"How To Dress A Boy"
I very specifically remember the first time I wore tight jeans home from school. The year was 2008, I was a Freshman in college, and I'd been really feeling myself since I'd purchased my very first pair of skinny jeans right before Christmas break. Let me tell you about how cute I thought I was:
Those gray H&M jeans, my hot topic T-shirt that said 'Keep the Earth clean its not Uranus', and of course, my ESSENTIAL size-too-small Under Armour compression shirt that I used as a makeshift girdle...ummmmm....sweetie.... YOU COULDN'T TELL ME NOTTHHHIIINNGGGGG, I WAS LITTY TITTTIIEEESSS. Up until that time I was heavy in the streets with my light-wash bootcut jeans addiction, so finding my way to the light of tapering, was kind of huge for me.
But can I get real with you guys for a second?
If someone you know is still wearing bootcut jeans in 2018, have them call the helpline:
The call is free, the advice is free, and people are standing by to drive to their house and throw out anything Abercrombie & Fitch.
The reason I remember going home so vividly, is due in part to my 5 hour Greyhoud bus trip home where I spent most of it wracked with anxiety over just how badly my family was going to make fun of me for wearing skinny jeans.
Not IF. Just how badly.
I got roasted.
HOWEVER looking back at it now, I realize those remarks were just coded language for my family coming to terms with my sexuality and not having the tools or the language to talk about it openly. Ok okkkaaayyy also they were gray, not-quite-exactly denim H&M jeans, that I swear have left a permanent indentation in my stomach from how tight they were....BUT IM JUST GONNA GO WITH THEY DIDN'T HAVE THE TOOLS. They didn't have the words to say that what they viewed as an attribute of clothing reserved for "women's" clothes, they felt was an attack in some way on my masculinity. That, because I decided to wear tight jeans, I was less of man, and what-oh-what could be worse than that?
New York Magazine, dedicated its March 5 issue to the subject of “How to Raise a Boy”. A bunch of super smart people contributed 29 stories that attempt to answer that question; sharing experiences that have shaped their lives in regards to how they were raised, their relationships with their parents, and what raising a boy may potentially look like in the wake of the recent events in Parkland, #MeToo, and the general sentiments that maybe enough is enough.
That got me to thinking about what this could mean in the context of the fashion industry. How strongly boys clothing is linked to societys' idea of masculinity, how this is perpetuated over time, the rising visibility of queer culture and if thats having an effect, and what (if any) responsibility the fashion industry has to challenging this phenomenon.
Pretty much, I want to attempt to answer the question of "How To Dress a Boy?"
I was at some girls house working on a group project during my senior year of high school - so just to make sure we're on the same page, I was already annoyed - when my team of all girls except myself, collectively decided that we were going to stand out from the class by making a video of us doing a mock commercial for some product we made up. While I don't remember a single detail of the finished project, what I do remember is sitting in this girls living room, frantically twirling the red shag carpeting into sweaty bundles, as I had to watch frame-by-frame shots of my double chins glistening in the late afternoon sun and the light pink shirt I had on, clinging to my body.
I remember cursing myself best I could, since I didn't curse back then, for choosing THAT day to wear a pink shirt. PINK. It was fine when only those girls were going to see me in it, but now this was the whole class, and boys in that class, and just incase you'd forgotten, boys aren't supposed to wear pink.
I remember sitting on that shag carpeting, feeling as if I'd just put myself in harms way.
I'd personally given up the idea that I needed to conform to what society deemed "masculine" the second Ciara dropped the "Goodies" video and I became acutely aware of just how stiff my hip flexors were. I knew deep down that me wearing a pink shirt never had anything to do with me, and everything to do with every other persons in that classrooms latent (read: active) misogyny in thinking that pink is only for girls.
Follow me here:
1. If Blue is for boys and Pink is for Girls...
2. and if a girl wears blue, thats ok because her womanhood is not at risk (Girls can even wear pants, did you know?)...
3. but if a Boy wears Pink however, uh oh, WATCH OUT. He is somehow LESS of a boy (a boy in a skirt?? ARE YOU CRAZY?)...
4. but then, if Pink makes a boy less of a boy...and pink is for girls...then... then are we saying that girls are somehow less than boys?
Queer culture is becoming more visible everyday thanks to shows like Ru Paul’s Drag Race, and a plethora of youth on social media, that serve as an example that there is more that one narrative on how to exist as a biological male.
Further, the concepts of sex, gender, and gender expression are being addressed and talked about (finnnaalllllyyy) in a real way, and trans stars/icons like Laverne Cox are showing up on the cover of major magazines.
Did you see her on the February issue of Cosmo?? SHE BEETTAAAA.
What's interesting to me, however, is that it seems as if the fashion industry - which loves to be 15 yards up its own butthole with how "progressive" and "forward" it is - seems to be getting left behind in this cultural change.
For years designers have been falling all over themselves to say they are doing something exxtrraaoordinarily groundbreaking, gender-bending, and CHANGING THE CONVERSATION. Then come to find out its just a picture of Gigi in a suit.
