman hierarchy.
Today, many fashion houses are dissenting from the female and male signifiers in traditionally gendered clothing, oftentimes disregarding the gender binary entirely by using male and female passing models along with androgynous models on both menswear and womenswear runways.
Gender-free clothing is also becoming more and more prevalent in the fashion industry, even with big names like Louis Vuitton and Vetements. So who knows? Maybe sometime in the future men wearing skirts will be just as common as women wearing suits. After all, fashion never stops evolving!