Breaking clothing norms: Results may vary based on gender


Both genders have broken their regular clothing norms which drastically impacts each gender differently.

Lillian Chen and Zaina Saif

For all that has been said about judging people for what is on the inside rather than the outside, it is undeniable that appearance – and by default, clothing and style – plays a large part in the way someone is perceived and treated by the public.

Though there is much more gray area between clothing typically denoted as “men’s” or “women’s,” especially in comparison to years past, some clothes are still strictly thought of as feminine or masculine despite simply being a piece of fabric. Yet, when it comes to breaking gender norms, men receive an inordinate amount of praise where women are barely offered a second glance.

Ever since the internet saw Harry Styles wear a dress on the cover of Vogue 2020, it set a precedent for how people react to rebelling against clothing norms. Styles was applauded for his “bravery” in clothing choice and associating himself with femininity. While there is a point to be made about the role toxic masculinity can play into mens’ aversion to feminine clothing, how are Styles’ fashion choices any different than a woman dressed in a suit?

Take nearly any period piece movie or book into consideration. Women in these stories, despite facing backlash, are often thought of as “strong” for breaking the standard and dressing in pants rather than skirts. If a man were to be found doing the same thing he would be considered “weak” or “unmanly.” However, pant suits, a prime example of the male gaze running in fashion, are common for women in the workplace, even making them appear more professional to coworkers.

Dr. Lauren Gurrieri, Senior Lecturer at RMIT University, explains the how the male gaze operates in fashion.

“The male gaze reflects expectations of how women’s bodies are supposed to look and what is aesthetically required of women — which in turn positions women as sexualised, idealised and objects of heteronormative desire and pleasure,” Gurrieri said.

In a study conducted by an Auburn University professor, job applicants came to an interview dressed in different levels of masculinity. Results showed that the more masculine the clothing was, the more likely the applicant was recommended to be hired. While masculinity is widely accepted to be a social construct, the values people associate with men like vigor, aggression and toughness still reign in societal structures, conversations and, incidentally, in the job market.

This trend of women being expected to dress and act in more traditionally masculine ways in order to be taken seriously is still present today despite all that has been done to gradually lessen the sexism and misogyny running rampant in modern society. It can easily be seen in the thought process of those who have had adverse reactions to Styles and other male artists wearing dresses and skirts – they believe they are “weak.” Women are still unable to be thought of as anything but less than a man.

If the argument to be made were simply that Styles and other male artists are being praised for breaking gender norms, female celebrities would also be seeing the same praise for dressing in suits – and yet they don’t. Anything relating to masculinity is praised within society for being the ideal; femininity always comes second.

Progress is still being made by men choosing to break gender norms and dress in traditionally feminine clothing, but it is important to also recognize that they are not brave for downplaying their masculinity to do so; they are brave because they are finding strength in their style, not imparting strength onto femininity.