A recent photo of Jaden Smith,the 16-year-old actor and rapper has caught much attention. As of late: The son of Will Smith likes to wear girl’s clothing. Dresses and crop tops, in particular, are his most worn pieces. If we’re being honest, Jaden can rock them better than most of us wish we could, but the male teenager has been receiving quite a bit of backlash for his fashion forwardness, with many people questioning his sexuality.
Cross-dressing is not something foreign to our society. An entire performance industry is founded on the very premise of men donning dresses, from the art of Kabuki to RuPaul’s Drag Race. This behavior is often associated with playing or entertainment and with men being considered less masculine. However, androgynous fashion has been catching on as well, with many designers making clothes that are both feminine and masculine or neither. But what Jaden has done is something entirely different.
The caption accompanying one photo on his Instagram states, “Went To TopShop To Buy Some Girl Clothes, I Mean ‘Clothes.’” Jaden went to a female clothing store and bought a notably female dress, but he did not buy the dress because it was a dress; he bought something to wear. His actions force us to examine the way we use clothes to identify gender. Cross-dressing and androgynous clothing, while unique, are nevertheless founded on the premise that there is a distinction between male and female clothing.
Jaden’s fashion choice brings up an important double standard that still exists in our ever-progressing society. The ability for women to wear men’s clothing, such as pants, has become
widely accepted and normalized over the past century, but we hardly ever see the reverse, outside of some sort of special occasion. It’s not the norm. We have managed to almost de-gender the concept of pants, but wearing dresses and skirts and clothing of a feminine nature is socially restricted to those who identify as female. Although pants themselves are considered to be neither masculine nor feminine, they are often individually designed with one gender in mind. Even boundary-pushing styles, such as boyfriend jeans, inherently suggest a gender binary.
Jaden’s dresses don’t just push gender bounds, they blow past them completely. He says that what he wears aren’t “girl clothes”; they’re “clothes.” This way of thinking is precisely what a more accepting and gender-fluid world needs: Instead of men, women, or non-cisgender people wearing men’s, women’s, or androgynous clothing, there should simply be people who wear clothing.
With more and more people identifying themselves outside of the gender binary, it’s somewhat counterintuitive for clothing to still be gendered as male or female. And rather than having 1 million different descriptors for a piece of fabric, we should follow Jaden’s example and wear whatever makes us feel like ourselves.
Kaitlin Thaker is a junior International Area Studies major at Drexel University. She can be contacted at [email protected]