The enforcement of both official and unofficial rules about gender appropriate clothing varies within cultures and over time. The vagaries of fashion play a role. While it might have been shocking in the West for a woman to appear in public in trousers before the 20th century, trousers are now acceptable clothing for women and girls. The acceptance of unisex clothing for children; ear rings and purses for men; or pant suits for women, changes with fashion and social trends.
People who have a choice, and who identify as LGBTQ+ and/or non-binary, gender nonconforming or gender fluid, may wear ‘male’ or ‘female’ clothing, or a mix, based on individual inclination. Dress is a very personal means of self-expression, a way of affirming one’s identity and of presenting this more authentic identity to others.
The fashion industry is responding to this. New businesses may try to attract and create a safe space for LGBTQ+ and gender nonconforming customers. Ty-Amo, for example, is an American tie company that prides itself on its gender inclusive products. Ty-Amo is redesigning the traditional male tie as a result. Their ties, by designer Alex Summers and Larissa Rubin, may be longer than the standard neckties and can be used as ties, head wraps, scarves or belts. Their publicity explicitly challenges gender expectations: “Ty-Amo is breaking through outdated stereotypes—in society and in our closets” (The TRC gratefully acknowledges the gift of seven ties, displayed in this exhibition, from Ty-Amo. For more on Ty-Amo click here; or consult their website).
New make-up and skin-care companies, such as 3INA and Cult of Treehouse, market their products as gender neutral. Laboratory Perfumes’ ‘Amber’ scent is marketed to both men and women. The skin care line of Non Gender Specific has “absolutely no gender boundaries” and is a brand “for all humans”, said founder Andrew Glass in an interview with Business Insider (click here).
Older businesses are also responding. The bespoke suiting company, Bindle & Keep, in New York City, started creating custom clothing for the LGBTQ+ community after receiving a letter. In 2012 style blogger Rae Tutera (creator of ‘The Handsome Butch’ blog) wrote to ask the company why they weren’t creating suits for women and the LGBTQ+ community. She also asked them to stop calling their clothes ‘men’s suits’. Tutera was hired by the company as a community liaison person, and the company has since made thousands of suits for LGBTQ+ and gender nonconforming people (click here).
Trends like these make it easy to assume that gender nonconformance is a twenty-first century phenomena. This is not the case. There are many historical examples of women and men who rejected socially accepted gender expectations, as the following example shows.