Tilda Swinton, wearer of suits / Nicolas Genin / Wikimedia Commons
Allow me to tell you about my quintessentially kiwi adolescence. From the ages of 12 through 17, I attended a West Auckland Catholic girls’ school. Nightmare stuff I know, but though plenty of it was hellish – it’s always hellish being a teenager – I wouldn’t change my schooling for the world. I loved going to an all-girls’ school. I can picture us now: talking over each other, taking on leadership roles, never once deferring to the male egos in the room. At lunchtime, not caring if our underwear showed or thighs looked dimply, my friends and I would sit knee to knee in a circle on the grass. We’d scream and laugh and cry (oh, adolescence) and as long as we were wearing our seven mandatory layers of eyeliner, we didn’t give much of a shit how we looked. Seems kinda blissful, looking back.
My time at said school has given me a few truths to hold on to. I happen to know for sure that girls are the funniest people on the planet. Just look at how much we crack each other up. I also know teenage girls to be some of the meanest people on the planet. On top of that, they’re kind, generous, tender, and surprising. Hang out with a few, you’ll see how all those things can co-exist.
Aside from being a girls’ school alum, I’m also a queer person, and if there’s one truth I hold above all others it’s this: queer people find each other. I don’t know if we emit vibrations through the earth or release a high-pitched siren that only others like us can hear, but, somehow, I ended up with a number of queer friends in high school. Of course, we didn’t necessarily know that about ourselves at that stage. All we knew was we were different.
Some of my friends were different in quite obvious ways. They dressed and presented more ‘butch’ than the rest of us. They shoved Lynx under their arms after PE, while the rest of us fumigated the place with Tokyo Blossom Cool Charm. They wore Tasmanian Devil boxers. And yes, when we went to the mall, they bought clothing from Hallensteins.
And here’s the thing: no one gave a fuck.
It’s not as if the school I attended was some liberal utopia. Trust me, I wish it were. But girls buying clothing from ‘boy shops’ was never, not once, a thing people cared about. And if it’s a non-issue for those nasty (wonderful, hilarious) high school girls it boggles the mind that it’s an issue for grown-ass adults.
So, to those people struggling with the fact Hallensteins has a woman fronting their latest campaign, I have a few things to say.
First of all, there are much bigger controversies deserving of your attention. Whinging about this is, in my view, frankly pathetic.
Secondly, maybe you should start taking your cues from teenage girls. This is applicable in so many situations. Long maligned as vapid, teenage girls are the unsung thought leaders of our country. Look to them. Often. Lorde was 16 when she made Pure Herione. Lydia Ko was 17 when she became a number 1 ranked professional golfer. They’re clever, our girls.
And thirdly, I want to address the multiple comments asking how we’d feel if a man fronted a Glassons campaign. Because my answer, genuinely, is that I’d feel fantastic. But I think there’s a reason it’s happened at Hallensteins and not Glassons. It’s the same reason it’s fairly acceptable to present as a butch teenage girl, but not as a femme teenage boy. Allow me to quote Madonna (by way of Ian McEwan): “Girls can wear jeans and cut their hair short, wear shirts and boots. 'Cause it's okay to be a boy. But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading. 'Cause you think that being a girl is degrading.”
That says it all, really.
We are making progress. Billy Porter turned heads at the just-gone Oscars with this ensemble. Ezra Miller is friggin to-die-for in these looks. And Jaden Smith is iconic in Louis Vuitton ‘womenswear’. Any traditionally women’s clothing shop would do well to replicate these sorts of images. If it makes one (potentially queer) boy feel he belongs, it’s worth it. Plus, it looks awesome.
Clothing is meant for people, not genders. Its main purpose is to cover our bits and keep us warm. Its secondary purpose is to express our identities. And our identities don’t belong in rigid boxes. All a brand stands to lose by being inclusive is the business of a bunch of bigots. Who wants them wearing their designs anyway?Support Villainesse