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Rochelle Rodney-Massop

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The oxford dictionary defines Androgyny as being ‘Partly male and partly female in appearance; of indeterminate sex’. A defined statement of a perennial fashion trend that can be interpreted in two ways. Androgyny is a form of communication of how one may want to be perceived, as well as how they may perceive themselves. The former could be physically as a non-conformist, in a world that subtly enforces a patriarchal compass on gender identity, through fashion. Or the latter, psychologically perhaps as a person of the LGBTQ+ community that chooses to identify themselves as non-binary.

When you do an instagram search on #androgyny, you get a strong sense of masculinity within the fashion, with limited diversity in both the clothing and the people. Whilst the 80s saw stars like Grace Jones, David Bowie, and Prince embracing androgyny to creatively challenge gender stereotypes. They were innovators, or early adopters of a moment in time that represented a change in people’s notion of sexual ambiguity. Such artists are in short supply these days. Androgyny has become less about being creative and unique, and more about dressing in a conventionally masculine way.

aesthetically linking, in Freudian terms, the Adam’s apple to the genitals via the tie…

Androgyny is not fashion. But it is very much synonymous with the word. One of the earliest innovators was in fact King Louis XIV, who some say is the King of fashion. He was effeminate with his style; wearing lavish wigs, high heels and adorned with jewels. He made it acceptable for men to be just as glamorous as the women of that era, and so blurring the lines. However, In the 21st century, we see celebrity early adopters like Jaden Smith, Cee-lo Green and Lil thug cross the lines in a hyper-masculine music industry, and it raises eyebrows.

This begs the question as to what should androgyny look like?

A considerable body of psychological research in the 70s/80s lent towards the argument that masculinity alone, and not femininity or androgyny can predict psychological well-being (Forshaw & Shmukler, 1992). And it was Feather (1985) who suggested that this is because of instrumental characteristics, rather than expressive feminine characteristics that are linked to a higher level of self-esteem, and protection from depression. Findings like this are the result of a patriarchal society, that considers men as the more powerful gender and sex. Making it okay for women who like to dress more manly to wear suits to feel empowered and make a statement; ‘as the suit often heightens male sexuality in widening shoulders, narrowing hips and aesthetically linking, in Freudian terms, the Adam’s apple to the genitals via the tie’ (Dr. Tim Edmunds, 2014). We label them as tomboys, but what do we call men who enjoy feminine clothing?

It’s all about the timing. And I think now more than ever androgynous  fashion has scope to really show off and represent, as a form of communication both physically and psychologically for those who identify with this non-binary style. 2018 has surely been a standout year for gender equality seen in the workplace, in Hollywood, and in retailers branding. Fashion needs to keep up, and open up more discussion about what it means to wear genderless clothing.

‘On Wednesdays we wear pink’, one of my favourite lines in the high school teen movie -Mean Girls. That one liner epitomises girly-girls around the world. One thing that catapulted  that quote into pop culture is the association between the colour pink and  femininity (weaponized femininity in Regina George’s case but I digress). I’ve often wondered, why is it that pink is for girls, and blue is for boys? Studies have shown that colour can affect emotion; so, it begs the question what implications can ‘gendered’ colour codes have on the people  who wear them? As a mother myself to a twin boy and girl, I have questioned how I should be dressing my kids. I often ponder how my twins will grow up perceiving themselves due to the way I choose to dress them. The expanding gender-neutral/ unisex children’s clothing market only encourages me to question my choices further.

The idea that colours are gendered goes as far back as the 1930s. At the time, blue was being predominantly used in the designing soldiers’ uniforms, and therefore became more masculine inclined. What may come as a surprise to many is that prior to 1930 pink was initially for boys, as it was perceived as a ‘watered-down bold dramatic red’. A bolder, stronger colour symbolising ‘zeal’ and ‘courage’ in contrast to the then girly-blue; that was seen as more delicate and dainty; a symbolism of ‘faith’ and ‘consistency’.

Numerous studies have shown a universal preference for the colour blue. However, research has found that the sexes differ in their responsiveness to specific dimensions of colour. Evolutionary psychology would argue that women’s preference for pink/red stems from their role in resource collection during the hunter-gatherer period where these warm colours would be indicative of ripe fruits and berries.

In terms of development, children are able to identify colours from the age of 18 months. Between 3-4 years old, they are able to name different colours. Coincidentally, during this period of development they also become conscious of their assigned gender. Because of their limitations in communication, children often use colour as a form of expression. The clothes you dress your child in not only affects how the world receives them; but also how they perceive themselves. So, as a parent  you can either dress them to aid in their conformity to gender norms through gendered colour coding; or assist them to express their individuality through the use of colour. No pressure there then!

My beautiful twins Kieran and Khyra
Kids' Choice Awards 2017: Nick Cannon and Mariah Carey Have Adorable Twinning Moment With Their Kids

A study, conducted by a baby subscription box service ‘Box Upon a Time’, concluded that 47% of parents liked dressing their boys in pink clothing, whilst 82 per cent liked to put their girls in blue. This is becoming a growing trend, that is being led by the child stars like North West and Shiloh Jodie-Pitt, who rock the androgynous style like the trendsetters that they are. ‘I’m not big on loud or over the top colours.’ Kim Kardashian adds that she loves it when North wears gender-neutral colours. It appears that  some parents are gradually moving away from the gendered coloured way of dressing, and instead establishing their own personal style for their children through the use of greys, blacks and whites.

