Fluid dressing like this could lead to a fashion renaissance, lawyer says


Over the past few years, the fashion world has come up with a lot more unisex clothing than we have seen in generations, rejecting the idea of ​​a strict separation between the two sexes.

But so far, many of these forays into genderless fashion have been particularly understated and shapeless, with neutral colors and boxy silhouettes.

Alok Vaid-Menon, author, artist and activist behind the #DeGenderFashion movement, says a truly fluid approach to the clothing genre could make way for a much more expressive, flexible and even flamboyant wardrobe. .

“The lack of gender isn’t actually … the death of fashion. It’s about its rebirth,” said Vaid-Menon, who lives in New York City and uses the they / them pronouns. “When we take away that strict idea of ​​’Do I make clothes for men or women?’ we start to dwell on the fabrics, the colors, the meaning, the feeling, the affect that often gets lost when we just regurgitate gender stereotypes. “

Alok Vaid-Menon is a writer, artist and lecturer. (Bronson Farr)

Author of several books, including Beyond the binary genre, Vaid-Menon said Tapestry host Mary Hynes that what our culture considers feminine or masculine “comes from the particular perspective of the Euro-American people in the Western world”. But that’s not the only prospect.

“I grew up with men who wore so many different bright colors, who had different accessories, even men who wore skirts,” said Vaid-Menon, whose parents are Punjabi from India and Malayali from Malaysia.

With designers striving to disrupt fashion’s gender binaries and prominent celebrities challenging these in very visible ways – like Billy Porter walking the Oscars red carpet in a velvet gown or Harry Styles wearing a gown. on the cover of Vogue – Fashion insiders say the time may be ripe for wider acceptance of fluid fashion between the sexes.

This month, Canadian women’s magazine Chatelaine, which has been published for 93 years, featured Vivek Shraya, a genderqueer writer, musician and professor at the University of Calgary, in a series of women’s outfits.

Experiences in the drag scene

Vaid-Menon said their own experiences of challenging typical gender differences in clothing began on the drag scene.

Vaid-Menon, seen at the New York Comedy Festival in November 2021, came to their genre’s fluid approach to dressing by performing as a stage artist, before asking, “Why am I deny that joy just to be on stage when i could you dress like this everyday everywhere i go? (Desmond Picotte)

“I arrived in a way as a stage artist, where due to the dating traditions of this country, I was socially allowed to experiment with genre and fashion.

“But then I was having so much fun on stage – like probably more fun preparing myself than actually performing. And I was wondering, why am I denying myself that joy of just being on stage, when I could dress like this every day everywhere I go? ”

In a year that Vaid-Menon wore only skirts in public, it became clear to them that audiences were much more comfortable with their attire in the context of art or performance. “But when it’s next to you on a train or walking down the street, people are so uncomfortable.”

Vaid-Menon said it was during the 19th century that Western society saw more gender segregation in fashion. “Things like lace or makeup or wigs or heels have become feminine and something like a costume has become masculine. And what’s so strange is that it was relatively recent in the history of it. humanity. And yet people [now] I can’t imagine anything outside of that. “

In North America as recently as the 1960s, Vaid-Menon said police would use a loosely defined “three-article rule,” under which people could be arrested for wearing less than three items of clothing associated with their. sex. Essentially, it was good to dress for a drag show, but not to wear feminine underwear.

Jonathan Walford, director and curator of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ont., Argues that there was a subtle gender differentiation in wardrobes dating back even to antiquity – expressed, for example, in the different ways in which men and women tied their dresses, kimonos or kilts.

But these differences became “extremely evident” in the 19th century, when women wore two-meter-wide crinolines.

Jonathan Walford, director and curator of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ont., Says gender differentiation in wardrobes dates back to ancient times. (Submitted by Jonathan Walford)

These gender divisions were less noticeable in the 18th century, which Walford describes as “a very feminine century” in Europe, where “everyone wore a lot of lace and powdered hair.”

Achieve the “true sense of self”

Harry Styles and Billy Porter are not the first public figures to challenge the gender binaries of fashion in contemporary times. Artists such as Boy George, David Bowie and Prince have launched highly visible challenges to male sartorial standards with their experimental and avant-garde approaches to makeup and clothing.

Today, a new cohort of designers are striving to expand what everyday people can wear.

Designer Mic Carter creates collections for his company L’uomo Strano during breaks in grades 5 and 6. (Matthew Carter)

Mic Carter is a genderqueer Toronto fashion designer who creates collections for his company L’uomo Strano through creative spurts during breaks from grades 5 and 6 teaching. He said his main goal was to use clothing to empower non-binary people, including men but people who feature women like him, to “feel like their truest sense of themselves.”

Carter describes her products as a whimsical set of clothes that can be wardrobe staples without eliminating gender markers.

“When I started L’uomo Strano there were rumblings of androgyny or non-sexist fashion, but often what it would look like would be this kind of square, drab, uniform stuff, offers that really make a difference. gesture towards the masculine side of gender neutrality. And that was not what I was looking for. I was looking for sequins and sparkles and, at times, like a well-placed ruffle. particular desire to express gender through clothing .

It’s a natural extension of the fashion world he was introduced to as a child, first thanks to the sewing techniques of the grandmother and aunts they visited in Barbados, who made ” dresses for anyone who needed them “.

WATCH | Mic Carter explains his design in this video provided by Ryerson University:


He said his parents were ingenious in embracing “vintage before it was cool,” taking their kids to thrift stores to build a “sartorial identity”. It was a good basis for him later as a young gay man who would overturn the uniform guidelines in his strict Christian private school.

“A year ago I had this really big kind of camo hat that looked very, you know, Parisian. I’d love to put it on one eye. It was pretty cute,” said Carter, who started the Ryerson University School of Fashion’s first dismissal – binary fashion design course in 2018.

“I also played baseball a bit, [although] I never got to catch it at all. But they gave us these really cute three-quarter-length T-shirts. And I would wear them under my uniform to add a little pop and pizzazz. “

Dull style may appear “more palatable”

Carter said that while he’s always been comfortable standing out from the crowd, an androgynous, genderless approach to fashion may seem safer.

“I think if you see someone who’s tall and showcasing men, but who’s wearing something a little more flamboyant, the attention you can get might not be the most positive. be, at times, quite dangerous, ”he said.

In contrast, a duller, amorphous dressing style is “more palatable” to the general public, Carter said.

Models Victor Keita, left, and Robin Barnes, right, showcase designs from Carter’s show Hope this email finds you. (Mark Binks)

It’s also less risky as a business venture, Walford said. “I think you’re going to reach a larger audience by being a little more conservative in the way you do things.”

That said, Walford notes that the world has come a long way since 1988 when his partner caused a stir while working in the Simpsons department store for getting an earring.

“He went out at lunch time, he got a little earring and came back and was told to take it off or he would be fired. has been fired.”


Written by Brandie Weikle. Produced by Arman Aghbali.


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