As the movement for equal treatment of the genders continues to gain prominence in American society, people are noticing more and more how gender inequality affects everyday life. One of the most obvious ways our culture differentiates gender is with clothing: For centuries, women wore skirts, men wore pants, and that was that.
However, in recent years, women have enjoyed much more fashion freedom, as nearly every article and style of clothing has become appropriate for the female gender. Yet, this liberty of the wardrobe does not quite extend to men, making most critics question whether or not we have taken any strides toward closing the apparel gender gap.
Like any human creation, fashion is thoroughly studied by academics around the world, and a vast majority of research on clothing focuses on gender. Though different academics have different research goals, nearly all studies on dress focus in some part on the culture that produces and consumes the clothing. For centuries, fashion has been integral to the communication of a person’s identity, including community, class, and, perhaps most importantly, gender.
In fact, studies on dress began in the 19th century with comparisons between male and female styles. Yet, fashion focused nearly entirely on women’s clothing for decades, until fears regarding masculinity’s failing incited interest in male trends at the end of the 20th century.
Today, gender and fashion are nearly inseparable, as researchers work tirelessly to understand exactly how people embody their genders in a time when what gender means is changing so quickly.
It might be easy to assume that fashion has already conquered gender inequality; after all, women are free to wear whatever they want, right? Unfortunately, research demonstrates there is still quite a large amount of discrimination in women’s and men’s fashion.
For one, most school dress codes unjustly regulate women’s clothing: no thin straps, no short hemlines, no revealing midriff, etc.
For another, some argue that women’s clothing continues to be impractical, lacking useful features like pockets that would help females advance in society.
However, men experience a share of discrimination in the fashion world, as well. Women have the opportunity to comfortably and confidently wear nearly all colors and cuts – even styles strongly associated with men – but men have a small range of apparel they can choose from.
For decades, bright colors and patterns, especially pinks and purples, have been utterly off-limits for men looking to dress well, and a number of clothing shapes, including those too tight or too delicate, immediately negate a man’s power. Thus, both men and women have looked forward to an end to gendered clothing for some time.
A handful of male celebrities are leading the movement to close the clothing gender gap. Ignoring the kilt, which has been common on the red carpet amongst actors like Ewan McGregor, Robin Williams, and Gerard Butler, skirts are starting to be seen on some of Hollywood’s most masculine stars.
Kanye West is known for his fashion sense, and his recent appearances in a silk Celine blouse and a leather Givenchy skirt demonstrate his willingness to blur gender lines. Jared Leto, Vin Diesel, and Chad Ochocinco Johnson have also worn skirts in public. Jaden Smith, son of the Fresh Prince himself, has become somewhat of a style icon, mixing hip hop streetwear with frilly feminine apparel almost every day.
As a result, many designers are experimenting with styles for both men and women. Gender-neutrality dominated runways at nearly every prominent fashion week in 2015, and labels as disparate as Comme des Garcons and Gucci dressed models in gender-bending silhouettes. Experts predict a dramatic increase in clothing choice for men and women in the near future.
Surprisingly, the children’s department has been among the first to fully accept gender-neutral options. As gender roles receive more and more cultural flack, many parents fear the repercussions of restricting their children with specific styles. While many stores still have the typical pink girls’ section and blue boys’ section, some, like Target, plan to do away with gendering their merchandise. Already, dozens of children’s brands produce gender-neutral clothing: Handsome in Pink, Jessy & Jack, Quirkie Kids, and more. Conceivably, as the next generation grows up without gendered toys and clothing, we will see a world without gender roles in the living future.