What does it mean to de-gender your closet?
This column is an opinion by Evelyn Bradley, a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant based in Charlottetown, P.E.I. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.
A question I get all of the time is: "Well, why do you dress like that if you don't want people to see you and know you're gay?" It implies that everyone who likes real pockets or shirts with long enough sleeves is inherently queer.
But I'm also six-foot-tall Black woman on Prince Edward Island. I have a loud laugh (some might say it's distinct), many hand gestures, and a Southern accent. The idea that my clothing is the only thing that makes me stand out — that I would stand out less in a teal dress and an afro — is laughable.
I could speak on this topic for the rest of my life and never hit on all the ways fashion breaks every gendered understanding that we believe to be true — and yet, we still force clothes into male and female, boys and girls.
We gender clothes, they don't gender us
Clothes are just clothes.
Frankly, I find it absurd that anyone would choose to wear pants with inconsistent sizing and no pockets.
But when I tell people to consider doubling their options in a clothing store to maximize their options, I get looked at like I have six heads. Their responses range from "I can't wear men's clothing," to "I'd never shop in the women's section," to "I'm not gay."
I strongly believe we need to take a step back from this thought process (mostly because hand-tied bowties are classic and we should all be wearing them).
No one has ever asked me if my clothes all come from the same section of a store.
My ties, earrings, shirts, and pants are just that — clothes and accessories. They are elements to guide me in expressing myself the way I want to be seen.
I define professional outfits and date night fits by my rules and through my aesthetic.
Professional Evelyn wears ties and blazer jackets — she looks like she would golf with your dad and have a scotch afterwards. The Evelyn-at-night aesthetic still includes a button-up (I'm always drawn to button-ups), simple jewlery that can be used in many outfits, ties of all kinds, and my wife's denim jacket.
No matter what, I love mixing patterns and ties are my favourite accessory.
In college, when I started dressing myself and had the budget to do so, I realized that if I just had clothes I liked wearing that I wouldn't feel obligated to buy the newest fashions or the next trend. I wasn't chasing the fantasy of dressing like someone else. I was able to lean into my authentic self.
I dress for me
It's not about men's clothing or women's clothing. It's not about gender conformity. It's about what makes you feel like you. Wear what makes you feel and look like yourself. I know I do.
I look at clothes like they are all meant for me if I want them to be, which means I am far less limited in what I can purchase (especially as a plus-sized person on the Island). Men's pants are consistent in sizing and work well with my curves. Women's jackets give me a tailored look I can't find with men's big and tall sizing. Shoes... well, those are just cheaper if you shop in whatever gendered section is running the best sales.
I am not here to ruin someone's day with my tie choice. My clothing is not a political statement and it certainly isn't bravery. If anything, my love for looking like a combination of Mr. Dressup and Colonel Sanders has more to do with my Southern upbringing and private school education than the fact that I happen to be a lesbian.
The inability to separate personal identity from the capitalist monolith that is gendered social norms is frustrating and exhausting. My masculine and feminine esthetic aren't genders, and they certainly aren't identifiers of any other piece of my identity.
Why can't I just wear what makes me feel like me, without the need to make it more than that? More importantly, why don't you do the same?
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