The stigma around men wearing dresses is not new. Every time a celebrity made a statement on a red carpet wearing a dress or anything remotely ‘feminine’, heads have turned. Billy Porter’s suit dress at the Oscars had no different reception. It shot off a train of controversies and articles but most importantly, it has started off a discussion.
Granted that dresses do not keep in line with masculine clothing which is ideally what men are expected to wear, it is a new frontier in inclusive fashion that encourages all to wear what they want, regardless of gender. And the problem around it seems to stem from fear. It is almost as if we are threatened by men who do not conform to masculine norms. There is fear of masculinity, which is the epitome of strength and power, being shattered or broken. It is the horror of moving away from the concrete concept that we ourselves have conjured to satisfy our own understanding that makes us so afraid to accept something unique. And now that some individuals are stepping forward to change that notion, one can’t help but wonder what is holding the rest of us back from welcoming and celebrating this change.
The reason seems to be that we are horrified of changes; anything that moves away from social and cultural conventions scares us. We are habituated into believing a previously painted picture regarding what is right and wrong by society. And like any other habit which can be very hard to change, our thoughts and beliefs are just as stubborn. It requires effort and a lot of us are not ready to put in the work, even if it is something as simple as fixing an old, arrogant opinion.
On another front, one can’t help but wonder whether it is inequality behind all this evil. And, is it a form of equality that we are seeking through this movement? It is almost in the same line as ‘women can wear pants so why men can’t wear skirts?’ And the dimensions seem different as we want men to have the freedom to choose what to wear rather than women this time. Hence, it feels new and raw, and evidently hard to accept. What must be understood is that dresses do not have a gender. Style doesn’t have masculinity or femininity sewed in them. Fashion is a manner of self-expression and should be all about feeling good about yourself. The style you opt for should reflect your preference, personality and likes, not what society expects you to wear.
Simply put, it is a person’s right to dress the way he or she wants. What must be considered is that fashion is supposed to be the most inclusive form of self-expression. The question in fact shouldn’t be whether this makes an individual any less of a man but rather why are we so obsessed with what a man is or what can a man wear. The fact that every time a man puts on a dress and it is subject to controversy and discussion perfectly portrays how far away, we are still from freedom of style and art.
But it can be said that by wearing a suit dress on such an important platform such as the Oscars, Billy Porter has started the conversation that was long overdue. It is the preliminary step towards normalizing inclusion in fashion. We still haven’t reached the milestone that everyone deserves, but at least it is a move in the right direction. Now all that is required is to keep this conversation running, raise awareness, and welcome this deviation from traditional, prejudiced thoughts.