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How to Break Gender Norms in your Wardrobe

Words by Shalaka Vaze

Photography by Holly Phillips (@hpphotographyyyy)

After browsing the womenswear sections of the online clothing stores, I inevitably turn to browse the menswear section and find at least one thing I love every time. For me, men's hoodies, shirts, jeans (cinched in with a belt) and blazers styled on women look completely effortless, and that is all I ever want to achieve for my own style.

The recurring trend of breaking gender norms in fashion started in the 1950s when women began to wear trousers for ease of movement when working. Most recently, it has been honoured in the 2019 Met Gala, themed Camp: Notes on Fashion. It sometimes still feels like a radical style choice, but we cannot forget that for many people who don’t conform to binary gender identities, dressing to represent that is a key aspect of their pride. More people are embracing their own place on the scale of how masculine or feminine they identify and are choosing to ignore the traditional norm of assigning clothes as a symbol of sex-based gender. However, when it comes to actually incorporating pieces meant for the opposite gender in your current gendered style, a certain confidence and feeling of freedom is required to successfully experiment. For most people (including me!), this can sometimes feel daunting, so I have found inspiration from the runways and red carpets that hopefully leave you with a few new ideas.

My first source of inspiration is unsurprisingly from my favourite French brand – Jacquemus. In the recent 2020-21 menswear shows, more specifically from the 10th anniversary show in Provence and onwards, Jacquemus has incorporated outerwear styled on women over more feminine pieces. As a woman, I love recreating these types of outfits to add an element of intrigue to my generally feminine wardrobe. Even more obvious gender norms have been broken by Jacquemus in these shows too, for example with how fabrics embellished with sequins and floral patterns (that designers would usually reserve for womenswear) have been manipulated in menswear and stylistically, these have a great impact on the outfits as a whole. Finding affordable brands that also incorporate these features into menswear, however, is a more difficult challenge. The small ways I suggest you can start to incorporate more feminine fabrics into a masculine wardrobe would be to use them in layers. For example, wearing a floral womenswear shirt, with a collar and sleeves that peeks out on top of or underneath a more classically masculine jacket could be a great way for men to dip their toes into breaking gender styling norms.

Another brilliant example of gender-fluid dressing, is how Alessandro Michele dressed Harry Styles in Gucci at the aforementioned 2019 Met Gala. Styles wore an all-black ensemble, with high-waisted tailored trousers, and a pussy-bow blouse in a sheer material with lace finishes on the cuffs and collar. The overall look was completed with black, low-heeled boots. Opposed to the flamboyant colours featured in the outfits of the other Met Gala guests, Styles looked elegant and sophisticated. Not only did Michele incorporate the theme well in Styles’ outfit, he did it in a way that looked like a natural continuation of Styles’ already well-established wardrobe. A great takeaway here is that womenswear accessories or pieces that are tailored well and come in neutral colours like black, tan and khaki tones, can fit very seamlessly into otherwise masculine outfits. It is a great starting point for anyone looking to become more gender-neutral in their style.

One final point I want to make, is that whatever you do when developing your own wardrobe, whether it is becoming more gender-neutral in your outfit choices or stepping outside of your comfort zone in any other respect, it is absolutely okay to make style ‘mistakes’. It is key to experiment with what suits you and what might not, because ultimately you will feel more confident and informed when you go to make your next purchase - you can curate your options and leave out what you know already doesn’t fit your style. So, don’t be afraid to find your own style-groove that suits your own identity through trial and error, because as I have personally found, you will be happier for it as a result!