Author

Tyffaine Akkouche

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It is common knowledge that our fashion sense changes and evolves along with us- I’m not the same girl I was when I was 14 and the lack of ‘Team Edward’ shirts I wear reflects that (I am still team Edward though). The clothes we wear can help us build our identity and is a crucial tool for transitioning and affirming new identities. However I didn’t understand just how important my clothes were until I discovered the full spectrum of my sexuality. Once I realised I was attracted to women also, there was a shift in my mindset- dressing for male validation and dressing for female validation were two completely different experiences. When I was dressing for what I thought made me most appealing to men, I found myself reaching for tighter fitting clothing, things that would restrict my body in the hopes it would also restrict my big personality that I usually muted for men.

Tighter clothes= smaller me= less space that I was taking.

Loose woman

The tendency for women to monitor, control and restrict their own bodies was explored by Bartky, where he states that a woman’s space is not a field in which her bodily intentionality can be freely realised. The term ‘loose woman’ indicates not only a woman with loose morals, but literally in the free and easy way she moves. Fashion has been a tool at both restricting women but also aiding their autonomy, this is evident in the way corsetry in the 1800’s evolved to allow women not only physical freedom, but when the ‘bicycle corset’ was invented, it also allowed them geographical freedom.

When I started dressing for women, I realised I was actually dressing for myself- because there were no expectations of how I should look. When those expectations were stripped, I discovered what outfits I liked myself in, instead of what outfits I liked to be liked in.  Sometimes that looked like form fitting clothes, but it also meant a lot of baggy trousers and generally more comfortable materials and fits. I used fashion to compliment my transitioning mindset that was stepping away from the male gaze. I found this was a similar experience to the character Jules in the ever-loved ‘Euphoria’ series, where she explains she had built her entire identity based on a version of femininity desired by men- but she realises she is no longer interested in that version of herself.

Gender Performance

Furthermore, If you consider how intrinsically linked sexuality is to gender expression, turning to Judith Butler’s theory of Performity can help us understand how clothing is such an instrumental tool in conveying our identities. This theory puts into question how natural gendered behaviours really are, arguing that gender is in fact just a performance imposed upon us by normative heterosexuality- fashion being a key prop to this performance.

Therefore, by breaking away from these ideologies and dressing in ways that feel authentic to yourself, fashion can be an extremely helpful tool in reaching full self-actualisation. Self discrepancy theory explains how detrimental it can be for there to be a discrepancy between who you are and how you dress, resulting in a lack of pride and lower self esteem. So moral of the story: Dress how you feel inside and you’ll be happier for it! Queerness looks like so many different things, but what it isn’t is how you think you should look, but rather what you feel.

As London Pride erupted around the city, I spoke to some fellow queer people and asked them how they felt fashion aided them along their journey of queerness:

Priya

Before accepting queerness
After accepting queerness

How do you think fashion/clothes helped you accept your queer identity?

Throughout a lot of my teens and early twenties I felt a huge pressure to perform femininity with my appearance. I felt that a lot of my value as a person was measured by how attractive I was to men, and this felt suffocating. I started to embrace my queerness and to learn more about feminism, so changing the way I dressed was a way for me to reflect that internal shift. People have often commented on my style and told me that men won’t like it- so going against that has enabled me to reclaim my body and queer identity. 

Did you see a difference in the way you dressed once you did accept your queer identity?

The way I expressed myself with fashion has changed a lot since accepting my queer identity. I feel so much more freedom in what I wear now and choosing not to care what others think has been the most important change for me. Incorporating typically ‘feminine’ aspects into my style now feels like a fun option, rather than a necessity. Some days I choose to dress in a more stereotypically masculine way and I get some confused stares in the ladies’ toilet, but ultimately I feel more like myself.

​​Asia

Before accepting queerness
After accepting queerness

How do you think fashion/clothes helped you accept your queer identity?

Once I came to terms with my sexuality, I stopped wearing things that made me feel uncomfortable such as dresses or heels. I never liked them but wore them because I felt I had to, because I thought that version of me was the only one people were going to accept. 

Did you see a difference in the way you dressed once you did accept your queer identity?

I definitely did, I felt more comfortable and confident, and started caring a lot less about how people perceived me. I also feel like how I dress now helps me express myself and my personality more. 

Mila

Before accepting queerness
After accepting queerness

How do you think fashion/clothes helped you accept your queer identity?

Clothing has granted me a way to play at queerness, the bounds I felt were loosened as the fit of my clothes loosened too. Each of my outfits perpetuate self acceptance because fashion speaks on our behalf. 

Did you see a difference in the way you dressed once you did accept your queer identity?

I used to be embarrassed to exist at all, especially with the unreturnable gift of queerness. My fashion used to be as plain as possible, desires suppressed, to reflect this toxic mindset I had rationalised. These tight anxieties were undone when I learnt the joy of practising excess through fashion: Layering extra necklaces, mixing colours, prints etc. Suddenly I was dressed to take up space, but so had to confront the horror of being perceived- but at least clothing had become fun.

Trigger warning: mention of sexual assault 

The things we wear are often weaponized against us in instances of sexual assault or harrasment- but what if we could weaponise fashion in our favour? There is nothing someone could wear that deservingly incites sexual assault, but maybe there is something we could wear that would protect us from it, either through prevention or self defence. 

