Tag Archives: Fluidity

Pop Stars Didn’t Invent Gender Fluidity

In this op-ed, writer Jared Michael Lowe examines the recent phenomenon of today’s pop stars embracing gender-fluid fashion. Are we giving them too much credit for smashing gender norms?

Harry Styles in Gucci heeled boots. Jaden Smith in a Louis Vuitton womenswear skirt. Lil Uzi Vert clutching a pink Goyard bag. Zayn Malik stepping out in women’s blouses. Even Miley Cyrus who, earlier this year, opened up about her identity as non-binary, often remarks that some of her previous style choices have skewed towards masculine and super-femme.

Today’s pop stars are embracing gender fluidity, even in the face of visceral online ridicule, in a world where the topic of sexuality and non-binary acceptance bubbles.

Simultaneously, the conversation has veered into the world of fashion as more and more designers are developing genderless clothing.

Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images

In recent fashion collections, various designers showcased gender-fluid garments as models of varying sexes strode down runways. Designer Thom Browne had a fleet of male models grace the catwalk in grey pleated skirts with his signature tailored suit jackets. Vivienne Westwood displayed her latest collection of frocks on male models. Most notably and by far the most polarizing, Gucci’s creative head Alessandro Michele cross-pollinated the world of fashion, mixing his unique sense of thematic historical elements with today’s Snapchat-crazed aesthetic, rendering brightly-hued and largely ornate floral appliqués on men’s suit jackets, unisex pussybow blouses, and sundresses. Even Jay-Z, who famously wore a white tee and baggy jeans in his “Big Pimpin’” video from the late ’90s, has since displayed a different sense of style, stepping out in Michele for Gucci’s elaborately-decorated suit jackets.

Of course, this wasn’t always the case in the fashion industry. “In the beginning of my career, my agents wanted me to wear a white t-shirt and jeans and to show off my broad shoulders to appear masculine to casting directors,” says model and actor Shaun D Ross. Ross, who famously kissed Katy Perry in her music video for “E.T.”, has appeared in music videos for artists like Beyoncé and Lana Del Rey, and modeled for Alexander McQueen and Givenchy. “My agents would tell me that no one wants to book a visible gay man because the male in ads should appeal to women”. That heteronormative approach to fashion is slowly disseminating, with a more inclusive, gender-fluid ideology taking its place.

Model Shaun D Ross

Designers like 69 Worldwide, Toogood London, and Telfar Clemens are on the forefront of that major zeitgeist shift. Launched in 2005, Clemens’ eponymous label, Telfar started out — and has remained — genderless. In a recent fashion presentation that showcased the brand’s gender nonconforming philosophy, Telfar hosted a dinner where models, editors and judges from the Vogue CFDA Fashion Fund, of which he is a finalist, broke bread together. “If you saw our show, gender was the last thing on your mind — it’s the last thing on ours. For us, it’s successful when you didn’t even ask if someone was a man or a woman — not when it’s some provocative statement.”

Fashion, music, and celebrity culture have long had an interconnected marriage, one that has proved incredibly lucrative for all parties involved. It stands to reason that, as the fashion industry slowly shifts the tide to be more diverse, inclusive, and gender-fluid, celebrities would proudly start wearing garments that blur gender norms. But as they merely experiment with gender-fluid fashion — without actually standing on the front-lines of the gender-fluid movement — are we giving them too much credit for sparking change?

As refreshing as it is to see pop stars Harry Styles, Miley Cyrus, Jaden Smith, or Lil Uzi Vert gain notoriety for embracing gender-fluid fashion, they didn’t invent or reinvent the wheel. Gender fluidity has been around far longer than today’s current iteration of celebrities. From the days of ancient Egypt and Rome to pop music trailblazers like Patti Smith, David Bowie, and Prince, gender fluidity — when it comes to expression of personal style — is nothing new.

