The Curse of the Floral Button-Up: Why Does Androgyny Mean Dressing Like A Man?

by | Jun 4, 2024 | FASHION, QUEER RVA

Why are “androgynous” clothing brands…. Like that? I think most people in the genderqueer community (like me) have fallen victim to the floral button-up with a mid-rise straight-leg pants combination at least once – and that doesn’t surprise me. That is a staple outfit of genderqueer clothing brand advertising. If you look at the homepage of many queer fashion brands, you will notice that they are dominated by people in suit jackets, pants, or elongated button-up shirts sold as dresses. You may also notice an absence of short skirts, skimpy tank tops, or bodycon dresses. With the acknowledgment that perhaps they have tried those styles and they did not sell well, I think that it begs the question: why does androgyny mean dressing like a man? 

“Androgynous” as a word means that someone or something has both masculine and feminine characteristics, so it should be distinguished from the definitions of gender non-conforming or genderqueer modes of dress, although sometimes gender non-conforming or genderqueer clothing is androgynous clothing as well. 

Historically in Western culture, “dressing like a man” had extremely different expressions through clothing. Both men and women would wear heeled shoes, ruffles, and pastel colors, things that, from the Regency Period in the 1730s onward, are interpreted as inherently feminine. Today, suits and button-up shirts are seen as “men’s” clothing, despite the push from women in two-piece suits in boardrooms and generic “girlboss” attire becoming more popular. Even so, wearing a suit as a woman or a feminine-presenting person is still seen in modern culture as a woman wearing men’s clothing. Interestingly, some historically masculine pieces have broken free of the binary. Take pants for example – one hundred years ago, it was quite subversive to wear pants as a woman. Today though, they are not seen as gendered pieces of clothing. However, button-up shirts, large jeans, or suit jackets, have not made this jump.

At stores worldwide, there is an attempt to break free of the binary of clothing, approaching it in a way that actually reinforces modern gender roles in dress. Take “boyfriend jeans” or “boyfriend button-ups” for example. Yes, they are presenting women with clothing that is in a men’s cut, which on its face is aiding in mainstream androgynous dress, yet they are all labeled as “boyfriend” jeans or “boyfriend” shirts. The implication is that they are cut this way not because these brands want to provide women and AFAB people with expanded clothing options that are actually meant for women and AFAB people, but instead to reinforce the idea that: the only way to get masculine clothing is by proxy to a man – or your imaginary boyfriend. This is an extremely regressive way of branding clothing in my opinion. It reinforces the thought that to have baggy jeans, non-fitted button-ups, or anything oversized, is to be wearing your boyfriend’s clothing, not something that the manufacturer actually meant for women. 

The “boyfriend” jeans and other attire are more commonly found at large clothing stores, like ones you could find in any mall in America. One might think that androgynous and genderqueer clothing companies would avoid perpetuating harmful stereotypes, however, more niche clothing brands, many of which are self-proclaimed androgynous or gender-inclusive clothing stores, also reinforce them. Granted, they do so in a less overt way, however, the reinforcement is still there. Because androgynous as a word and in clothing is meant to elicit both masculinity and femininity, I can’t help but wonder where the femininity lies within these traditionally masculine clothing pieces featured on these clothing websites.

Take, for example, a large button-up shirt. The shirt is cut for men’s bodies and shaped like traditional menswear. Sometimes, if it is not a solid color, it will feature flowers or tropical prints….I struggle to see the androgyny here – there are two options. First is that it is not actually androgynous outside of the AFAB model, or, secondly, that the floral print is the “femininity”, which I believe to also be a bit regressive as it reinforces stereotypes around women and flowers. Both of these options are not great if you are championing yourself as inclusive for all bodies, because the first is saying that it actually isn’t for all bodies, and the second is that to be a feminine man or feminine AMAB person, you need flowers on your clothes. The same goes for shoes. Most of the genderqueer clothing companies that I have seen rarely if not never, have heels. Instead, they only sell loafers, mules, or otherwise masculine shoes. If they do have heels, they are typically sized for women and don’t carry the larger sizes needed by some AMAB people. 

 That is the main issue. Aside from a femme presenting or AFAB model, many of the outfits pressed by genderqueer fashion companies have no aspect of femininity – if these outfits were to be worn by a male model, they would not be gender-non-conforming. AFAB androgynous people have ample clothing stores to go to, as most genderqueer-marketed clothing brands feature masculine clothing on AFAB models, which, by the nature of a woman or AFAB person wearing the clothes, is androgynous because the model is the feminine portion of the outfit. Still, if you were an androgynous AMAB person, or a man looking to expand his fashion taste, you are out of luck. This is not only annoying, it is also harmful to people. When AMAB people can only source things like dresses, skirts, or heels from women’s clothing stores and sections, not only does it make them feel left out by these genderqueer companies, but sometimes, if they are shopping in person, can actually make them a target for homophobic and transphobic comments or violence. This shows the need for online clothing stores that are queer-friendly to actually sell everything that queer people wear, not just masculine clothing for AFAB people. 

In short, there isn’t much to do about it, but I think that raising awareness for this issue is important. I am reluctant to use photographs from these stores, but if you search for genderqueer clothing, you will easily find examples of many of the things I mentioned. It is unfair to have only masculine clothing presented for genderqueer, androgynous, or gender non-conforming people, and actually reinforces stereotypes about what it means to dress like a man or woman. I understand large companies using “boyfriend jeans” to profit off of men’s clothing for women, however, I think that it is inexcusable for self-identified gender-inclusive or androgynous brands to only market menswear, even if the menswear has flowers or feminine coloration. AMAB people deserve to have the freedom and safety to buy traditional women’s dress from these types of stores, and not just AFAB genderqueer people looking for masculine clothing.

Illustration by Mauricio Vargas

Lucien Wampler

Lucien Wampler

Hello! Growing up in Richmond, I have always felt deeply connected to the city and its people. I went away for a while to attend school in Blacksburg VA, and despite my lack of homesickness at the time, it truly does feel good to be home. I have a specific interest in both history and the arts, sometimes intertwined, as I am a very sentimental person but also a lover of most artistic ventures. I spend my free days making music, collaging, and writing - or whatever other project I have somehow gotten myself into. Pronouns: they/them

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