The art world has come a long way from being something controlled by affluent patrons; thanks to the internet artists are now able to reach out to audiences in ways never before possible, democratizing art, as it were, and putting the power directly into the hands of the audience and the creators. Despite this, the realm of fashion has largely remained unchanged and continues to be driven by commercial interests. Being ‘fashion forward’ is something every label aspires for, yet the majority of fashion reflects only a certain portion of our society. Clothes are geared towards a binary gender structure where your only options are “man” or “woman” styles; and under that, these ‘one-style-fits-all’ fashions are typically aimed at those with money. If you want something different in terms of your clothing, you either pay the premium or you learn how to sew. Garbage!
I was recently able to catch up with writer and creator Kat Haché where we sat down to chat about her take on androgyny, fashion, and society. Her perspective was enlightening, and I encourage you to read through our interview and go follow up with her work.
I recently came across the article Androgyny is Now in Fashion over at Quartz Magazine; the article centers around Gucci’s new menswear line and how its new creative director purposely decided to blur gender lines with not only the clothes, but the fashion presentation. Can you tell me what your initial reaction was to Gucci’s new line?
I want to preface this by saying I’m no fashion expert, nor do I want to give any such pretense, but I found their conceptualization of androgyny to be interesting. “Androgyny” as I tend to see it conceptualized, tends to skew masculine, with tight-fitting clothing hugging (but not too tightly!) svelte bodies. Black and muted colors more often dominate. What Gucci have done is to create a line that seems tied tenuously, at best, to any sort of gender presentation I have seen. It’s not a lack of identity, perhaps, but each model on the run way seems to be portraying a different one, which really makes a lot of sense – we all have our own individual points on the gender spectrum, and we all have our own unique gender identities. I think within a universe of binary language we try and find ways to communicate it with established labels that we feel most comfortable with, but in the end we are unique and complex.
Bouncing off the earlier question, do you think that this is the new (and inevitable) direction fashion is heading towards? Or is this more of a one-off thing where we are unlikely to see it becoming a trend?
I certainly don’t think it’s a one-off sort of thing. Androgyny has been around in fashion for quite a while even so far as I can recall, and I’m not really that tuned into the world of high fashion. Now, with more awareness of non-binary identities and forms of expression, I have to think that there is only going to be more of this. The more “mainstream” andro/dapper androgyny is very much “in” right now, as well.
I’m an avid fan of men’s fashion and while I know a considerable amount about not only men’s but women’s fashion, my knowledge is limited to that binary. Can you tell me about the current options in mainstream clothing for androgynous and non-gendered individuals? Is it hard to find clothing? Is that clothing expensive?
Well, as I’ve said, when people talk about “androgyny”, even though it’s a term that could be used to describe a wide range of possibilities, practically, it tends to skew toward what is a “masculine of center” presentation. I mean, that is more how I like to present a lot of the time, and I would describe it as “andro.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that being an option, but even though it’s what I’m comfortable with, I do agree that it tends to be the dominant option for “androgyny” right now. I can see how this would, in some ways keep people from feeling represented by “androgyny” and unable to find clothes that allow them to express who they are. And, yes, there are few outlets catering to even “mainstream” androgynous looks. For someone like me living in a place like East Tennessee, where the cost of living is low and I don’t make much money, I am unable to really buy anything from any of them. The overwhelming majority of clothes that I own are thrift store finds that I’ve managed to string together into decent outfits that people find fashionable.
Do you ever encounter problems with the public at large when the way you dress does not conform to their expectations? Is it met with positive reactions or does it paint you as a potential target for any type of harassment?
I don’t encounter too many problems, but I am perceived as being designated female at birth, which (unfortunately) I think gives me more latitude. It’s much more taboo, and a lowering in status, most of the time, for men to seek an androgynous appearance. That said, it’s not always easy for me. I was very nervous allowing myself to present androgynously at first, even though I feel comfortable doing so, because I’m transgender, non-op, and gender ambiguity often does make trans women a target. I think trans women are expected to be ultra-femme, but it’s not how I want to present myself. It sends messages that I don’t want to send – that I’m dainty, that I’m into men, both of which are very untrue – and I wish it wouldn’t send those messages, but it does. I had an experience the other night where, for the first time, a woman said it was “awkward” meeting me in the bathroom at my friend’s show, and I’m pretty sure it was discomfort at my androgynous appearance. The choice seems to be that I placate everyone and send inauthentic messages by being super femme, or actually control my appearance and make everyone potentially uncomfortable and put myself at risk by not having the bits to back up their assumptions. It sucks, but I have to choose authenticity because that’s who I am, even if they don’t get it.
Miuccia Prada said in a press release that now is the “perfect moment to analyze this subject more deeply to measure what the genders share, what they take from each other,” Regardless of whether you agree with her stance or not, do you have any thoughts on her statement?
Well, I think we all have our own unique expression or way we want to express ourselves, but I definitely think we find inspiration in the authenticity of others. The people you see reblogged on tumblr a lot are unique looking people with unique presentations, but there are also a lot of comments about people wanting to emulate some, or all of their look – across gender lines. People want to look and feel how they want, and of course there’s a lot we share as humans despite our gender.
Fashion is great at both reflect the attitudes of people within any given society, as well as providing an outlook on where not only fashion, but society is going. Do you think that by pushing boundaries, fashion labels can help change the hearts and minds of the more conservative sections within our national community?
To be quite honest, I don’t think conservative types really think much about fashion. I say that as a person in East Tennessee whose fashion sense makes them stick out like a sore thumb, haha. The world of fashion seems too queer and foreign for most of them to think about. As it percolates and becomes mainstream though, yes, I think they are going to have to confront some of their prejudices. I mean, some people might think a trans woman who dresses like I do is weird, but once they actually talk to me one on one, they will come away with the realization that I’m actually quite normal. So in that way, yes, I think it’ll change minds.
Lastly, do you have any thoughts on how you would like to improve fashion to be more inclusive of androgynous and non-gendered people? How do you think fashion labels can best keep up with our ever-changing gender landscape?
Like the rest of society, which is currently not very accommodating to anyone falling outside of our rigid, binary conception of gender, I think raising consciousness and listening to non-binary, trans, and other gender variant individuals is the way to go. Andreja Pejic, although she’s (as far as I know) binary-identified, did a lot, I think, to make waves and introduce a lot of people to the idea that gender is neither inflexible nor black-and-white. Non-binary people, trans people, and people who blur gender lines aren’t going anywhere, either, and now we have ways to talk about the frustrations we face, including finding clothes that fit our bodies and that we feel comfortable and authentic in. I think the more we make our voices heard, the more things will continue to change
More about Kat Hache’:
Kat (KT) Haché is an androgynous trans woman from East Tennessee. She writes about trans issues and feminism at The Daily Dot and Bustle, and has a column about life in transition at Enchantress Magazine. She tweets often at @papierhache.