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Gender doesn’t dictate fashion: non-binary style at Miami and in the world

Non-binary freshman psychology and computer science double-major Chrysanthemum “Chrys” Riley doesn’t let others’ opinions of their outfits hold them back.
Non-binary freshman psychology and computer science double-major Chrysanthemum “Chrys” Riley doesn’t let others’ opinions of their outfits hold them back.

Let’s make one thing clear: what’s in your pants doesn’t determine if you can wear them.

It has never been this way, so before anyone starts saying that pants are a “guy thing” and skirts are a “girl thing,” let me direct them to the bevy of historical examples that state that clothes are clothes and one’s genitals shouldn’t dictate the shape of fabric that covers them. 

From Roman togas to Scottish kilts, men have been wearing dresses and skirts for basically all of history. The trend is certainly booming today, especially on the red carpet, where big-name celebrities such as Lil Nas X, Taika Waititi, Jared Leto, Pete Davidson, Brad Pitt and, my personal favorite, Billy Porter — just to name a few — have proudly sported non-pant fits for the ages. 

(Side note, if you haven’t seen Billy Porter’s iconic tuxedo dress from the 2019 Oscars, you need to. It is easily my favorite celebrity fashion piece from any award show ever, and as if the gown wasn’t enough, Porter was also carried by six shirtless men into the Oscars on a litter. Iconic. But I digress.)

Women in pants is also not just a modern concept. In ancient times, Amazon warrior women wore pants (and did a whole lot of other things that modern women do today, much to the chagrin of ancient and modern men alike). Fashion activist and suffragette Amelia Bloomer popularized the idea of American women wearing pants in the 1800s — through style journalism, actually! 

And, of course, the idea of women wearing pants is viewed in most parts of the U.S. as completely natural today, whether in the workforce or on the red carpet.

 The first pantsuit for women was introduced in Yves Saint Laurent’s 1967 collection, and fashion icons such as Grace Jones and Hillary Clinton aided to popularize it to women all across the USA. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to see A-list women such as Blake Lively, Leslie Jones, Miley Cyrus and Zendaya rocking pants at award ceremonies or premieres.

But what about people who identify as neither a man nor a woman? 

Non-binary people have existed for centuries, if not longer. The earliest documented person thought to be nonbinary or genderfluid was Thomas(ine) Hall, an intersex person living in 1600s colonial Virginia who was said to identify neither as a man nor a woman. A non-binary preacher from the 1700s, known as the Public Universal Friend, is another example of genderlessness in history. The Public Universal Friend was said to have worn “a combination of male and female clothing, including vests, neckties, and skirts” (according to — and had a mullet.

Today, of course, identifying as non-binary is much more publicly widespread. With so much historical (and present-day) strictness towards gendered clothing, however, how does a non-binary person dress to fit their identity? 

When an AFAB non-binary celebrity such as Janelle Monáe, Demi Lovato, Amandla Stenberg or Bella Ramsey wears a suit on a red carpet, multiple news outlets will praise it as “breaking gender stereotypes” or being a “powerful woman.” 

Hell, when Janelle Monáe came out as non-binary in 2022 and stated that they use both they/them and she/her pronouns, multiple news outlets — such as Rolling Stone and the Los Angeles Times — reported on the development. Except, with the one exception of a lone “their” in the LAT headline, Monáe is almost exclusively referred to with she/her pronouns.

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In an article about them coming out as non-binary.

It is my opinion that, when someone tells you they use a pronoun other than their birth pronouns, you should try to at least use it some of the time. But I digress — my frustration with improper use of pronouns is an article for another time and another section of The Student. Right now, let’s get back to fashion.

Using fun fashion to express a gender other than male or female isn’t just a thing for red carpets and A-listers — in fact, there are non-binary people right here on Miami’s Oxford campus who use fashion to express themselves. 

Non-binary first-year psychology and computer science double-major Chrysanthemum “Chrys” Riley is one such Miami student. Rolling up to an interview in all black, with statement pieces such as earrings made from muskrat jawbones and brightly colored bluish-purple sunglasses, Chrys doesn’t let others’ opinions of their outfits hold them back.

“There was one time where I was just feeling more feminine and just wore a set that my mom got me that was this nice sports bra top and yoga pants. I got called a whore by another student when I was just walking into my dorm,” Chrys said. 

They also said that what they wear depends on the day — and depends on what they feel like dressing as, whether that be more masculine, more feminine or something completely different. 

“I like hopping around from aesthetic to aesthetic. One day, I want to look as masculine as possible. The next day, I’m like, ‘No, I’m feeling more feminine,’” they said of their own style. “I try to make [a piece of clothing] more distinctly queer when I wear it. I like putting in earrings, doing eyeliner, contacts… I gotta put on sunglasses because, you know, sunglasses look dope.” 

Many non-binary people enjoy using style to display their own personal interpretations of gender, which could be masculine, feminine, both, neither or anywhere in between. Gender, and fashionable interpretations, are a spectrum rather than a binary. 

“I think that clothes are just genderless, but at the same time, I think it’s very possible to look feminine in a masculine way,” Chrys said. “Every single time I say that to a cis person, they’re like, ‘What the fuck are you talking about?’” 

As for what Chrys wants to say to non-binary students trying to find their style, they have one phrase as much of a statement as their muskrat jawbone earrings: “Just fucking go for it.”

Wear what you want. Wear what you choose. Experiment and try new things and find fun styles. 

Clothes don’t determine your gender and your gender shouldn’t determine your clothes.