When looking at fashion in today’s society it is clear thatclothes can be used in many different ways to portray identity and gender.Throughout history clothes were used for either for practicality or to showclass and wealth. These clothes would have shown gender in a natural way.
Forexample in the 19th century women would have worn corsets anddresses that would show off their feminine figures and men would have worntrousers or suits which were considered masculine dress. In contrast, in today’ssociety your gender does not control the clothes you wear or how you choose toidentify yourself. We can interpret gender through biological sex and how anindividual may be portrayed through fashion. On one hand we have what gendersomeone is biologically and what they were born as and on the other hand wehave individuals who are born one gender but choose to identify as another.
“The ways in which bodies are fashioned through clothes, make-up and demeanor,constitute identity, sexuality and social position” (Jennifer Craik, 1990). Intoday’s society we follow a form of agency combined with structure. If youbiologically identify as a man than you are a man and if you biologicallyidentify as a woman then you are a woman. Similarly, if you culturally decideto identify as either of the genders but you are biologically different thenyou will be the gender that you wish to portray yourself to be. From the day we areborn we are quickly introduced to dominant body norms through the idea ofbuying pink for a girl or blue for a boy. (Kaiser, 1997) states that ‘childrenat the age of two divide people by cultural codes of gender, which includesappearance and a way of doing the most visible forms of consumption, to performa major role on the social construction of identity.’ As children we accept theidea of boys having to be masculine by having interests in sport andsuperheroes and girl liking Barbie and make up. It is also made clear thatanyone who goes out of these norms, i.
e. a girl who likes sport, willautomatically be labelled a tomboy. These labels make it seem as though thesechildren and people are doing wrong and will be criticised for it. “We act as if that being of a man orthat being of a woman is actually an internal reality or something that issimply true about us, a fact about us, but actually it’s a phenomenon that isbeing produced all the time and reproduced all the time, so to say gender isperformative is to say that nobody really is a gender from the start.”(JudithButler.) Butler would argue that an individual that to have their own identityand that gender is only a small part of that.
Clothes help individuals to express and show identity and gender. (Crane2000) “Understands clothing to be one of the most visible forms of consumption,to perform a major role in the social construction of identity”Individuals are vulnerable to perceptions of themselves and others.Fashion creates a stigma of what ideal traits a man or woman should have inorder to be masculine or feminine. Idealbody norms for women include big boobs, a thin or hourglass figure and a nicebum.
According to today’s society a women would need these traits to comeacross as feminine. For a man they would need to have an athletic buildtherefore fashion affects men in the same way as they also have ideal bodynorms that they should have to be considered masculine. The connotations offeminine and masculine have always remained similar but in today’s day and agethey may be changing. Wilson (2005)”In general, however, in the early industrial period gender difference wasmore firmly marked by dress. Fashion became an important instrument ina heightened consciousness of gendered individuality.” In contrast totoday’s society Butler (1990) would argue, “whatever biological sex the personappears to have, gender is culturally constructed.
” Implying that based on thebinary of male and female, gender is not fixed and can change. Fashion forwomen has always been something that should show off their womanly bodies andfeminine style. Throughout the decades fashions have changed dramatically butthe focus has remained the same. Points that are highlighted for women havealways been the waist or breasts.
From corsets in the 19th centuryto lingerie as outerwear in the 21st century, it has always been keyto show off a woman’s assets. This dress sticks to the expectations thatsociety has for women and how they should always look feminine and “pretty”. “A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.
” ? Coco Chanel. Another expectation of women is to always be classyand modest in the way they dress. A woman will be judged by society if shewears something “too revealing”. Therefore within fashion there are many”rules” that women are expected to follow when deciding to wear. On the otherhand, in today’s society women’s wear has ventured out to being more masculinewhile still being viewed as smart and feminine. In terms offashion for men it has always remained the same which trousers, suits andshirts. Men have an easier time when it comes to dressing themselves, as theydon’t have as many expectations.
Men are expected to be smart and also, likewomen, show off their masculine bodies. In the 21st century therehas been collections made to try and introduce more feminine wear for men likeskirts, but the trend has never really caught on and been accepted as normal insociety. Men’s fashion was also based more on practicality as they would havehad more manual labour jobs and therefore would have been in overalls and otherwork wear unless in a more superior jobs where the best tailored suits wereneeded. “Clothingcan be used as a communication tool to communicate information such as one’sgender or status” (Rosencranz, 1972) Over thelast few years a lot more people have come out as transgender as they don’tfeel comfortable or feel that they don’t belong with the gender they were givenat birth.
Therefore fashion is veryimportant when it comes to portraying your desired gender because a transperson would have to adopt the expectations of a woman or man when it comes toclothes, and follow the feminine or masculine style associated with thatgender. In the context of post modern critiques of identity transgenderactivism forged a challenge to hegemonic gender binaries and their naturalisingforce and raised the possibility provisional depictions of gender. Known forher work on ‘female masculinities’ Halberstam, (2005) claimed, “‘thetransgender body’ emerges… as futurity itself, a kind of heroic fulfilment ofpostmodern promises of gender flexibility.”Compared tothe 20th century where being transgender was frowned upon, in the 21stcentury it has become more and more acceptable, with the legalisation of gaymarriage in many countries and the acceptance of homosexuality. It has becomemore common and accepted for males to wear makeup on social media platforms andon an everyday basis. The fact that males wear makeup shows that they aresomewhat conforming to body norms and expectations to portray their gender,whether it is their biological gender or desired gender. In terms ofdrag, it is now very popular with programmes like ‘Ru Pauls Drag Race’ showingthe glamour of drag and making it more acceptable in society. Drag can be seen as a subcultural practice ora performance of resistance, there is problem of whether drag actually subvertsgender norms or just highlights them.
Sullivan, (2003) would argue that “dragis a choice ‘many read the drag performances as “personality overhauls” thatillustrated the “mutability of identity” more generally”. Drag is seen as a wayof showing an eccentric personality and a way of showing off someone’s identitythat may differ from the norms of society. Cole (2000) says, “The masculine/feminine binary structure has not gone away, only been restricted.
” Cole thinksthat drag is only restricting the dominant norms and covering up a person’sreal identity.Shaun Coleand Christopher Breward say that there are “a range of different bodilypractices from those people who identify as gay, lesbian, transgendered,transsexual, drag queens and more.” To conclude,clothes are one of the key ways to identify an individual’s gender, whetherthey are transgender, male, female or homosexual. There has and always will bedominant body norms that relate to genders, as that is what makes us recognisethe difference between masculine and feminine. Although societies depiction ofsexuality and gender has changed and is changing a lot, there are still basicnorms and restrictions like men wearing trousers and skirts.
“To me, clothing is a form of self-expression- there arehints about who you are in what you wear.”(- Marc Jacobs)Overall, I have concluded that structure andagency both have a part to play on how we view other individual society, fromstereotypes to biological sex and that biological sex is more so culturallyinfluenced in the modern day and is challenged through fashion.