I’ve had a few conversations with friends recently about gender roles and fluidity, and one recurring observation was how our identity is sometimes forged by outward appearances such as the clothing we choose to wear.
Maybe predictably a few of these conversations have started when I mentioned that Edinburgh will be hosting a showing of one of my all-time favourite films, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. To me, I can’t imagine a more fabulous idea for a night out.
I remember sending a text to one of my closest male friends a few months ago saying “I have an urge to put a dude in a dress. Are you game?” This man is in his 40s, and in a very traditionally “masculine”, male-dominated profession. He spends his days in paint and plaster splattered workman’s trousers, hair dusted in wood shavings and hands so deeply ingrained with the labour of 20 years as a joiner that no amount of soap could wash away. And yet his immediate response was a resounding yes, without question.
I work in a creative industry, so it makes sense that the people I work with would consider stereotypically gender-set ideals in fashion to be less important than in other sectors. After years of working in the public sector, I absolutely love that not only do the folk around me wear whatever they please, but absolutely no big deal is made of it. It isn’t a “thing”. These are not people who use the so-called eccentricity of their sartorial choices to shock or to invite discourse. They are just being.
My boss has come into the office in a flamingo-and-Palm-tree printed suit. I am super jealous because I am absolutely obsessed with flamingos. My graphic designer friend wears an impeccably tailored pencil skirt over his cigarette pants on a fairly regular basis. One of the design interns we had last summer, who I’m sure came from a fashion background rather than industrial design, once turned up to a meeting wearing what I would describe as a dress that resembled a textile interpretation of a suit of armour.
I’d like to think my personality comes through in my outfit choices, and it seems unfair that the “choices” men are allowed on the high street don’t reflect theirs. I realise that not all workplaces allow for sartorial experimentation, but the sheer lack of availability of much past the same old boring muted t-shirts, same “classic fit” jeans or chinos, and same plain-Jane slim fit button down shirts is disheartening. If they dare wear a pair of skinnies, they are immediately branded disdainfully a “hipster”. Nary a stripe, a pattern, or a non-standard-issue colour to be seen. Denims are regulation mid-blue to an indigo wash, whilst us women get to choose from any colour under the sun.
When did character in menswear die? Whatever happened to dandies and glams?Most of my male friends shun the idea of mainstream fashion, wearing GTAV-esque blindingly bright Hawaiian shirts I pick up from vintage fairs, waistcoats with pocket watches, or the beautiful leopard print loafers my flatmate is so proud of. He owns a stunning full length silky coat, very fitted, with oriental frog fasteners and massive faux fur trim all round the collar and cuffs.
I would love to borrow it.
So now we’ve taken a step in the right direction with many retailers no longer separating toys by gender stereotypes, maybe we should do the same for the fashion industry. Stop stifling the creativity of menswear designers, and stop telling boys they “can’t” wear polka dots, or florals, or pink. Tell them they can wear whatever they damned well please.