All year I’ve been searching for a pair of boots. In particular a classic work boot style with pull-on tabs and elasticated sides. Throughout my expedition in finding the perfect cruelty-free, inexpensive pair, I’ve discovered something astounding yet not surprising. There is a significant lack of anything resembling ‘work boots’ in the women’s boots section of just about every shop I’ve come across. The items in a typical ‘Women’s Boots’ category are generally organised by heel height rather than comfort or practicality.
Are gender categories necessary at all? Sure, males and females have different body types and shapes but there are multiple body types within those sexes. If designers created pieces specifically to suit certain body types then there should be many more than two categories. Sex and gender are not perfectly parallel. Gender is often regarded as fluid, changing for each individual with time and context, particularly influenced by our social surroundings (Butler). Our clothing, shoes and accessories should not be confined by two specific genders when we as humans are not.
Fashion has come a long way recently in terms of loosening the constraints of gendered clothing. Both Gucci and Prada for example have recently joined the movement of agender or genderless garments. Gucci’s Fall 2015 line featured androgynous models with delicate features and long hair wearing “foppish bow blouses, scarlet lace and crop-sleeved coats” (Avins, 2015). In combination with matching ‘his and hers’ ensembles, Prada took a more literal approach last year and handed a printed manifesto to the audience, questioning them about the relevance of traditional assumed gender roles in fashion. These two aren’t the first designers to be challenging stereotypes. Many others including Rad Hourani have been working in the unisex fashion realm for years.
Hourani launched his unisex ready-to-wear line in 2007 and debuted the first ever unisex Haute Couture collection in 2014. His focus is not on the obvious idea of men in skirts or dresses, but on smoothing the interchangeability of garments from the bodies of men to women and visa versa (Cochrane). Each model in Hourani’s Spring/Summer 2014 show had their hair slicked back and makeup that was natural and minimal. This style was consistent across the range of male and female models, blurring the viewers’ ability to distinguish between men and women. At one point they wore metallic masks to completely disguise any gender defining features.
I’m sure that in more alternative stores or brands that specialise in boots – Baxter Footwear or Blundstone for example – the perfect female work boot would be easy to find, but even then it’s predominantly ‘riding boots’ (and made from leather). What about more accessible stores such as Target, Kmart or Payless Shoes? These stores have absolutely no shoes designed for women that resemble the work boot and can withstand harsh working conditions. Is that suggesting that women don’t do trades, enter workshops or construction sites? I have no problem purchasing or wearing items from the men’s section; the issue is the sexism in the manufacturing and distribution of the products.
Avins, Jenni. 2015. “Androgyny is no in fashion”. Quartz, 20 January. Accessed 3 October 2016. qz.com/329843/androgyny-in-now-in-fashion/
Bain, Marc. 2015. “Sex and gender aren’t perfectly binary. Why should clothes be?” Quartz, 26 April. Accessed 3 October 2016. qz.com/381790/sex-and-gender-arent-perfectly-binary-why-should-clothes-be/
Butler, Judith. 1990. Gender Trouble. New York: Routledge.
Cochrane, Lauren. 2014. “Rad Hourani presents the first unisex couture collection”. The Guardian, 30 January. Accessed 3 October 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/fashion-blog/2014/jan/30/ran-hourani-first-unisex-couture-collection-fashion
Cunningham, Erin. 2014. “Rad Hourani, The First Unisex Couture Designer”. The Daily Beast, 29 January. Accessed 3 October 2016. www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/01/29/rad-hourani-the-first-unisex-couture-designer.html