Monday, December 6, 2021
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BREAKING THE BINARY BARRIER

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Credit: Vogue, Tyler Mitchell (left); Getty (right)

Fashion has been a vital and inescapable part of cultures for centuries and continues to have an impact on the way we interpret the past and present. For the longest time, specific pieces were made for one gender but not for the other.  For example, heels used to be considered an accessory worn by men. This concept dates back as far as 2,000 years ago to stage actors in Ancient Greece, who wore platforms on stage to signify the importance of each character. Eventually, heels became a sign of social status in the 17th and 18th century, King Louis XIV being one of the most notable figures at the time to do so. Now, heels are considered to be strictly a woman’s clothing item.

In a way, we are privileged to be living in the 21st century where the idea that clothing is strictly binary is becoming obsolete. Individuals have stepped out of the binary box and ventured off to discover fashion based on their own standards. While some are in full support of that, others would rather we revert to the old ways.

“Bring back manly men.”

Those are just a few words from the infamous Candace Owens and her tweet regarding the photoshoot Vogue magazine did for their December 2020 edition featuring musician, Harry Styles. 

Styles is well known for his eccentric fashion that tends to blur the lines of “masculine” and “feminine” and he did not stray from that in this shoot. The musician can be seen wearing outfits of all sorts: a flashy, army green coat; a checkered A-line skirt; and a tiered, gray-blue dress that has stirred some controversy.

Credit: Twitter/@RealCandaceO

In her tweet, Owens states that a man in a dress is an attack on the masculinity of men and that our society can’t survive without these “manly” men. But what is a masculine man and how do you separate one from a man that isn’t? And are pieces of fabric a good way to distinguish these individuals from each other?

In the Vogue Interview, the 26-year-old musician expressed how he’d always been a fan of dressing up, sharing that he had been into “fancy dress” since he was a young boy. Furthermore, he said:  

“Clothes are there to have fun with and experiment with and play with… When you take away ‘There’s clothes for men and there’s clothes for women,’ once you remove any barriers, obviously you open up the arena in which you can play.”

Credit: Vogue

This reaction is somewhat similar to the hysteria that happened when women began wearing pants in public during the mid-19th-century dress reform movement. They realized that, not only was it more comfortable than a big, billowy dress, but it was also a way to free themselves from the conservative regulations of the time. 

Women from the 19th century dress reform movement opted for the big, billowy pants 
Credit: https://recollections.biz/blog/evolution-dress-reform-part-1/

Now, we see women wearing pants on a daily basis. We also have women, like the ever iconic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,casually known as AOC, who not only wears them almost every day, but has made it a symbol of power and independence for modern women around the country; a feat that women over a century ago fought so hard for. 

Believe it or not, it was only in 1993 that women were allowed to wear pants on the Senate floor, and it was only because of two Senators, Barbara Mikulski and Carol Moseley Braun, who decided to “defy” that rule. Ocasio-Cortez is one of the many women that bravely followed in their footsteps. 

AOC at her confirmation hearing to become the Representative of New York’s 14th district, January 4, 2019. 

On the day of her confirmation ceremony, AOC wore an all-white pantsuit as an homage to the early suffragettes who fought for a woman’s right to vote and all the powerful women that came before her and are yet to come. For women in the political sphere, wearing pants is a humble way to make a bold statement and allows them to exude every ounce of confidence they have. 

The notion that fabric is something that can be gender-specific is basically irrelevant, especially in a day and age where the concept of gender itself has become so broad. Over the years, fashion has become a way for individuals to express themselves as boldly, or as modestly, as they’d like to.

Telling an individual that they can’t live as their true self because it doesn’t fit traditional standards is counterproductive and serves only to regress us decades as a society. It’s vital that we continue to move forward to a place where people now, and for generations to come, are able to fully express themselves the way they feel most comfortable.