Clothes, gender and minimalism
Wed, 12 Jan 2022 05:40:01 +0000
My relationship with clothes is an interesting one.
As a kid, I refused to wear skirts, dresses and anything pink from the moment I had the ability to talk. I only shopped in the boys’ section all the way to middle school, my signature fit being baggy jeans and oversized t-shirts.
At 13, for a brief period of time I ditched everything that was several sizes too big for me, and forced my mum to buy me a crop top, a sweater that actually fit me, and the tightest jeans I could possibly squeeze in.
In high school I didn’t have many clothes. I can still remember and count each piece: four baggy sweaters, a rainbow top, my mum’s blue knit that I wore all the time, a few oversized t-shirts, and two pairs of extremely tight, low rise flare jeans (RIP 2000 fashion).
When I had anorexia, clothes were a source of stress and anxiety. I remember one particular t-shirt that I wore all the time because I was convinced it made my arms look skinny. Oh, and also the fact that all of a sudden I could fit in some pants that I used to wear when I was 12.
At university in London, I started experimenting with clothes. I mostly wore basketball shorts and my team’s hoodie, but I used to buy heaps of more feminine clothes that I never dared to wear past the lonely comfort of my own room.
Working in London, having to stick to an office dress code and for the first time ever desperately wanting to look put together, I tried to replicate my colleagues’ outfits; I shopped all the time, bought fast fashion without knowing any better, and mostly got confused and frustrated trying to find my style. For years I dressed my fantasy self way more than my real self, accumulating blazers, dresses and accessories that made me feel uncomfortable and ended up gathering dust at the back of my wardrobe.
When I moved to New Zealand, I filled up boxes and boxes with clothes I had hardly ever worn. Yet, I shipped almost as many boxes of clothes to the opposite side of the world, the thought that I could part with them simply inconceivable.
In New Zealand, I learned about second-hand shopping and sustainable brands. For the first time ever, I started looking at my wardrobe with a critical eye. This is also when I first came in contact with the concept of minimalism. Soon enough, I was hooked, and started decluttering like my life depended on it. I got to the point where I owned as little as I had ever owned. Yet, when I moved into Shid, I still had heaps of clothes I managed to get rid of.
When I was homeless for five months, I only had two outfits with me. I found it extremely limiting, especially because both of them were very masculine and kind of boring (black jeans, plain sweaters). That was the first time I admitted to myself that clothes are actually important to me, as the most obvious and easier channel of gender expression. During those homeless months, I craved femininity like never before. I missed skirts and makeup and bare legs, and when a friend gave me a hand-me-down dress I was so happy I wore it for days on end.
In the past few months back in Shid, I have come to terms with the value I put on clothes, and in spite of still being confined by limited space, I have acquired a few new pieces. I went through all my clothes today, and assessed the situation.
First of all, I realised that 100% of the clothes I own are either second hand or from sustainable brands, which I am very proud of.
I also noticed that I either own very androgynous clothes from the men’s section, or flowy, flowery dresses - nothing in between.
I have a few pieces that might be a bit bold for me (I’m talking mesh, glitter, leopard prints), but that I’m keeping because I think I look great in them, and I want to become more confident at wearing flashy pieces on regular days when I’m not doing anything fancy, because why not?
I also still have a lot of baggy t-shirts because I will forever love them, and in spite of all the sexy, more fitting pieces I own, the truth is that I feel like myself the most in oversized clothes.
All throughout my life, clothes have been linked to my body and gender expression in ways that I only recently came to recognise.
As a kid, I didn’t want to be a little girl, and clothes where the most obvious way for me to pretend I was a boy.
During puberty, I hid my newly-grown curves under oversized jeans and baggy sweaters.
In my 20s, as I confusedly stumbled around in search of my own style, clothes were an experiment, a means for me to find the most comfortable way to express myself.
Today, as I become more and more comfortable with my gender identity, clothes are my favourite way to play around with it, to seek gender euphoria, to be more masculine one day and more feminine the next. I have come to accept that I can’t be a minimalist when it comes to clothes, because they are essential to my gender expression, and ultimately to my happiness.
I have a piece called How to deal with a body coming out soon on The Agenda Zine, where I talk about how the relationship with my body changed throughout the years, what it was like to explore gender identity and expression as a young person, and the role that clothes have played in all of that. It comes out in February, stay tuned!