UT students challenge gender fashion norms

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Photo Credit: Victoria Smith | Daily Texan Staff

Government sophomore Nick Sheppard maintained a masculine aesthetic for most of his life, wearing houndstooth vests and J. Crew shirts.

Now wearing striking platform shoes, palazzo pants, metallic nail polish and a multicolored T-shirt, Sheppard’s fashion tastes still turn heads, but in a new way. When asked about his style, Sheppard explained that he borrows fashion characteristics of the two binary genders.

“These are women’s pants, these are women’s shoes, I’ve been wearing nail polish for a year, and I’ve been dabbling with makeup for about the same time,” Sheppard said. “I’ve let myself be more free with things in general, and I think that’s come across in my fashion.”

Sheppard is not alone. An increasing number of people have incorporated a mixture of traditional menswear and womenswear into their styles, blurring fashion’s gender boundaries.

However, masculine and feminine labels are the least of some students’ wardrobe worries.

When shopping, advertising freshman Kathlin Trang said she sifts through the clothes rack to find what’s “eye-pleasing.”

“I like mixing a boy style with a girl style, or a professional with a non-professional,” Trang said. “I just think it’s better expressive of me, in the way that I can coordinate (clothes) together and make (them) an actual outfit.”

On a typical shopping day, English senior Sarah Munoz ignores the women’s and men’s signs in the store in search of high-quality clothing.

“I’ve learned that certain things work better in certain sections (of the store),” Munoz said. “If it’s jeans, it’s women’s. If it’s T-shirts, guys always have better T-shirts.”

Despite having autonomy over her fashion now, Munoz said her mom dressed her in stereotypically feminine clothing as a child.

“I remember feeling very uncomfortable in dresses all the time, and my mom made me wear them almost every day until fourth grade,” Munoz said. “I remember specifically feeling, ‘This isn’t me at all.’”

Trang’s high school exuded a similar atmosphere, where threats to her fashion sense came from every direction.

“The fact that they didn’t even understand it meant that I was giving myself justice in a way,” Trang said. “I was showing my character, and I was showing me.”

Though Sheppard has not felt constrained by others, he said that the biggest challenge to dressing out of gender constraints was himself. When first purchasing women’s pants, Sheppard said that he almost returned them.

“By saying that I’m not allowed to wear that, I’m saying that I’m not allowed to be this truest form of myself,” Sheppard said. “I wore (the pants) around for the first few times, and I felt powerful.”

Ironically, Sheppard explained that few students use UT’s open-minded environment to defy fashion’s gender norms.

“We’re still hung up on ascribing pieces of clothes or things in general to the sexes,” Sheppard said. “We’re not in a post-gender society yet.”

On a larger scale, Sheppard, Munoz and Trang pointed out that more fashion designers are throwing away traditionally gendered clothing in exchange for gender-neutral pieces. By doing this, Munoz believes that fashion designers are leaving the common fashion conventions in shambles.

“When you break your fashion stereotypes that much, seeing a guy and girl switch clothes means nothing to you,” Munoz said. “It desensitizes you, and that’s what I want to see happen.”

While he believes high fashion’s gender-neutral trends will trickle down to the masses, Sheppard said that as the future’s largest consumer group, millennials will hold the key to fashion’s future.

“(Millennials) are concerned with accepting more people and being diverse,” Sheppard said. “If fashion does not tap into that or continue to move itself in that direction, it’s going to suffer.”