Opinion: gender normalities in clothing


Artem Beliaikin/Flickr

Guest columnist Layla Owliaie questions the gender roles of clothing.

Why shouldn’t a guy be allowed to wear a dress or a skirt? Why weren’t ladies of the past allowed to wear pants and shorts? Why do we box ourselves into the gender normality boxes and look down on men donned in layers of tulle and frills? Why did we discriminate and judge other women for clothing themselves in overalls and jeans? Why is it that we consider those who cross the line of gender normalities of clothing, “outsiders” ? Who set these rules that say men can’t indulge in skirts and women, pants? Better question: why aren’t we working to change that?

Harry Styles, British pop-star who got his rise to fame from being in the world-renowned boy band One Direction, was on the cover of Vogue, an influential American fashion and lifestyle magazine, in December of 2020. This sent the world into a frenzy, not only because Styles was the first  man in the world to appear on a Vogue cover without a female besides him, but also because Harry wore a dress. This dress was a vintage Gucci sky blue ball gown, which was paired with a black Gucci jacket. “I’ve found myself looking at women’s clothing, and I just think they’re amazing,” Styles said in a Vogue interview revealing his love for dresses, skirts and the whole idolatry of playing “dress-up”. It was hard to let this go unnoticed, so the world didn’t. 

Candace Owens, a conservative author, was quick to respond on Twitter saying, “What happened to manly men?” And, yes, that statement is completely valid. What did happen to the rough-handed, hard-working men who dominated our world until the late 20th century? What happened to that tradition of soft, emotional, skirt-wearing women and firm, indifferent overall donned men? But, Owens’ question leads to another of “Why should men have to be manly?” and even more so “Why weren’t women allowed to be ‘manly’?”

Owens’ question leads to another of “Why should men have to be manly?” and even more so “Why weren’t women allowed to be ‘manly’?”

In Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, her main character and narrator, Jean-Louise “Scout” Finch,  was presented as a “tom-boy”. This meant she wore overalls, rolled around in the dirt, not bothering herself with being the dress-wearing entitled girl society, and her family wanted her to be. She desired to be as a girl caked in mud and not makeup, something that was unheard of in Maycomb’s quiet community. Yet, it was how Scout felt most comfortable. Scout was looked down upon by her family and community members because she wore trousers instead of tulle. It was like this for a long period of time until women were finally allowed to wear the same clothing as men. We normalized women in pants, so why can’t we normalize men in skirts?

What was so bad about Harry wearing that dress? If a woman can dress as a man does, what’s there to stop a man dressed as a woman does? Tradition was for a woman to wear a gown, draped in fineries and jewels; for a man to clothe himself in denim jeans, covered in dust and dirt from a day’s work. But the tradition changed and our society permitted girls to wear the shorts of a man. That only changed because we worked to let it change, so why aren’t we granting men the choice to wear silk layered taffeta gowns?