Brock Willard editor in chief
Modern society is obsessed with gender, sometimes for the good and sometimes for the bad. One area that is mostly for the bad: fashion, the clothing industry, and how that affects social capital.
Firstly, fashion items themselves have no gender or sex. There’s no such thing as a “male shirt” or a “female pair of jeans.” They just don’t exist. That is something we are projecting onto these swaths of fabric that we use to cover up. In her book, “Categories We Live By,” the philosopher Asta speaks about social categories and how they come to be, and, more specifically, how they are conferred onto someone. In a way, when we describe clothes with terms traditionally reserved for gender and sex identification, we are conferring some property or another on them, and by extension, the people that wear them.
When we confer a gendered label onto a piece of clothing, we say, “It is the norm that people of this gender will be wearing this and when that is not the case, it is abnormal.” Of course, we don’t literally say this, but the way society has shaped the way we view sex and gender tells us subconsciously that this is so. Abnormality often creates an othering phenomenon in social groups.
Of course, you might come back and say that “Men and women wear different sizes. That’s why they are like that.” This problem can easily be solved by switching to a system that purely measures clothing data in inches regardless of the gender of those wearing it. Why wouldn’t we use something intuitive like that in the first place?
Well, one explanation might come from the history of education in the United States. Prior to 1900, education was reserved for those that could afford it and it was all private education, meaning one-on-one, or a small group-on-one. That changed with the advent of public school. Suddenly, a new market had opened to teachers who had never taught more than maybe five students at a time. Specifically in subjects like music, content had to be packaged in a way that bled out the nuances and made it digestible to a large room of school children. Otherwise, a teacher risked running out of a time in a lesson. This is comparable to the way commercial fashion is laid out.
Commercial fashion, like most things in modern life, is affected by capitalism. Commercial fashion, much like the hurried schoolteacher above, makes the easiest possible judgement and builds everything to the middle, the most average consumer. That is why plus sizes are sometimes hard to find and why they try to make it so gendered clothes are the norm.
What can we say of this approach to interacting with human beings? We can say that there is a vested interest to keep men wearing “male clothes,” women wearing “female clothes,” and nonbinary people to not exist. When a social system controls the way people can express themselves, it’s more likely to stop them from rocking the boat too much. In this instance, the boat is capitalism.
Gentlemen, if you want to paint your nails, wear makeup, wear a skirt or a dress, do it. It has nothing to say of your gender. Only you can make that call. Ladies, the same goes for you. Wear whatever you like. Life is far too short to be told how to dress. Fashion is ultimately about expressing your personality the way you understand it, not how someone else does.