By Shiva Chopra
The gender binary – male or female, blue or pink, dominant or nurturing has long divided our world, with little space in between. Fashion and style were included in this, of course. Both men and women have been expected to dress in certain ways according to their gender for decades. Women are expected to wear skirts, heels, and makeup. While men are expected to wear pants and suits.
But now, today’s generation is breaking beyond these limited and artificial boundaries and blurring them. Much of this experiment related to fashion has taken place online, where adolescents can feel free to explore and often meet a more accepting audience than they would in real life.
Traditional stereotypes of what is called feminine and masculine fashion are being defied. Boys now embrace skirts and dresses. Online, their peers are usually very supportive, providing tips and inspiration for styling. More than 1.9 million views have accrued from one video of TikTok user @.jvdd wearing a patterned flowy mini skirt that he styles with a baggy royal purple T-shirt and white Nike Air Forces.
This overlaps with the “soft boy” aesthetic, which includes boys wearing designs (such as “pastels, fluffy sweaters, and florals”) that many would consider traditionally feminine. Another trend is “Femboy Fridays,” a weekly celebration of self-identified “femboys.” “Femboys” are male-identifying people who dress in a typically feminine fashion. This is also on the rise.
Girls, on the other hand, wear clothes and styles that might typically be considered masculine. From daddy jeans to athletic wear to oversized tee shirts and shorts. Recently, a rebellion against the tailored women’s T-shirt has been taking place, which many consider uncomfortable. Additionally, as a means of art and self-expression, girls wear natural or no makeup, as well as bold makeup. Gen Z girls use fashion and makeup in any way that makes them happy, which is in direct contrast to their conventional portrayal, as just things women wear to please men.
Of course, this isn’t the first time people in fashion have challenged gender norms. Marc Bain in Quartz, notes that in the 1850s, suffragists pushed for the right to let women wear trousers (at the time, a particular garment called “bloomers.”) For many women who began to work after World War II, wearing trousers became the new standard in the following century. In recent years, on the runway, gender-neutral and androgynous fashions are gradually seen. And yet, the idea that men wear typically feminine clothes is still not generally accepted. That is, maybe until now, when they mostly celebrate “men in skirts,” at least on the internet. Which, is a great start!
This shift in fashion suggests that there is a broader, universal evolution in the way our culture defines gender-with many Gen Z members leading the way. We understand – and accept – that “man” and “female” are not the whole story or even the beginning of it. Many individuals identify as non-binary or do not agree with the gender roles that they identify as. And since Gen Z members also use fashion, style, and beauty as a means of expression, it makes sense that our attitudes toward fashion will also shift as our conception of gender shifts. This generation is creating a society in which gender and fashion are not oppressive, but rather they are empowering, whatever they may mean to all of us.