Breaking Down Gender Barriers in Fashion

Life Is Too Short to Limit Fashion Choices - Express Yourself Your Way

I love fashion. Not what many people would consider trendy or current. Nope, I like my own weird sense of fashion. Often I will get an idea in my head for something I really must have. A bag, a jacket or something that fits some inspiration that just appeared in my head. So I will go searching for something only to find that it simply doesn't exist.

Sometimes, just sometimes, it is something that is just not what society would approve of.

Society has fashion rules, what is ok for males, females or age groups. Fashion can even dictate or be limited by class levels. Rules exist to drive conformity which exists to bring some kind of easy to understand social representation of what society thinks people in each group should look like. Even subculture and alternative fashion comes with rules and expectations. It is just how the world works.

To break the rules means to risk being ousted from acceptance or face some kind of social rejection. While high fashion can play and explore, streetwear is often very limited to how much courage one has to break the rules and try something outside the norms. Especially when it comes to challenging gendered clothing, the backlash for deviance can be pretty severe if not dangerous.

Of course all of this is tragic. Fashion should be first about expression. It should be about telling the world how you feel, what inspires you, what makes you happy and how you see yourself. Whether embracing the norms or going completely off the rails from them, fashion could be a way that we really help show the person we are and how we see the world.

Years ago I realized that I could pass as mainstream for work. To a point anyway. But hiding who I am just never seemed to really work. Even in the most boring suit, people would pick up on the fact that this was a costume intended to play the role of the office person and not remotely an indicator of who I am. Dress up a cat in a suit and it remains a cat. The same applies to people who are naturally different.

Knowledge if liberty and knowing that I could never be fully accepted into the mainstream meant I was free to explore expression. From my young New Wave days to my life long love affair with all things Gothic, I have always been instantly more myself in alternative fashion. It suits me, it inspires me and it makes me feel fierce as hell. Yet it took me a very long time to aggressively challenge gender walls and limitations.

I first wore a proper skirt as a goth thing in the 1990s and loved it. But I was too shy to do it regularly. The next time was at a corporate office dressed as a witch for Halloween, that was fun and put the very normal folk at the office off their game a lot more than expected. I have to admit that was amazingly fun and I enjoyed their awkward response completely.

A couple years ago, now in Tokyo, I decided to venture into skirts made for men. Kilts, Yohji Yamamoto, Comme Des Garcons and other skirts. These were fun over jeans but I was not quite ready to go out in bare legs. Still holding on to the fear of how people would react, I felt it was quite scary to risk it on the streets, even in fashionable Tokyo.

Then one hot summer day I left the slim jeans and leggings at home and went out to an event in a proper skirt. It was a simple black O'neil of Dublin kilt skirt, pleated all around and sitting quite nicely in the space between male kilts and women's skirts. A perfect genderless piece of clothing. Matched to a simple black skirt and Dr. Martins boots it didn't seem to raise even an eyebrow on the train or on the streets of Shibuya. All that worry over reactions had been mostly in my head, most people were too busy with their lives to even notice.

So I tried again at our cafe, out shopping and more. After a while it just didn't feel anything other than normal. It was liberating. I could now choose whatever I want to wear from working men's style to high fashion skirts and venture out with equal confidence.

Before long I found I was being stopped by street fashion photographers and asked for taking a few shots. Their interest and enthusiasm reflected that I was far from alone in wanting to challenge boundaries. Feedback was overall very positive, opening the possibility that one day fashion can truly be genderless.

I know that there are places where this would be dangerous behavior. I grew up in one of those places where being different makes you a target. But now, here in the world where fashion is understood as art and expression and Japanese street fashion shows the way for even top designers to find inspiration, I can freely express as I wish to and show my Non-binary-ness, alternative-ness and simply Kelly-ness in the way I want to, when and how I want to.

Life is too short to spend it in clothing that doesn't make us feel like titans. So we should throw away limitations, forget fears, tear down boarders and cubby holes and express as we want to. Let fashion be a window into who you are and never let the world drown your creativity in vanilla mainstream expectations. Shine like the blazing star you are and let your fashion sense show through.

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