Updated: Sep 13, 2020
Online, Gen Z is blurring fashion’s long-standing gender boundaries
By Kristin Merrilees
Image via Style Caster
Our world has long been divided by the gender binary - male or female, blue or pink, powerful or nurturing - with little room in between. This, of course, has included fashion and style. For decades, both women and men have been expected to dress in certain ways in accordance with their gender - for women that has meant skirts, heels, and makeup, for men, pants and suits.
But now, young people are breaking beyond and blurring these limiting and artificial boundaries. Much of this fashion-related experimentation has been occurring online, where teens can feel free to explore and often encounter a more accepting audience than they would IRL.
They are defying traditional stereotypes of what’s considered feminine and masculine fashion. For example, boys are now embracing skirts and dresses, showing off their outfits on TikTok. Online, their peers have generally been very supportive, providing styling tips and inspiration. One video, of TikTok user @.jvdd wearing a patterned flowy mini skirt, which he styles with a baggy royal purple T-shirt and white Nike Air Forces, has accrued over 1.9 million views. Crop tops, also a traditionally feminine clothing item, are becoming non-gendered, with boys embracing the style.
This overlaps with the “soft boy” aesthetic, which involves boys wearing styles that many would consider more typically feminine, such as “pastels, fluffy sweaters [and] florals,” according to BuzzFeed reporter Lauren Strapagiel. There’s also the rise of “Femboy Fridays,” a weekly celebration of self-identified “femboys,” male-identifying individuals who dress in a more traditionally feminine manner. Gen Z boys are also wearing makeup, something popularized amongst this generation by 21-year-old YouTuber and makeup artist James Charles, who recently hosted his own beauty guru competition show, Instant Influencer.
On the other hand, girls are wearing clothing and styles that might be considered traditionally masculine, from dad jeans to athletic wear to oversized tee shirts and shorts. Recently, there’s been a revolution against the fitted women’s T-shirt, which many deem to be uncomfortable. Additionally, girls are wearing natural or no makeup, as well as bold makeup as a form of art and self-expression. Gen Z girls are using fashion and makeup in whatever ways make them happy, which is in sharp opposition to their traditional characterization as just “something women wear to impress men.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time that people have defied gender stereotypes in fashion. In the 1850s, suffragists pushed for the right to wear pants (at that time, a specific garment called “bloomers”), reports Marc Bain in Quartz. In the following century, wearing pants became the new normal for many women who started working during World War II. In recent years, gender-neutral and androgynous fashions are increasingly seen on the runway. And yet, the notion of men wearing traditionally feminine clothing still isn’t widely accepted. That is, maybe until now, when “men in skirts” are often celebrated, at least on the internet.
This change in fashion signals that a greater, widespread evolution in the way our society views gender is taking place - with many members of Gen Z leading the way. We are realizing - and embracing - that “male” and “female” aren’t the whole story - or even the start of it. Many people identify as nonbinary or don’t align with the stereotypes of the gender they identify as. And because members of Gen Z often use fashion, style, and beauty as a means of expression, it makes sense that as our conception of gender changes, our attitudes toward fashion will as well. This generation is shaping a future in which gender and fashion, whatever they may mean to each one of us, aren’t limiting - they’re empowering.
Written by writer Kristin Merrilees