Personally, I get a series of compliments whenever I do let my boy-girl twins match outfits. I like to differentiate them through gendered colours like pink and purple for my daughter, and blue and green for my son; simply because I can. I was blessed to have one of each, so I try and have fun with them when styling.

Despite this, I still get told how cute my ‘girls’ look. Which makes me think, does colour play any role in how you perceive the child? – other factors like my son’s hair and facial features must play a larger role in identifying him which is plausible, but people still get it wrong.  

Clinical psychologist Linda Blair suggests; it enhances the attraction to twins when they lookalike; but to the unfavourable effect that it could have on how that child perceives themselves which I recognise. I want my kids to identify themselves as individuals first and foremost. Pink shouldn’t be my daughters favourite colour just because she is a girl; and blue vice versa for my son. I try and encourage them to pick and choose other colours in the spectrum, whether they correlate it with girls or boys I let them express themselves in whichever way they choose. Especially at the age of 3, where they are becoming more vocal; and also asserting their independence. I don’t feel obligated to dress them identically, perhaps if they were identical I may feel more inclined to do so. Yet, I am becoming more drawn to gender neutral colours such as white, yellow and black; not to mention the money it’s saving me in the long run by allowing me to mix and match easily.

 

Adding another dimension to the mix is the finding that the colours we choose to dress our children in can have implications on their mood (Huchendorf, 2007) either through enhancing anxiety, decreasing stress, or even arousing excitement. In fact, research suggests that children can be more sensitive to colours so this is something worth acknowledging when getting your kid ready each day. For example, letting my already active son wear a red top is likely to enhance his liveliness whereas green can relax him, as research has linked it to nature and therefore peace (Renk Etksi, 2017).

 

As the unisex market continues to expand amongst retailers, across the ages gender clothing is becoming less of a go-to for new parents, who are choosing to have more fun in their children’s wardrobes, rather than rolling with the typecasts. Times are changing, and so will the meaning of our favourite colours.

What we wear doesn’t only influence how others look at us, but how we look at ourselves and assert our personal identity.

Clothes make the man. Naked people have little to no influence on society      

Words once voiced by the illustrious American author Mark Twain. It tells us something simple: the clothes we wear on our backs have a strong and powerful impact on the way we are perceived by others. 

This influence is further illustrated through the image makers within the fashion industry. The stylists and creative directors who put together looks to create stories through clothing. What we wear serves as a communication tool, allowing others to make assumptions and judgements about us, whether it be right or wrong; we all do it! Our first impression of a person is gaged through the way they present themselves, the main factor being, the way they dress. The way a person dresses often effects the way we treat them. Do we approach them with kindness, affection, hostility?  A lot of it boils down to the clothes. 

This is evident in a study by Howlett, Pine, Orakcioglu & Fletcher (2013), which found that when it comes to a man’s suit, differences in alterations significantly impacts the impressions he gives. The study showed that individuals are more likely to judge as man as having a higher level of confidence, trustworthiness and success when he is wearing a made-to-measure suit compared to when he is wearing one off-the-rack. 

Our clothes definitely say something about us. It could potentially be a contributing factor that’s preventing us from moving up the career ladder, getting that second date or even losing weight, as it also influences how we feel about ourselves.  

What we wear doesn’t only influence how others look at us, but how we look at ourselves and assert our personal identity. There is limited research out there which discusses the power clothing has over our behaviour; but to grasp some understanding of it we must acknowledge a widely respected study by Adam Galinsky and Hajo Adam (2012), two professors who coined the term ‘Enclothed Cognition’(EC). 

If you look good, you feel good. If you feel good, you play good. If you play good, they pay good  – Deion Sanders

To better understand EC, I have to refer to one of my favourite LBD dresses, hanging proudly in my closet. I’d probably wear this dress on a date, or on a nice evening out where I’m not trying to overdo it but still wish to look good – you know what I’m talking about! We all have outfits we hold on to because of how they make us feel. The connotations I give to that dress are sexiness and confidence and when physically worn, I feel I exude those qualities. Enclothed Cognition is all about this. It outlines the influence clothing can have over our behaviour due to the fact that we assign certain connotations to certain items of clothing. When we go on to wear these items we subconsciously exude those same qualities.

The role of a doctor is one that is associated with a great deal attention and focus. Galinsky & Adam’s (2012) study found that a white lab coat described as a doctor’s coat actually increased the level of attention in the people who wore it. I find this quite reassuring, given that a doctor’s main job is to save lives!

In my psychology final year project, I was able to further explore the phenomenon of Enclothed Cognition. I interviewed university students to understand their thoughts and feelings when wearing different items of clothing such as a science lab coat or a university jumper that had some degree of meaning to them. The purpose of my study was to see whether the different garments effected how they felt about themselves. I found that the clothing had some level of influence over their thoughts, but only when they perceived themselves as desiring the traits of intelligence, whilst also being proud of their academic success.

In their study, Ellis & Jenkins (2015) were able to further establish the association between clothing and behaviour, focusing on the wristwatch – a fashion accessory or better yet, a demonstration of social status. The researchers uncovered that wearers showed lower levels of extroversion and were more likely to arrive early for appointments when wearing a wristwatch. All of this research is expeditiously summed up by the saying “If you look good, you feel good. If you feel good, you play good. If you play good, they pay good.”- Deion Sanders.

The next time you’re being indecisive about what to put on, just go for that one item you know makes you feel great!