The Shock Value of Gender

Updated: Feb 12, 2019

A look into how non gender conforming individuals no longer shock the fashion industry.

Shock Value. It is defined as the usefulness to surprise and usually upset people. It’s what drives the fashion industry, I mean think about it, what are you more likely to remember? A basic runway show showcasing all white, A-line dresses on a plain black catwalk, or a show that has models carrying dragons and silicone replicas of their own heads in a Frankenstein-ish laboratory (Shout out to the Gucci 2018 Fall collection which was mesmerizing, to say the least.) The fashion industry thrives on shocking people to create a memorable experience for consumers, but can the subject of the shock value become normalized?

The shock value of choice in the fashion industry is often a representation of social injustice being refuted by designers, models, and creative fashion types alike. Although we have many a social injustice to choose from, one of the most talked about today is the fact that as a society we are still not accepting of people who do not conform to one specific gender simply going about their business. We still have people giving androgynous men and woman dirty looks, or transgender individuals being criticized for using the ‘wrong’ bathroom, or even flamboyant men being told that they need to act more ‘like a man,’ in a professional setting. This community of non-gender conforming individuals is constantly a source of shock value for society. Yet there is an exception -the fashion industry. Those who run in fashion circles no longer even bat an eye at those that aren’t gender conforming, and that’s a big deal because it isn’t a big deal. Sean Willis a Fashion Marketing and Management student at Savannah College of Art & Design who was slaying in his version of a Canadian tux, comments on the topic “I feel like people in the fashion industry are kind of like ‘Hey been there done that,’ but people in society are like 'Holy shit, what just happened.'”

Captured by Jessica Caughron. Model, Jacob Bern

Captured by Jessica Caughron. Model, Jacob Bern

“Artists tend to express their opinions on political and social views through their work and that’s exactly what the fashion world is doing, so they are essentially prepping people more for the normalization of an identification of people that they’ve never really known or experienced,” continues Jessica Park an androgynous illustration major from Savannah college of Art & Design.

Captured by Jessica Caughron. Model, Sean Willis

Captured by Jessica Caughron. Model, Sean Willis

New York Fashion Week is no exception as it has become the center of diversity when it comes to the runway. For year’s designers have showcased their clothing on models of different ethnicities, heights, age and, size, I mean this year alone every single runway show had at least one model of color. However, in recent years those a part of the famous event have introduced people that don’t conform to their gender. This year’s 2018 Fall/Winter shows are a perfect example as they were over-run by people who don’t conform. The Gypsy Sport show had people who were male, female, non-binary and transgender walk the runway in their black and white designs. They even ended the show with 10-year old Desmond, the self-acclaimed “Kinder Drag Star,” making his first-ever appearance on the runway. Designers such as Jeremy Scott had men walking down the runway in pink t-shirts with cuddly bears printed on the front paired with bright neon colored fuzzy sweaters, and Marc Jacobs not only cast an abundance of transgender models, but re-defined femininity be creating a collection that lacked any sort of sex appeal with boxy silhouettes and more than modest pieces. The funny thing is, no-one was even phased. Okay, that’s a lie we were a little phased by Desmond, but that had more to do with the fact that he’s 10 and adorable, rather than that he’s transgender.

Simply put, in the fashion industry we no longer care. When asked about the choice of the brand’s casting including transgender models for the Marc Jacobs show Anita Bitton, Jacobs right-hand woman, and head casting director said: “It’s now just sort of part of this status quo; it’s a fact.” I think this perfectly defines the attitude of the fashion industry. We no longer care what gender you are, we no longer care what sex your appearance or style leans towards, we simply care about your ability as a model. Fashion is becoming gender neutral not only within its models but also in its clothing style, so the shock factor has faded.

Captured by Jessica Caughron. Model, Harper Cantrell.

Captured by Jessica Caughron. Model, Harper Cantrell

Jacob Bern a Fashion Marketing & Management Student at Savannah College of Art and Design that walked into our interview in sky high heels, pink eyeshadow and a sheer mesh shirt that I 100% want in my closet believes “It’s a wonderful thing that fashion has become so gender neutral, but at the same time there’s a part of me that’s like come on guys, people have been doing this forever and have been criticized for it, but now that it is on the runway we are acting like this is a dramatic radical movement, but it’s been happening forever.” However, the point is it’s “A dramatic radical movement,” for society as a whole, yet for the fashion industry it’s been happening forever so we no longer really notice. But why is that? Harper Cantrell a proud non binary illustration major from Savannah, Georgia comments “I feel like people who are in the creative fields already think outside of the box, artists don’t really conform to what society expects so it goes hand in hand. So that’s just one more norm for them to break out of.”

Captured by Jessica Caughron. Model, Jessica Park "JP"

Captured by Jessica Caughron. Model, Jessica Park "JP"

So if we aren’t shocked by gender norms being broken in the fashion industry anymore what comes next? First it was body type, then different ethnicities, gender norms, now what? “I think I have my answer,” says Jacob “I think we’ve broken down the walls between gender and we have started to see the fluidity between gender roles expressed through silhouettes styles, colors, whatever. But I’m ready for non-binary collections. So that means collections that aren’t designed for men or women, that don’t walk in men’s fashion week or women’s fashion week. It’s all just one event. We will no longer cast men to wear dresses even if they are androgynous, we will just be casting people to wear a collection to people.”

So I want to know, what do you think? Is non- binary fashion going to be the next big thing? Or are we going to go down a path that isn’t related to gender at all? Click

the link below to add your answer!

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