“Genderless, ageless, raceless, nationaless, limitless” – Rad Hourani

a gender bending fashion exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts

We recently visited the current fashion exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and found it incredibly educational and inspiring. Fashion is an art that can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of gender, and this exhibit demonstrates how fashion can be a form of liberating any gender constraints one person can feel through personal expression. So what is gender bending fashion?

Binary Disruption (excerpts taken from the Museums exhibit’s literature)

Gender Bender flower jacket male skirt

“Gender” and “sex” are often used interchangeably in everyday speech, but in recent decades the words have taken n district meanings. Sex describes biology and anatomy. Biology is just one of many factors that can inform a person’s definition of their gender.

What is Gender Bending?

gender-bending adj. that which defies or challenges traditional notions of gender, esp. in terms of dress or behavior (Oxford English Dictionary)

The subject of gender-bending fashion is complex. Clothing is usually constructed with a particular gender in mind, and the social discourse around fashion imbues it with gendered meaning. In the 1970s, the terms “gender bender” and “gender f*ck” were sometimes used to signal a radical, performative approach to resisting established gender conventions. Today “gender bending” has come to describe any number of ideas, practices, and modes of communications that challenge, redefine, or obliterate conventions of femininity and masculinity.

In concept and practice, “gender bending” goes back centuries in Western cultures and spans many contexts – from crossdressing characters in Shakespeare’s comedies, to the long-marching struggle for women’s rights, to the rich history of the queer art of drag, and countless points before, between, and beyond.

Gender Bending fashion exhibit 2019 Boston

Gender is complex: it holds meaning for society at large, while remaining a deeply personal, individual experience. It represents the interrelation of different dimensions, including how we understand our place in the world; how we relate to our own bodies; and how we express ourselves. In recent decades, the ways society perceives gender has begun to change, thanks to the pioneering efforts of feminists, queer, intersex, and trans activists, social scientists, entertainers, and many others.

Gender operates on concepts of difference and, for most of Western history, at least, visual clues indicating male vs female are essential to that understanding.

For Millennials and Generation Z, gender fluidity is not a subcultural or alternative style, but a rethinking of the concept of gender.

In the time before social media, actors and musicians publicly experimented with gender expression, providing inspiration to contemporary and future generations of binary-blurring individuals. Gender bending public personae like Marlene Dietrich and David Bowie were open about their bisexuality and freely expressed it sartorially. From the 1970s onward, music performers in genders from jazz to punk to hip hop have disrupted normative codes of gendered fashion. The track suits, baggy jeans, Lycra, and oversized jewelry worn by male and female rap artists are still appropriated by high-end designers for both menswear and womenswear.

Gender Bending fashion examples

“It makes much more sense to just not put any particular value on gender. Be happy and be yourself. Enjoy. Perhaps [the] ‘post-gender’ term means we are bored of tagging. We are men, women, trans. We are whatever. Garments that take the best of ourselves, make us dream, and make us feel comfortable and happy today.” Palomo Spain

Gender Bending fashion exhibit Boston 2019 Outplay explores how fashion influences gender expression

Contemporary designers and the wearers of their work are proposing that styles is rooted in one’s own definition of personal identity and gender expression rather than solely the pubic perception of one’s identity. While fashion always operated within a larger cultural framework, social media has encouraged personal freedom in building fashion communities and sartorial subcultures that reflect a broader gender spectrum.

Actor Tilda Swinton wrote a poem for the Viktor&Rolf 2003 show, encouraging wearers to be their own muse, to march to their own drum, and be true to themselves:

“Separate the signal from the noise…hear your own ears. Cut the strings. be yourself. Only you. Walk…Are there others watching you? Who knows? Who care…There is only one of you. Only one.”

Gender Bending fashion exhibit Boston 2019
T-shirt from The Phuid Project

This is exactly what we aim for at Outplay. Be yourself and be comfortable in your own skin – in what you wear and present yourself before the world.

Gender bending fashion, what does it mean to you?

Explore the full coverage compression swim tops, the mid-drift compression top, or any of our swim bottoms for an active and fun summer in swimwear that aligns with you.