The volume Crossing Gender Boundaries, edited by Andrew Reilly and Ben Barry (2020) examines how legal, policy-making and social boundaries have maintained gender dichotomies and how they can be disrupted and transcended through dress.
For fashion scholars, dress comprises the totality of body modifications and supplements as part of the everyday and exceptional wear. Going beyond clothing, the fashion industry encompasses design, marketing and retail activities, whole shaping aesthetic ideals and ideas about clothes. At present, the traditional gender binary is regularly disrupted in fashion products, popular culture and everyday life.
As Reilly and Barry (2020) suggest in their introduction, dress can be used to categorize and identify people as men and women, while creating associations with masculinity and femininity. This indicates that sex and gender are socially and culturally constructed. This publication, thus, explores how the largely Western binary distinction between men and women can be expanded to include the diverse range of gender embodiments and understandings, such as in dress and the fashion system.
Various chapters of this volume examine the significance of dress and fashion for creating and transcending binary gender distinctions. The studies it comprises represent diverse case studies that explore how dress constructs gender as a situated, appearance- and performance-mediated bodily practice. The panoramic overview of historical and contemporary examples in which gender boundaries maintained or crossed through dress and fashion also guides the structure of this book.
Its different parts collect chapters whose authors examine gender via phenomenology, visual analysis, and interviews, while covering the time periods of the sixteenth century, nineteenth century and the current period in Britain, Canada, Japan, and the United States among others. This collection of contributions highlights diverse understandings of gender in dress as a tool to validate the male/female and masculine/feminine binary oppositions and to disrupt and transform these.
Thus, in its first section, this book questions binary gender divisions and boundaries throughout history and across spaces, to explore how clothing can be free of binary categorizations. For instance, Kimberly Wahl’s opening chapter on the sartorial femininity in late Victorian culture details the dress reform movement in 1880s Britain and the discursive challenges to the conventional thinking about gender. In the second section on disruptions of gender boundaries, its five chapters discuss how clothing can contest these. Thus, Kelly L. Reddy-Best’s chapter exemplifies this by exploring the connection between queer politics and queer fashion style designed for women, trans men and queer individuals in the twenty-first century. Saint Harridan, and challenge its poses hegemonic aesthetics of masculinity and femininity. Kelly L. Reddy-Best’s chapter, thus, highlights how cultural practices, identity politics and gender identity intersect. In the third section of this book on disruptions of gender oppositions lastly, Hazel Clark and Leena-Maija Rossi’s closing chapter notes that gender refers to a multiplicity of aesthetics that expresses gender, such as in the form of genderless designs and unisex clothing.
This book aims, therefore, to explore how dress can both constrain and liberate gender expression. Through different examples, it highlights how dress and gender are mutually constructive. As the Western concept of gender becomes challenged, redefined and reexamined, this timely volume examines gender- and dress-related issues, while highlighting how gender can be created, disrupted and transcended using fashion clothing, personal style and fashion accessories.
By Pablo Markin
Featured Image Credits: Natalie Binder. Godey’s Fashions for March 1870. Uploaded February 17, 2010 via Flickr. Creative Commons Attribution, November 7, 2014 | © Courtesy of Lauren Coleman/Flickr.
This post is based on an article originally published in the Open Research Community, 18/05/2020, https://openresearch.community/users/342784-pablo-markin/posts/gender-dichotomies-dress-related-practices-and-the-fashion-industry.