Breaking boundaries

Grace Halio, Staff Writer

Often when people think haute couture, they think overdone gowns worn by slim models in sky high heels — they think girly. There is an assumption in our society that we are confined to one look be it girly, sporty, edgy, or any other label. Furthermore, these labels have dominated many aspects of our lives, not just in the fashion world. Labels appear in the workplace, in school, in friend groups and anywhere else that provides a platform for creativity or self-expression. The startling truth of this fact makes it inevitable to avoid stereotyping, but also calls to our attention the importance of opening up a discussion about the situation at hand.

Many believe that the fashion industry has an unforgiving and judgmental atmosphere. While people may have opinions on a designer’s collection or a single look, judgements and opinions are not unique to the fashion industry. Everyone is subjective — and often these opinions are based on looks and personal style at first glance. However, what many people seem to overlook is how the fashion industry is a place that encourages creativity exemplified through personal style.

Designers and consumers are becoming increasingly more comfortable experimenting with all different kinds of pieces to create eclectic looks. Even if someone sticks to one kind of perceived stereotype, they do so with the knowledge that norms do not define them–they have the ability to change their style at will.

Many well-known designers, such as Marc Jacobs, Stella McCartney and Yves Saint Laurent, are known for being influenced by menswear, and they have used their collections to break down gender barriers. Coco Chanel was one of the first women in the fashion world to break gender-normative stereotypes with the skirt-suit. Chanel herself was a working woman inspired by the versatility and comfort of menswear. As men returned home from World War II, it was expected that women would return to the household; Chanel disagreed. She created a professional look for women that was sleek and sophisticated, helping women maintain their confidence that they could remain in the workforce in a post-war world.

Now the idea of suits being only for men is a thing of the past, but we cannot forget that suiting has strong roots in menswear. Professional attire’s masculine roots play into the idea that to be successful, you must have some sort of masculine trait — regardless of performance. Quite obviously, gender stereotypes in this regard are negative and can be damaging to a woman in the workplace.

On this note, it is important to address that stereotypes in fashion can serve one positive purpose. As their existence is nearly inevitable, they present the opportunity to either get over them or incorporate them into the industry in a positive way. To do so properly, the best thing that we can do is use labels to break down stereotypes. Though styles are often reduced to single words, we can work to combine the aesthetics of each label to create one look. Essentially, the most positive part of labeling style choices is that they can be used to dismantle closed-minded ideas.

The fashion industry is a place that is growing increasingly more accepting of all different kind of styles. It is ushering in a new generation of looks inspired by various factors, and gendered and labelled fashion is on its way out.