When looking at fashion in today’s society it is clear that
clothes can be used in many different ways to portray identity and gender.
Throughout history clothes were used for either for practicality or to show
class and wealth. These clothes would have shown gender in a natural way. For
example in the 19th century women would have worn corsets and
dresses that would show off their feminine figures and men would have worn
trousers or suits which were considered masculine dress. In contrast, in today’s
society your gender does not control the clothes you wear or how you choose to
identify yourself.

 

We can interpret gender through biological sex and how an
individual may be portrayed through fashion. On one hand we have what gender
someone is biologically and what they were born as and on the other hand we
have 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). In
today’s society we follow a form of agency combined with structure. If you
biologically identify as a man than you are a man and if you biologically
identify as a woman then you are a woman. Similarly, if you culturally decide
to identify as either of the genders but you are biologically different then
you will be the gender that you wish to portray yourself to be.

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From the day we are
born we are quickly introduced to dominant body norms through the idea of
buying pink for a girl or blue for a boy. (Kaiser, 1997) states that ‘children
at the age of two divide people by cultural codes of gender, which includes
appearance and a way of doing the most visible forms of consumption, to perform
a major role on the social construction of identity.’ As children we accept the
idea of boys having to be masculine by having interests in sport and
superheroes and girl liking Barbie and make up. It is also made clear that
anyone who goes out of these norms, i.e. a girl who likes sport, will
automatically be labelled a tomboy. These labels make it seem as though these
children and people are doing wrong and will be criticised for it. “We act as if that being of a man or
that being of a woman is actually an internal reality or something that is
simply true about us, a fact about us, but actually it’s a phenomenon that is
being produced all the time and reproduced all the time, so to say gender is
performative is to say that nobody really is a gender from the start.”(Judith
Butler.) Butler would argue that an individual that to have their own identity
and that gender is only a small part of that. 
Clothes help individuals to express and show identity and gender. (Crane
2000) “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 in
order to be masculine or feminine.  Ideal
body norms for women include big boobs, a thin or hourglass figure and a nice
bum. According to today’s society a women would need these traits to come
across as feminine. For a man they would need to have an athletic build
therefore fashion affects men in the same way as they also have ideal body
norms that they should have to be considered masculine. The connotations of
feminine and masculine have always remained similar but in today’s day and age
they may be changing. Wilson (2005)
“In general, however, in the early industrial period gender difference was
more firmly marked by dress. Fashion became an important instrument in
a heightened consciousness of gendered individuality.” In contrast to
today’s society Butler (1990) would argue, “whatever biological sex the person
appears to have, gender is culturally constructed.” Implying that based on the
binary of male and female, gender is not fixed and can change.

 

Fashion for
women has always been something that should show off their womanly bodies and
feminine style. Throughout the decades fashions have changed dramatically but
the focus has remained the same. Points that are highlighted for women have
always been the waist or breasts. From corsets in the 19th century
to lingerie as outerwear in the 21st century, it has always been key
to show off a woman’s assets. This dress sticks to the expectations that
society 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 classy
and modest in the way they dress. A woman will be judged by society if she
wears something “too revealing”. Therefore within fashion there are many
“rules” that women are expected to follow when deciding to wear. On the other
hand, in today’s society women’s wear has ventured out to being more masculine
while still being viewed as smart and feminine.

 

In terms of
fashion for men it has always remained the same which trousers, suits and
shirts. Men have an easier time when it comes to dressing themselves, as they
don’t have as many expectations. Men are expected to be smart and also, like
women, show off their masculine bodies. In the 21st century there
has been collections made to try and introduce more feminine wear for men like
skirts, but the trend has never really caught on and been accepted as normal in
society. Men’s fashion was also based more on practicality as they would have
had more manual labour jobs and therefore would have been in overalls and other
work wear unless in a more superior jobs where the best tailored suits were
needed.

 

“Clothing
can be used as a communication tool to communicate information such as one’s
gender or status” (Rosencranz, 1972)

 

Over the
last few years a lot more people have come out as transgender as they don’t
feel comfortable or feel that they don’t belong with the gender they were given
at birth.  Therefore fashion is very
important when it comes to portraying your desired gender because a trans
person would have to adopt the expectations of a woman or man when it comes to
clothes, and follow the feminine or masculine style associated with that
gender. In the context of post modern critiques of identity transgender
activism forged a challenge to hegemonic gender binaries and their naturalising
force and raised the possibility provisional depictions of gender. 

Known for
her work on ‘female masculinities’ Halberstam, (2005) claimed, “‘the
transgender body’ emerges… as futurity itself, a kind of heroic fulfilment of
postmodern promises of gender flexibility.”

Compared to
the 20th century where being transgender was frowned upon, in the 21st
century it has become more and more acceptable, with the legalisation of gay
marriage in many countries and the acceptance of homosexuality. It has become
more common and accepted for males to wear makeup on social media platforms and
on an everyday basis. The fact that males wear makeup shows that they are
somewhat conforming to body norms and expectations to portray their gender,
whether it is their biological gender or desired gender.

 

In terms of
drag, it is now very popular with programmes like ‘Ru Pauls Drag Race’ showing
the glamour of drag and making it more acceptable in society.  Drag can be seen as a subcultural practice or
a performance of resistance, there is problem of whether drag actually subverts
gender norms or just highlights them. Sullivan, (2003) would argue that “drag
is a choice ‘many read the drag performances as “personality overhauls” that
illustrated the “mutability of identity” more generally”. Drag is seen as a way
of showing an eccentric personality and a way of showing off someone’s identity
that may differ from the norms of society. Cole (2000) says, “The masculine/
feminine binary structure has not gone away, only been restricted.” Cole thinks
that drag is only restricting the dominant norms and covering up a person’s
real identity.

Shaun Cole
and Christopher Breward say that there are “a range of different bodily
practices 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, whether
they are transgender, male, female or homosexual. There has and always will be
dominant body norms that relate to genders, as that is what makes us recognise
the difference between masculine and feminine. Although societies depiction of
sexuality and gender has changed and is changing a lot, there are still basic
norms and restrictions like men wearing trousers and skirts. “To me, clothing is a form of self-expression- there are
hints about who you are in what you wear.”(- Marc Jacobs)

Overall, I have concluded that structure and
agency both have a part to play on how we view other individual society, from
stereotypes to biological sex and that biological sex is more so culturally
influenced in the modern day and is challenged through fashion.