EXPRESSION THROUGH FASHION: How clothing is crucial to identity

EXPRESSION THROUGH FASHION: How clothing is crucial to identity


It's pride month, a time to celebrate your identity and how far we’ve come with the community, thriving in spite of the biases and intolerance that exist in the world. Pride is about going beyond the binaries and rules that are imposed, arbitrary in nature, and making your own place in a society that demands you fit into boxes you’ve outgrown. After all, this is not just about existing, it is a matter of being comfortable with yourself, and finding your self-worth.

  One thing that is inherently connected to queerness is the expression of self. Historically, we’ve seen expressions of one’s identity reflected in their choice of clothing and mannerisms, like masculine dressing options for queer women, an ear piercing in the right ear for queer men, and many other trends to express who you are, without explicitly saying it out loud. These fashion identifiers were important for queer people to find others like them in a time when prosecution and marginalization was widespread.

Although we can retrospectively find examples of queer styles in aberrations and fashion and dress in every era, it is only with modernity that it becomes a distinguishable trait.”

Queer style is to be considered not only as a set of signifiers of dress and accoutrements, but it is also worn as part of the body. Whereas the straight construct sees a dichotomy between the naked body and the clothing that covers it, queer style considers a far more seamless relation between the two.” Writes Adam Geczy and  Vicki Karaminas in Queer Style.

Experimenting with fashion is a way to display and accept difference, and make one visible in a society that rarely encourages it. In India, the rules for clothing are strictly defined and gendered. A man in a skirt is a taboo. This mindset, inherited from the colonial times from the British, still lingers in the mind of people so geared towards the traditional ‘family’ and ‘duties’ with respect to men and women.

More recently, as the times change and information flows freely, queerness has become more accepted. The fashion identifiers have grown into different styles for different members of the community. We’ve also come to realize that clothing and gender are not binary, which leaves a lot of room for experimentation in terms of expression. Fashion is about what you like and what you feel good in, and is constantly pushing boundaries. It’s important to look in the mirror and be comfortable and proud of what you see, especially for queer people, to find validation for yourself. Gender-neutral fashion paves a way for the type of expression which does not want to be defined as ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’, for people who do not want to be labelled as either.

In 2018, after the Supreme Court scrapped parts of Section 377, it led to queer fashion coming to the forefront, which had been invisible for a long time. The Lakme fashion week paid tribute to the drag, genderqueer and androgynous fashion in the Winter/ Festive 2018 edition, and homegrown queer brands started to gain popularity.

Queer fashion, can be dramatic, with a lot of theatricality, or very simple, with just a few pieces. It’s also a spectrum. It depends, in the end, on who is wearing it, and what is the intention behind it.

“Fashion is important to who I am, and I put a lot of thought into my outfits. It’s a presentation of how I want to be perceived. Mostly I just wanted people to look at me and think ‘well she’s not straight.”, says Adhi(she/her), a fashion designer.

The type of clothing one wears can help in highlighting one’s identity, clothes that move away from the traditional masculine or feminine silhouette, make much more of a statement about yourself.Dressing externally helps you channel what you feel internally, and that is achieved through experimentation. It also depends on how many boundaries you are comfortable with pushing and how it aligns with your actual self.

“It’s always about finding a nice piece for myself. It doesn’t matter if it’s a skirt for women, if I look good in it, I’ll get it. Clothing is supposed to be fun, and I just do what feels right to me.” Rachit(he/them) says, in a conversation about gender and clothing.

The queer aesthetic isn’t a definite style at all. It is fluid and ever-changing. Some of the time it isn’t even just for queer people. It veers away from the conventional trends, but regardless, is for everyone. The bottom line is that clothing and fashion are for yourself. It is personal, and for everyone. We all want to connect with each other, and to find people that would connect with us. Wear things that make you feel good, and experiment, because fashion is liberating, and freedom deserves celebration. Figuring yourself out is a long journey, it might carry on forever, so enjoy as you travel. We wish you all the luck.


About the author: 

Sanjeevni is a Jammu based queer artist who, through her art, portrays the struggles and lives of queer people. She uses art and writing as a medium to spread awareness and is an active participant for an NGO to educate folks about mental illnesses and therapy.