Young People and the Fashion Social Stigma

6 min readJun 8, 2021

It has always been acceptable, for as long as anyone can remember, to dress a newborn baby girl in pink, and a newborn baby boy in blue. Only now, in 2021, is society calling out these stereotypical characteristics.

As these babies grow into young adults, the social stigma remains. A boy in a dress? Unacceptable. Particularly in men, the conscious feeling of going out and dressing a certain way to ensure they don’t look too ‘feminine and ensuring they are dressing ‘simply’ enough is drilled into a boy’s heads.

Why are we raised to believe that a certain colour is for a certain gender, or a certain style of clothing is for a specific gender? The answer is very simple and dates back to 519 BC in the Roman era where men and woman both wore toga’s, a dress that symbolised “Roman adulthood and citizenship.” From there it’s simply because “Noblewomen… didn’t have to fight nor do significant menial work, therefore they could afford to keep wearing dresses, which became increasingly elaborate with time.” (André Cesarino 2018)

Harry Styles, a 27-year-old pop star, is defying the stereotype often. However, he receives generous amounts of hate, specifically when he posted an array of photographs dressed “feminine” on his social media platforms. With the thousands of supportive comments from his fans, come the comments opposed to his photoshoots. The stereotypical idea that a man in a pink dress is seen as “gay.”

Comments on his Instagram post of the artist in a pink tutu were brutal and generally made it clear that the commenters assumed he was ‘gay’ and said ‘This is exactly what’s wrong with the world today … feminine ass men .. no more real men…”

In his shoot with Vogue magazine, Harry Styles fought back confidently with “When you take away ‘There’s clothes for men and there’s clothes for women,’ once you remove any barriers, obviously you open up the arena in which you can play…It’s like anything — anytime you’re putting barriers up in your own life, you’re just limiting yourself.”

While it is completely fair for social media users to express opinions, those who are familiar with Harry Styles know “It feels like a genuine part of his brand as an artist, particularly considering his reputation for rocking statement jewellery, ruffles, and bold patterns and textures.” (Abby Jones 2019)

An article posted on the KIIS1065 website fully backed the artist, suggesting it's socially acceptable because it’s ‘Harry Styles’ and he's a celebrity. “Harry Styles made history this month by becoming the first male to appear solo on the cover of ‘Vogue.’ His cover features him in a lace gown and blazer and, it’s Harry guys, he looks good. It’s art.” (tiashadebray 2020)

The nature of the saying ‘real men’, mentioned in a comment on Harry Styles Instagram (see above image) can be restricting and offensive. This term is used often to describe occupations, appearance, sport and emotions. “Despite living in a time in which we are working toward ending gender stereotypes, that believe that ‘real men’ are simplistic in their outfits aids the creation of unsafe communities.” (Gabriel Sanchez 2015) The ‘real men’ stigma is beginning to fade as society adapts and supports that there is no such thing and the 21st Century is about overcoming gender stereotypes.

Fashion is everchanging and what is seen as ‘ugly’ and ‘old fashioned’ one day can be trending the next. The ability for trends to change so quickly is due to social media and the impact influencers and brands have on users. Young people and their thoughts and opinions can be based on something they've read or seen someone else say on social media. Young people are affected more than most adults because young people were born into this technological age where they rely on social media. While adults have existed prior to social media and being impacted by a celebrity or influencer simply came from a monthly fashion magazine which can be unreliable and unrealistic showcasing what is in fashion at the time. Social media is raw, relevant and instant.

For a young teenage girl living in today’s world, the gender-specific boundaries with fashion are not as restricting. A female in a ‘men's outfit’ can be seen as empowering. An article by Sarah Casselman for ‘Fashion’ titled ‘11 Female Celebrities Who Rocked Tuxedos on the Red Carpet’ compliments celebrities once again saying it’s “a refreshing alternative to the usual frilly fare.” Evan Rachel Wood told reporters “I’m not trying to protest dresses, but I wanted to make sure young girls and women know that it’s not a requirement…”

Different in many cultures, the theme within the way young Australian men and woman dress is inspired heavily by social media as well as what is readily available in stores and is seen as trending. Popular stores within local shopping centres available for men include General Pants, Universal and Industry. The clothing available for men in these stores are inspired by skate, surf and streetwear and is mostly plain in colour and labelled with a trending brand such as Dickies, Stussy, Billabong and Thrills Co. When visiting these retail shops websites the options available for men include pants, shorts, T-shirts, shirts and shoes and the options within are very similar. While a woman's dress alone can range from a long, short, open, high neck, low neck, v-neck, floral, midi, mini etc. These basic outfit options for men, while trending and seemingly popular within teens have not changed for decades. Until now, where the action of changing the rules and going against societies expectations is what is trending.

General Pants Website

The most influential people on social media today; celebrities have spoken and been awarded for courageous efforts on the red carpet and in magazines. Social media continues to grow and impact the lives of teenagers more than any generation before. While society has a long way to go with accepting and diminishing the idea of stereotypical fashion ideas, young people are still made to feel as if they must wear their gender-stereotypical clothing.


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