My Return and Gendered Clothes

Note:  The first two paragraphs are more personal stuff; the gendered clothes starts after that.  Feel free to skip the personal stuff!

Hello!  I know it has been forever and you may or may not have missed my posts.  I don’t really have any good excuses.  I finally got a new job after getting fired (unfairly, but that isn’t the point), my boyfriend decided on a school and we got an apartment and a move in date and all sorts of other life stuff.  The point it is I have not given up on my blogs.

I am also starting another one.  I know, ridiculous since I can’t keep up with these, but it is going to be me ranting about my job at the discount store.  It is called Discount Retail Rants.

Gendered Clothes:  This is inspired by my job and the people I see there.  Almost every day I hear a parent tell their child “You don’t want that!  That is for boys/girls!”.  This is usually in reference to shoes, a watch or something not actually obviously gendered.  People will come up to me with shoes, sunglasses, watches, etc. and ask “Is this for men/women/boys/girls?”  I try to answer them honestly, since all the clothes are meant, by the company who created them, for a specific gender.  However, I always want to reply “It is for whomever it fits and wants to wear it.  So that watch will be a boy’s watch when it belongs to that boy!”

Why are people so worried about whether our clothes are meant for our gender?  Does it really matter if those sneakers are for a boy or girl (assuming they fit, of course)?  I find these clothes requirements one of the most obviously absurd gender requirements we have.  A man wearing a dress doesn’t make him any less tough.  He can still punch you in the face and he might actually be able to kick you more easily!   And a woman in men’s shoes or shirt is certainly no less feminine.

So why is this such a big deal to us?  All I can think of is tradition and arbitrary gender assignment.  It is completely pointless and I can’t see any historical reason other than arbitrary gender assignment(maybe easy sexual availability for skirts, but that seems like a flimsy idea at best).   Not days it is just a way to differentiate between men and women and force children into the patterns that our society is comfortable with for their adulthood.

The number of times my grandfather has said my infant cousin looks like a “real” boy in his blue/brown/green clothes!  People say that the clothes make the man, but that is stupid and I will hopefully tear that apart later when I discuss masculinity.

Of course, it is easier for women.  I wear men’s t-shirts and plaid button downs all the time.  No one comments.  It might be the large breasts and cleavage that distract them from the shirts, but I’m pretty sure no woman would have a big problem.  Men, however, get all sorts of attention.  We had a young man at my university that wore skirts.  He was called “skirt guy”.  If a woman wore just pants (which I did until college) she isn’t “pants girl”.

It could be argued that I  went through a cross dressing phase.  When I was in my tweens I wore only soccer jerseys (I had one female soccer jersey) and wore nothing but pants.  I didn’t own a skirt until I was a freshman or sophomore in college.  I was just lucky that my family didn’t care and let me express myself and that girls can wear boy clothes.

Some may argue that I’m a bit off, but no one could argue that I am unstable.  At least in a dangerous way.  Clearly wearing boys clothes did not damage to me.  I am a productive member of society with many healthy relationships in all areas of life (romantic, familial, friendship, work).  Your son’s mind will not be destroyed if he wears a white woman’s watch.

Louis XIV's Heels

Why is the gendering of clothes an issue?   I don’t believe that most people feel that restricted by our clothing choices.  There are those that do, but a discussion about those individuals should get their own post.  The big issue is that this is the most obvious and simple example of gendering.  It is probably one of the ones that makes
people the least uncomfortable.  I think that this makes it a greatplace to start explaining gender issues and arbitrary gender differences to people.  Also keep in mind that these differences change.  High heels were originally for men.

Exam your own feelings on the issue and answer these questions, either for yourself or in the comments.  What do you honestly think when you imagine a man in women’s clothing?  A woman in man’s?  Could you take these individuals seriously? For straight women and gay or bisexual men, could you be attracted to a man in women’s clothing?  What about a man in a kilt?  What about Hugh Jackman/Ryan Reynolds/your favorite sexy man in a slinky red number?  For straight men and bisexual or gay women, what about a woman in men’s clothing?  What about your favorite sexy celebrity in a man’s tuxedo (not form fitting and hugging every curve or showing cleavage)?



About Tori

I am a graduate student working on my masters in Women and Gender studies. My masters thesis is on the gender nonconformity and ambiguity in modern film.
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4 Responses to My Return and Gendered Clothes

  1. Sita says:

    Heels were originally meant for men. And most of the time when I’m in a pair of the wretched things, I wish we could push them back on the men!

  2. Rebecca says:

    Andrew wears long, flowy scarves and tight shirts. I find it damn attractive. That is all (noooo mistaking: he’s a man :D).

    Also, if Hugh Jackman only wore pants, he would be Hugh Slacksman!

  3. steve says:

    Hi – a few disconnected thoughts on your interesting post…

    You mention a general concern that kids settle into distinct gender identities. I can see one commendable dimension to that: no parent would want to see their child suffer teasing or ostracism for confounding such elementary conventions. I’d also say my impression is that such concerns are more pronounced in the US which is a much more conservative society than Europe. I use a few US-based message boards and men there show an almost pathological anxiety over avoiding being labelled ‘gay’.

    As for women wearing men’s clothes – I find that very attractive wether it’s men’s business suits or jeans and work boots and the result seems to me to amplify femininity in a really delightful way:)

    On a more personal note I’m slightly bi, dwell in the arts and so I’m open to testing the boundaries. A lover once squeezed me in her most slinky outfit and heels, gave me a full make up job and helped me totter downstairs to show off her handiwork to two friends. They were totally taken aback, thrown by what they saw. I think their reaction might have arisen from the schism between my natural appearance – I’m very fit and described as ‘tough-looking’ – and the minutely-crafted femininity imposed upon me…or revealed within me? I modelled for photos a while ago and was given a muslin sarong-type drape. I think the women who have seen the pics respond to them primarily because they undo cast-iron gender roles and recalibrate, modify, masculinity with a strong hint of their own sensibility.

    It’s a very compelling adventure into the interior and I wonder if that part of the child who has to learn to take assimilate conventional masculine/feminine roles is still within reach and if, just under the surface, a kind of androgeny is still at least as powerful a force?

    Sorry to go on at such length – it’s a very compelling subject!

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