Furthermore, while the power of celebrity is undeniable, we should be cautious about positioning stars as the faces of gender-fluidity, simply because they’re famous. “I think that fashion is extremely political and that as a celebrity or anyone in the limelight, being hyper visible comes with great responsibility. Celebrities can help shape our understanding of identities, where’s it going and where we’ve been, to help us better understand,” says Gabrielle Royal, photographer and contributor for dapperQ, a queer style and empowerment website specifically for masculine-presenting women and transgender-identified individuals. “Yet, the way celebrities use fashion can be either helpful, or harmful, depending on their performances and the moves they make with their stylistic expressions.” Royal, who serves as Assistant Director of Employer and Alumni Relations at Columbia University, believes that there needs to be more continued dialogue around fluidity. “Perpetuating gender nonconforming stereotypes can be just as toxic and violent as more widely discussed stereotypes about other presentations.”

Gabrielle Royal, photographer and contributor for dapperQ

Outside the veil of celebrity, real issues persist. For many who are transgender, gender-fluid, and non-binary, their mere presence is a sign of resistance with how they engage the mainstream culture through what they wear, think, say, or do. Yet, while the way a person may dress can say a lot about their character, it shouldn’t encapsulate their entire identity or experience. By compressing the many nuances of gender fluidity into whether or not a pop star wears high heels, blouses, or tailored suits, it ascribes that gender identity is mutually exclusive to someone’s outward appearance; which it is not. Moreover, when gender identities are thought of as trends, or become pithy buzzwords tossed around while pop stars wear genderless clothing from high-end designers, it only further harms an already-marginalized community.

For many who embrace all facets of their gender fluidity, there’s a level of risk and even danger involved in the simple act of getting out of bed, dressing, and leaving out their house for the day. Unfortunately, many are still targeted by how they dress, look, walk, or speak. In addition to countless discriminatory acts one may face on any given day, many are subjected to harassment and even violence because of how they present themselves. This can cause a level of anxiety and sometimes the desire to placate to traditional binary standards just to appease the mainstream.

As millennials continue to lead the movement for self-expression and actualization and as personas associated with the movement surface, it’s important to present and highlight those making an impact in various communities and not just pop stars shilling the latest genderless designer duds.

Related: What It’s REALLY Like to Go to Training Camp for Models

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Vogue’s Shameful Gigi Hadid & Zayn Malik ‘Gender Fluidity’ Cover Totally Misses the Point

There are certain things that media vultures live for. When Lena Dunham missteps. When The New York Times Style section remembers Brooklyn exists (or, more recently, when one of its columnists learns that a college degree is not a prerequisite for enjoying deli meats). And, in that same vein, when Vogue embarrasses itself.

It’s become a digital age truth that Vogue, once the venerable arbiter of forthcoming trends and the progressive future, is now the publication most likely to be playing catch-up when it comes to being “woke” in today’s culture. Case in point: this week’s style story shaming men who carry tote bags because they look “like a ninny.”            

Gender norms are at the center of the fashion mag’s latest controversy, with an obtuse cover featuring real-life couple and extremely attractive young millennials Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik, celebrating the duo for being “part of a new generation embracing gender fluidity.”

One can imagine the pitch meeting where a young editor mentioned gender fluidity and some higher up, recognizing it as a buzzword, commissioned a piece which, in an attempt to explain it to Vogue readers, tells a story about how Hadid sometimes wears Malik’s clothes. Even though she’s a girl and he’s a boy! And, once in a while, vice versa!!!

The silent screams of every LGBTQ activist and expert are harmonizing in chorus to create that faint siren you hear right now, all over the idea that whether an $800 designer tee was meant for a male famous person or a female famous person explains gender fluidity. Certainly it has nothing to do with the danger, judgement, and societal shaming facing actual gender fluid citizens each and every day in our society.

Vogue is confusing an existence for a trend.

The story mentions the high-fashion trailblazer of gender fluidity—at least when it comes to how fancy rich people choose to dress (though certainly not when it comes to the fight and grit it takes to be gender fluid in a still-skeptical society)—Jaden Smith, who made a stir for wearing skirts last year and recently starred in a Louis Vuitton womenswear campaign.