It must be said, the following article is not insinuating it is the women’s responsibility to prevent sexual assault- our government and education system holds the primary responsibility to keep us safe, however I will personally not hold my breathe as these institutions continuously fail us.

The Need For Protection

When Sarah Everard was brutally murdered at the hands of somebody who’s job was to protect us, it ignited a movement across the nation which was way past due. She was sadly only one of a series of murders and crimes against women, with school teacher Sabina Nessa being murdered months before in a London park.

Violence against women has not just been normalised, but decriminalised, with London’s prosecution rate for domestic violence claims plumeting to the lowest figure in 3 years, and only 1 in 60 rape cases resulting in a charge or summons.

When our justice system does not serve us, it is no surprise that women have taken it upon themselves to protect or prevent assault. One way this is being done is through fashion items that multi-task for anti-assault purposes.

Why Men Attack

The quest to understand why people commit crimes will forever be ongoing, but I believe when it comes to crimes against women, the answer may lie in the misogynistic attitudes and beliefs ingrained in our society. A major theory in Psychology named ‘Social Learning Theory’ by Albert Bandura could explain why gendered stereotypes can fuel such crimes. This theory explains that from a young age we are taught what are ‘gender-appropriate’ behaviours, through observing, modelling and imitating. Once these beliefs and attitudes are internalised, we encode them as schemas (cognitive frameworks that help us understand and interpret information).

According to this theory if you had positive role models, congratulations, you’re probably not out there murdering or hurting women. However, if you grew up with role models that often spoke about women in a derogatory way, hurt women themselves or altogether taught you to not have respect for women, chances are high that you’ve internalised dangerous beliefs and in turn behaviours.

There has been research conducted exploring whether social learning theory can work as a predictor of sexual violent behaviour later in life. It was found that the experience of physical and sexual victimisation at home was strongly associated with the development of sexual deviations or traits of psychosexual disorders. 

There is good news- according to behaviourist theories, what can be taught, can be untaught. Therapy and re-education is a great place to start.

Locker Room Talk

Furthermore, it isn’t just familial role models that can impact attitudes and behaviours-  one study explored men’s adherence to male hegemonic norms in conversation, or as more commonly known ‘locker room talk’. Findings indicated that exposure to peers who sexually objectify and disrespect women decreased prosocial behaviour and heightened misogynistic behaviour.

The media is also a huge contributor to warped ideas that women are inferior and for men to take advantage of. A very telling study by Middlesex University gave participants phrases to look at- half were taken from interviews with rapists and half were taken from ‘Lad’s magazines’.

The participants had to guess which phrases came from which source- having taken this test myself it was shocking to see how difficult it was to correctly identify the correct source as they mirrored each other in both language and sentiment. Some phrases included ‘Go and smash her on a park bench’ and other vile, derogatory language. 

This shows exactly how men are taught the misogynistic ideals that leads to violence against women.

So what can we do as women to protect ourselves? Many products have hit the market in recent years to try and combat this issue, here are just a few:

Anti-Rape Shorts

This company has designed shorts resistant to pulling, tearing and cutting whilst still being comfortable to wear during normal activities (e.g running, clubbing). The waist, thighs and central panels are protected with specially designed, cut resistant straps and webbing with the waist secured with a unique locking device- this makes it virtually impossible for somebody other than yourself to take them off.

Their idea stemmed from research that showed resistance increased the chance of avoiding a completed sexual assault, so designing an item which allows girls to passively resist an attacker was their goal. 

Xantus Drinkcheck Band

This wristband uses science to let us know if our drink has been spiked- all you need to do is place a few drops of your drink on the test field, and if it turns blue your drink has been spiked. Although not the most fashionable accessory, this wrist-band can help keep you safe on nights out by keeping you informed on exactly what you’re drinking. 

Night cap scrunchie

This ingenious design combines two things girls need: protection from being spiked and a hair tie (isn’t being a girl fun). The scrunchie opens up and can be stretched around any cup or glass, apart from allowing for a straw to be inserted, it provides air tight protection so your beverage can stay rohypnol free! 

Invisawear Charms

This brand aims to positively empower users in feeling safe, secure and connected. They do this through their necklaces and bracelets which have several functions to ensure our loved ones know when we are in trouble.

For instance, once you activate the button on the charm, it sends up to 5 of your loved ones a text message with your location and lets them know you are in trouble, enabling them to act quickly. There is even a feature which links your contacts directly to police near you, sharing your profile details in order to make it even easier for the police to find you- all at the press of a button.

Raising Self-Efficacy in Women

Although I am thankful these products exist, it is infuriating that they need to. But these items may have more than one use; along with actually protecting us, they might also have a great impact on self-esteem and self-efficacy without even having to use them- ‘Perceived self-efficacy is concerned with people’s beliefs in their ability to influence events that affect their lives”, as explained by Bandura.

Research shows women have worse perceived self-efficacy than men, feeling they are less able.This may be because we are constantly reminded of our (false) inferiority to men.

However, if we are able to feel more empowered by protecting ourselves, or knowing we could if needed, using wit instead of brawn, our self esteem and positive view of our female identity can be improved through anti-assault fashion.