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Monday, June 24, 2024
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Dressing up shouldn’t be so binary

Not every person of a given gender wants to dress the same way

As award season continues on, many people have their eyes on formal wear — including me. I am obsessed with formal wear. I keep up with the red carpet more than I do the movies. I don’t care about who wins what Oscar, but I do care about who was dressed the best. When I was a kid, I would talk about what beautiful dresses I would wear if I were on those red carpets. I still play the game.

But this award season, I’ve started to dread the press coverage of the red carpet.

During the New York Times’ Emmy coverage this year, the Styles Desk referred to Liv Hewson’s shirtless tuxedo as “the ultimate in nonbinary chic.” Reading that article, I found myself furious at the notion. How was that one look the peak of nonbinary fashion? 

Don’t get me wrong — the look is fantastic. Hewson played with the ever-hated black suit on the red carpet, enlarged coattails and an on-display chest to great success. 

So if it wasn’t Hewson, then what was it that made me so angry? 

I’ll answer that question with another question: Where was this fervor for other trans and nonbinary artists on the red carpet? 

We have been so blessed these past few years to see out-and-proud trans and nonbinary people being out and proud. Last year, the Tony Awards saw its first two openly nonbinary actors win for best leading actor in a musical and best featured actor in a musical. J. Harrison Ghee, who won the Tony for best leading actor, wore a stunning turquoise ball gown-pantsuit, which was hands down the best look of the night for me. 

Yet, none of the articles I read about the red carpet the next day really mentioned it. Same with Alex Newell, who won for best featured actor in a musical in a stunning gold dress. No one claimed it to be some extraordinary peak of gender-defining fashion — Vanity Fair covered the gown like they would any other. 

I’m not saying that every outfit worn by a trans or nonbinary person should be declared “the ultimate in nonbinary chic.” My issue is how and when we as a culture obsess over the gendered nature of clothing. I say folks covering nonbinary fashion take notes from Vanity Fair’s piece on Newell. Trans and nonbinary people just want to dress up like everyone else, and how any one person chooses to dress is their own “ultimate” chic.

We are still grappling with a long history of anti-cross dressing legislation. Masquerade Laws and the three-article rule made it illegal in many states to wear more than three articles of clothing designated for another gender in public. The section of New York’s Masquerade Law, Penal Code 240.35, Subsection 4, could be used to arrest someone perceived as male until 2011. This coupled with anti-LGBTQ legislation in the past few years makes presenting as your authentic self really scary. 

With the risks of being out, proud and authentic looming large, seeing Ghee, Hewson and Newell all wear something that made them feel like themselves is empowering. It’s something that everyone, queer or not, can aspire to do. But there has to be a way to honor the wide spectrum of gender expression without creating a new box that disregards large swaths of people’s identities. 

While most of us won’t be on the red carpet any time soon, plenty of us will be walking in commencement this May. When the time comes, I hope you find yourself wearing something that makes you feel like you — not what the New York Times, your parents or social media tell you should feel like you. Or at the very least do your best. No matter your gender, you deserve to dress in whatever makes you happy regardless of what gender was supposed to wear those clothes. 

You don’t need to try and live up to the ultimate of gendered fashion — female, male, nonbinary or otherwise. Wear what makes you comfortable and treat that graduation stage like your own red carpet. It’s still going to be awards season, and you just won your degree. 

Darcy Winter is the fact checker and can be reached at darcy.winter@ubspectrum.com   

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