Androgynous Chinese pop star Chris Lee also gets mentioned, alongside the question, “Where exactly, is someone neither entirely he nor she meant to shop? And how, exactly, is such a person to be defined?”

They don’t want to be defined! That’s the crux of the article, which mentions that celebrities like Evan Rachel Wood are wearing pantsuits on red carpets, Pharrell Williams wears a necklace, and some designers are even showing their male and female collections together, suggesting a hipness of androgynous fashion that would be revolutionary, had it not been en vogue (heh) in the punk-rock ‘90s, the glam rock ‘80s, and, hell, the entire history of fashion.

For proof these millennials don’t give a damn about your old fogey words like “boy” or “girl,” it mentions the fact that Hadid and Malik were wearing gender non-specific track suits (as opposed to all those sweatpants that are aggressively gendered) and provides a quote from Hadid about how she picks out clothes from boyfriend Malik’s closet all the time.

Then there was this exchange, which I will cut out of the magazine and hand to my doctor when he asks why my blood pressure is suddenly so dangerously high:

“Yeah, but same,” replies Malik, 24. “What was that T-shirt I borrowed the other day?”

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“The Anna Sui?” asks Hadid.

“Yeah,” Malik says. “I like that shirt. And if it’s tight on me, so what? It doesn’t matter if it was made for a girl.”

Hadid nods vigorously. “Totally. It’s not about gender. It’s about, like, shapes. And what feels good on you that day. And anyway, it’s fun to experiment. . . .”

The internet is rightfully dragging Vogue for portraying a still-vulnerable identity struggling for cultural validation as a “kids these days!” carefree phase.

Our favorite tweet suggests that Vogue’s sister (daughter?) publication, the inaugural Pulitzer Prize of Wokeness winner Teen Vogue needs to have a word with its mothership.

God bless Marc Jacobs (always, but especially now), for showing up late in the piece as a voice of reason. Well, reason-ish.

“These kids—I’m not sure they’re any different from the people I saw at Danceteria or Mudd Club in the eighties,” he said. “The difference is that back then, the expression—extreme looks, cross-dressing, what have you—was hidden away in a speakeasy or a club. Today, thanks to the internet, that culture is widely exposed.”

It’s certainly exposed within the realm of celebrity and teen culture as it exists on Planet Fashion and to be covered fawningly in the pages of Vogue. But when one wants to have a serious conversation about what it means to identify as gender fluid in 2017, suffice it to say the first thought isn’t the plight of explicitly cisgender and gender-conforming famous people Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik.

There’s a spate of celebrities “embracing gender fluidity” that seems to exist on a spectrum of fully identifying that way (Billions star Asia Kate Dillon, for example) and commoditizing the idea of wokeness for attention (a Miley Cyrus or Ruby Rose)—a jaded reading of the trend, but, in the world of the celebrity rat race, undeniably true.

There has been an evolution when it comes to gender identity in the current younger generation, but Hadid and Malik aren’t the faces of that generation. It is the people risking their lives to redefine the idea of gender expression and identity in communities that do not understand it, in institutions that do not welcome it, and culture that stigmatizes it.

It is the population of people who are affected by every development in the spate of bathroom bills being legislated around the country, are triggered by the bureaucratic requirement to often have to self-identify as male or female even if they don’t express in those binaries, and, on a simple fashion level, aren’t celebrated in the pages of Vogue for being a male who wears a skirt, but instead beat up for it.

Zayn and Hadid are very rich and privileged people who sleep lightly on their goose-feather pillows feeling enlightened because they gave an interview about sharing clothes, but who are clearly clueless about the LGBT people, politics, and history that made their $1,000 gender-fluid shirt swapping possible.

On the one hand, it’s admirable that a publication like Vogue tackles this issue at all and brings the idea of gender fluidity to an affluent and influential audience. But how about it marry its power with its ensuing responsibility, and use its pages to more seriously and accurately discuss the nuances of these LGBT issues and the prejudice that follows them rather than exalt celebrities for their witless musings on coats?

Quoth Ms. Priestly: that’s all.

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