Getting dressed in the morning can be a struggle for the best of us. Having a non-traditional gender, however, tends to complicate things. Most fashion icons — not to mention the brands themselves — cater to normative gender expression. If you need proof, try heading to the nearest mall: chances are that the first store you walk into will be divided into “men’s” and “women’s” clothes.
Fashion is a way to be unique, and to introduce how we see ourselves to the world around us.
Not only is this exclusive of queer and trans shoppers, it’s also just plain boring! Fashion is a way to be unique, and to introduce how we see ourselves to the world around us. A narrow, gendered offering in stores ignores the creative, expressive styles that exist in between and outside the categories “man” and “woman.”
In many ways, the past year has been a great one for trans and queer visibility. Stars like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox have attracted widespread attention and support. The world is starting to catch up with the styles of queer performers like Ruby Rose. But while I adore Ruby Rose’s style (and her face, and her hair, and, ugh, literally everything about her), I hesitate to hold her up as a queer fashion icon.
One of my favorite queer writers, Sam Dylan Finch, explains the problem with idolizing Rose. He writes, “while Rose is undoubtedly stunning and a perfectly lovely person, our idealization of Ruby Rose represents a larger problem in popular culture – the very limited portrayals of androgyny, and more specifically, who is allowed to be androgynous.”
We need to think about what “androgyny” means to us, and we need to think about how to expand that definition. Ruby Rose exemplifies an androgynous mold that is thin, white, able-bodied, and assigned-female-at-birth. With her short hair and tailored suits, her androgyny skews masculine.
None of these are bad things. Those who fit that style are beautiful, unique people. The problem is that not every person can fit that model, and not all of us want to. Whiteness, masculinity, thinness, and many other characteristics confer privilege, and this means that often, styles that don’t fit those criteria never see the mainstream light of day.We need to celebrate those who play with fashion and gender in a way that broadens the acceptable way to be queer or androgynous.
Here are some designers and personalities who are doing exactly that!
DarkMatter is a performance art duo based in New York City. The trans South Asian performers, Alok Vaid-Menon and Janani Balasubramanian, expand the rules about who gets to be masculine, feminine, and everything in between in awesomely innovative and transexpressive ways. Their artwork uses poetry and other mediums to dissect gender, but one of their main focuses is on fashion.
Vaid-Menon and Balasubramanian challenge assumptions about what trans and genderqueer people “look like” by combining an eclectic, bold mix of masculine and feminine pieces into their wardrobes. Many of their outfits highlight their South Asian heritage by incorporating traditional styles and garments of India. By adding colorful patterns, vintage pieces, and flawless pastel lipstick into the mix, the two craft attention-grabbing styles that question what it means to get dressed in a gendered world.
On challenging normative ways to express femininity, Vaid-Menon writes, “the idea of universal womanhood is false. There is no one way to look like a woman. The idea of universal femininity is false. There is no one way to be femme. We all have our own unique ways of presenting our femininity and embodying our genders (and that’s beautiful!).”
Elliott Alexzander first got into fashion when, they explain, “I had a hard time finding clothes that fit my body and still allowed me to express who I am. When I started my fashion blog, I quickly realized I wasn’t the only one.”
Alexzander may be best known for GenderFlux, their line of non-binary t-shirts emblazoned with queer identities including “Non-Binary,” “Genderfluid,” and others. The shirts are designed to allow their wearer to express their queer identity in a way that others can’t miss or ignore — something helpful in a world where queer gender identities are often overlooked and erased.
Alexzander is also known, however, for their provocative high-femme style. Many of their outfits feature impossibly high heels with luxurious, flowing dresses and tunics. Combined with ever-changing neon hair and a face that boasts either a classically soft femininity or chiseled masculine appearance depending on their makeup, Alexzander’s style has made waves in queer and mainstream fashion alike.
Alexzander told Bustle that they plan to begin tackling sizing options in the future. Noting that many clothes are manufactured in multiple sizes but all with the same cut, they explained that they want to start making their clothing line accessible and flattering for bodies of all sexes, sizes, and shapes.
If Jaden Smith’s father Will Smith was once known as the Fresh Prince, then Jaden has definitely become the fresh king. Known first for his role in films like “The Karate Kid” and his eccentric Twitter presence, Smith recently caught the fashion world’s attention when he debuted as the new face of Louis Vuitton’s womenswear line.
In a press conference, Louis Vuitton’s creative director Nicholas Ghesquiere explained that Smith “represents a generation that has assimilated the codes of true freedom, one that is free of manifestos and questions about gender. Wearing a skirt comes as naturally to him as it would to a woman who, long ago, granted herself permission to wear a man’s trench or a tuxedo.”
Smith’s androgynous style is an effortless combination of masculine and feminine casual wear. Many of his outfits, including his 2015 prom ensemble, feature a dress, combined with fitted sweatpants or leggings, and sneakers. Oversized pieces draw attention to his lanky frame, while bold colors and accessories are sure to make him stand out in a crowd.
The world of fashion is vast and ever-expanding. As more ways to present as non-binary are explored and become accepted, designers and artists like DarkMatter, Elliott Alexzander, and Jaden Smith open up presentation not just for non-binary and transgender individuals, but also for everyone else. We use fashion to express who we are, and paying attention to the voices and expressions of the queer community in all its beautiful diversity gives all of us more room to exist in the most fashionable, fabulous ways possible!2
Also published on Medium.