Many clothing stores have separate men’s and women’s sections because our culture pushes gender roles, the gender binary, and gender norms that “assign” certain styles based on gender. But just because stores typically put skirts in a women’s section and boxers in a men’s section doesn’t mean that only women can wear skirts and only men can wear boxers — everybody can.
Clothing hasn't always been “gendered". The way people categorize clothing has changed across history. People living in different time periods covered their bodies and thought of gender in different ways.
In the late 1800s, local governments across the United States passed laws against dressing in clothes that politicians saw as “not matching” a person’s gender. Under these “cross-dressing laws,” women could be arrested for wearing pants. Police don’t arrest people like that anymore in the United States — but politicians in several states are pushing restrictions on drag shows, and other countries still enforce “cross-dressing laws”.
How society genders (or doesn't gender) clothing is different depending on where you live. Different cultures make different gender “assignments” for colors, fabrics, patterns, and cuts of clothing. One culture might see a particular article of clothing as more masculine, another might see it as more feminine, and another might not assign a gender to it at all.
How people see clothing also varies from person to person. Depending on who you ask, different types of clothing can seem feminine, masculine, gender neutral, or something else. The gendering of clothing, just like people, is a construct.
No matter your society or culture, clothing is an important way for you to express yourself, feel like yourself, and feel good.
Clothing can also make you feel gender dysphoria or gender euphoria depending on your gender identity. For example, some transgender and nonbinary people feel gender euphoria when they wear clothing that’s labeled for a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth or clothing that’s labeled as unisex, since it’s gender neutral. People of any gender identity can experience gender euphoria when they wear clothing that affirms their gender and themselves.
Each person is unique. So, dress in any way that makes you feel most comfortable. It's OK if you don't focus on clothing at all. And if you don't have access to gender-affirming clothing, know that you're not alone.
If you’re interested in exploring ways to express yourself and your gender through clothing, here are some ideas you can try:
- Journal or talk to a trusted person about times when you had strong feelings about your clothes. Note when you’ve felt good and bad.
- Imagine what it might feel like to wear more of what you’ve loved wearing, or try out new clothes that you might like. What feelings come up when you imagine it?
- When you’re by yourself, try dressing in a way that fully expresses yourself. Try a new outfit, makeup, jewelry, or accessories — or put on what you have in a different way. Do you feel at ease? Excited? Both?
- Try dressing in ways that feel right for you when other people can see you, such as hanging with friends or when posting a selfie. Do you feel relaxed? Powerful? Like your clothes show off your inner beauty, handsomeness, or sexiness?
Keep exploring as long as it’s enjoyable. If other people comment on your clothes, keep in mind that YOUR opinion is the only one that matters. Nobody deserves to be shamed for what they’re wearing. And making fun of clothes that go against traditional gender norms is a form of transphobia.