Like wow. Like, so brave.
That's the thing about this unisex trend that popped up in 2015-ish. Women have been allowed access to traditionally mens silhouettes and pieces, but unlike every male in Atlanta, it doesn't go both ways. There is an invisible line in the sand where we tip-toe around the fact that this phenomenon is not extended to boys in the society.
Looking at the fashion landscape today, I am overwhelmed by how much the industry perpetuates these gendered clothing norms. From birth infant boys are assaulted with very specific onesie colors, with all kinds of ludicrous macho "we found this on Pinterest" sayings on them that AREN'T EVEN FUNNY JILLIAN PLEASE STOP SHOWING ME PICTURES.
While demand certainly dictates supply, I personally think that change made at the top trickles down Devil Wear Prada style, until we see a day when a parent is picking out a youth boys pleated skirt from a clearance bin that isn't just blue, or turquoise, or lapis, but actually cerulean, blithely unaware of the fact that skirts are traditionally thought of as "women's wear". Thats the future that I want.
Then whats going on at the top? Who is dictating the industry? and why do I still have to deal with quizzical looks just because I buy my jeans from the women's curve section at Target? True story.
Streetwear is like, unflagging in its popularity, and hyper-masculine hip hop culture is heavy in these skreets. If you're wondering then "why isn't this post about 'How to Musically Influence a Boy' if the music is soooo important?", I'll say its because of a cultural shift that happened circa the early 2000's. When streaming music came around and decimated the revenue streams of the music industry, the record labels consolidated and the output suffered. The industry that for so long had provided a voice to so many, and the vehicle that drove the cultural conversation, had become a wild scramble to find ways of staying solvent, to the detriment of artistic merit. This was the same time that image based social media platforms were taking off, and all of a sudden, a world of fashion that previously had only been available to a select few, brought fashion shows, models, and designers themselves out of the long shadow of Hearst publications and into the spotlight in their own right.
Supermodels became super moguls (yaaasss alliteration) with Tyra Banks and ANTM, brands like Juicy Couture, Ed Hardy, and Jimmy Choo exploded into the cultural conversation, and people found themselves with more money, and more of a reason than ever to invest in how they presented themselves to the world.
But anyway, I digress, back to how 'Preme is life and why the gender divide is not getting any smaller in the industry thats helping to define the culture that we live in. This is a market that let (stylist at best) Kanye West put out 6 renditions of the same collection and called it art. It’s the cosmic unicorn of a time that brought us the front row at the Alexander Wang show of Cardi B sandwiched between Anna Wintour and Baz Luhrmann.
If designers are drawing inspiration from, and feel as if their success is predicated on a relationship with artists who serve as heightened caricatures of traditional gender norms, then no wonder we're still in a place where the clothing is made to accentuate rather than break down the barriers that separate us.
There is a glimmer of change. Young Thug in that dress and bonnet on his album cover. Lil Uzi Vert’s….style? and of course, no list about fashion gender bending males would be complete without Jayden Smith and his (I’ll just say it) groundbreaking Louis Vuitton 2016 campaign.
However as hopeful as these glimmers of progress seem, the larger industry still seems to be stuck in a place where an iron kerchief separates menswear from womenswear. All signs are pointing forward though. We’re getting mixed gender runway shows, and some houses opting to (thankfully) no longer use the terms “Menswear” and “Womenswear” but to just call everything “Ready-to-Wear”. A change that brings joy to the face of a man that used to tie up his t-shirt and stand in front of the mirror in the bathroom practicing the choreography from Aaliyahs “We Need a Resolution” music video.
HOURS well spent.
Now more than ever we are consuming content that is, well for starters, constant, but also content that is targeted, curated, and content that has the opportunity to reach millions upon millions of impressionable youths instantly. I think the industry has the opportunity, and quite frankly, the responsibility, to set an example and show boys that their sense of self, and their masculinity is not diminished by what they put on their body. Fashion is not supposed to be about looking out into whats available and choosing from a selected set of personalities to wear like a uniform in your size. Fashion, and personal style, should come from within. Rather than dictate what is, fashion should be a tool for individual self expression, creativity, and fun.
So my answer then to the question of "How to dress a boy", I say is, in anything he fucking wants because pink shirts, tight pants, and anything else that makes a boy feel comfortable, shouldn't have anything to do with who he is as a person.
I leave you with this brief passage from the gospel of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Beyoncé Giselle Knowles Carter.
We teach girls to shrink themselves
To make themselves smaller
We say to girls
"You can have ambition
But not too much
You should aim to be successful
But not too successful
Otherwise you will threaten the man"
Because I am female
I am expected to aspire to marriage
I am expected to make my life choices
Always keeping in mind that
Marriage is the most important
Now marriage can be a source of
Joy and love and mutual support
But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage
And we don't teach boys the same?
We raise girls to each other as competitors
Not for jobs or for accomplishments
Which I think can be a good thing
But for the attention of men
We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings
In the way that boys are
Feminist: the person who believes in the social
Political, FASHIONABLE*, and economic equality of the sexes
*This may have been edited...