The idea that certain clothes are meant for certain genders has a really weird (and arbitrary) history.
Some may say skirts are for girls or argue that certain colors go with certain genders, but throughout history, both of those points (style and color) have switched back and forth without much reason. Pink is for girls? Or is it blue? Or is white for all babies? What about boys? History has seen it all.
Take, for example, this picture of Franklin Delano Roosevelt as an adorable 3-year-old in 1885. The man who would go on to become the 32nd president of the United States had long hair and wore a dress, common for children of his era.
“The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”
One reason clothing became gendered in the first place was to differentiate and reinforce gender norms.
Girls would wear different styles and colors than boys so they could be easily distinguished from each other. This affected how society treated them, how they were taught in school, and how they were raised.
Decidedly gendered clothing also came from a fear that if boys and girls weren’t raised in distinct, separate ways, they’d turn out to be gay or lesbian (which we now know is not the case).
“It’s really a story of what happened to neutral clothing,” author and historian Jo B. Paoletti responded to a question from Smithsonian magazine about the shift to the present-day thinking that boys wear blue, girls wear pink. “What was once a matter of practicality — you dress your baby in white dresses and diapers; white cotton can be bleached — became a matter of ‘Oh my God, if I dress my baby in the wrong thing, they’ll grow up perverted.”
But there’s hope we can end this trend of gendered clothing. And it’s getting mainstream attention thanks to Jaden Smith.
The actor and son of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith has been pretty open about the fact that he wears skirts and dresses. So when he was named as one of the faces of Louis Vuitton’s spring 2016 womenswear collection, it didn’t exactly come as a shock.
In an image posted over the weekend to Instagram by Louis Vuitton creative director Nicolas Ghesquière, Smith is shown alongside models Sarah Brannon, Rianne Van Rompaey, and Jean Campbell. In it, he’s wearing what looks to be a leather jacket, a knit top, and, yes, a skirt.
Smith’s clothing choices are a form of self-expression — which is all clothing should be.
“I’m just expressing how I feel inside, which is really no particular way because everyday it changes how I feel about the world and myself,” Smith told GQ last year about his style choices. “But I like wearing super drapey things so I can feel as though I’m a super hero, but don’t have to necessarily wear super hero costumes everyday.”
To Smith, gender doesn’t factor into his clothing choices. His clothes aren’t “girl’s clothes,” they’re his clothes. He’s pushing back at stereotypes we’ve had pushed on us for decades, bringing fashion back to what it should be: a reflection of how you feel and not necessarily a statement of one’s gender.
His clothing isn’t a referendum on his gender; it just means he has an individual sense of style that, yes, includes the occasional dress, skirt, or Batman ensemble.
Congratulations and thanks are in order for Smith. His openness with his self-expression will surely help others.
Right now, somewhere in the world, there is a girl worrying that she can’t wear something stereotypically masculine because it’s “for boys,” or there’s a boy worried that the fact his favorite color is pink makes him broken in some way. These types of stereotypes hurt us all, but especially children, who wind up feeling as if they’re wrong for not fitting into a predetermined and inconsistent box set by society.
People like Jaden Smith — who stay true to their interests despite society’s expectations — will make the world a less judgmental place for those kids who don’t fit in the box.