Research Proposal for ENG 201
Why Can’t Men Wear Dresses?
The purpose of this research is to gain insight into the world of modern men and masculine-presenting people who are breaking traditional gender codes by wearing ‘womens’ fashion in Western Societies, especially in America. Today, men/masc people are treated as freaks if they wear what has been branded and advertised only for women. But men have been wearing dresses throughout civilization back to our most ancient ancestors. In the 19th-century, trousers came into fashion for men and have stayed popular ever since. At the same time, however, women were told they couldn’t wear pants to the point of it being outlawed. It wasn’t until the mid 20th century that it became acceptable for women to wear pants for reasons other than work or some attempt at high fashion.
Items such as clothing and accessories are not inherently gendered, neither are colors such as pink or blue. This means our societies determine what is permissible for a specific gender to wear or even act. By beginning to associate specific fashion items with a particular gender, we begin to view something as acceptable to wear, but only if you’re perceived as the correct gender. So why do we have to have this fight again? When will all clothes, colors, and accessories become universally acceptable so anyone can wear pants or a skirt and not get a second glance?
I became interested in this topic through my work as a sex worker and professional Dominatrix. The desire to dress up in women’s clothing is usually sexually driven for most clients I encounter. oHowever, some wish to wear skirts, dresses, and women’s undergarments in their day-to-day lives as well, but can’t because of the stigma associated with being a man but wanting to dress up. Another reason why I am interested in this topic because I am non-binary, and my gender expression has changed in some ways after discovering myself. As a young adult, I was hyperfeminine and wore only dresses and skirts. After coming out as non-binary, I started wearing jeans and shorts again. I save dresses for special occasions, as so many others do. I always used to wear makeup if I was going to go out of my house. These days I only put on makeup for work or an event, and it almost feels a little like putting on drag (which I still very much enjoy).
This topic is important to study because up until the 1960s and 1970s in America, most women’s fashion was fixated on skirts and dresses. The Women’s Rights Movement cemented the acceptance of women wearing pants. These days it is more common to find women wearing pants than dresses and skirts. Women wearing pants has very clearly not impacted their ability to be contributing members of society, so why would men wearing skirts be any different? It seems silly and a waste of time to have the reverse argument: Can men/masc people wear skirts and makeup? Wearing skirts and dresses is now usually considered dressing up.
Why are we now going through the same pushback against men wanting to dress up in skirts and dresses? If you think about society and social media – pretty people and things are worshiped, why wouldn’t people across the gender spectrum strive to be seen as beautiful? There is more focus on beauty in our media than ruggedness, for example. How do things that are stigmatized become that way? Some people hate change for the sake of just hating something. This hate is often attributed to fear of what will happen if the change is allowed. There will have to be a change in how people frequently associate softness with something feminine.
For my research, I would do a qualitative study and use interviews to collect data. There would be three categories of men/masc people that I would seek out for this study: dresses within gender norms publically, dresses outside of gender norms publically, and dresses outside of gender norms privately. The two qualifications to participate would be that they identify as a man or masculine and are over the age of 18. Seeking different perspectives will allow me to categorize their experiences and see where there is overlap and difference in their lives. For example, as previously mentioned, men who dress in skirts are usually regarded as a freak in America. By giving a voice to them, people will have the opportunity to see that maybe the man in the dress isn’t as much of a freak as people think, not that there is anything wrong with being a freak as long as no one is being harmed. For example, in my opinion, outside of work dress codes where certain items such as pants are required for safety and personal protection, people should be allowed to wear what they want.
Through my research, I hope to discover if there is a significant reason for the resistance of men and masculine people to go back to wearing dresses and skirts. I hope that I will contribute to this topic by causing people to think about how we gender items unnecessarily. More people will think about this issue and talk to their friends about it by drawing attention to it through my research. Gender expression is a hot topic right now, and there are endless opinions on what is right and what is wrong. I feel as though we are in a gender renaissance. As a result, that is causing more people to think about what their gender means to them and how they want to express it. Conversations around the topics of gender expression and gender roles will continue to happen with more frequency. As a result, we will see more people dressing and expressing themselves how they genuinely want to be seen, which is a thing of beauty.