It was late Sunday night when I set out to write a piece on rugged fashion–a style defined by the emphasis of masculinity. This piece had no sacred cows with jabs at hipsters, defamation at the state of Oregon, and a jibe at Courtney Love. It was work that I could stand by and work that I was proud of.
Shortly after, I realized that despite my piece’s greatness, it stumbled around two important topics: masculinity and gendered language in the fashion industry. These topics are neither worthy of mindless stumbling nor should they stand the trial of public opinion without adequate counsel.
So, I stand before you, the reader, or should I say “fashion juror”, saying that masculinity is not only a worthwhile aesthetic but also available for everyone.
For starters, let’s be clear that I do not feel that masculinity at large is under attack or is at risk of disappearing. What I will say, however, is that there is a vocal minority within the fashion community, and society as a whole, that believes that masculinity is something to be left behind–something from a bygone era that people should eschew. I disagree with this idea on the whole.
However, we must first answer one question: what is masculinity? If you want a simple answer, ask a different question. Masculinity and being masculine, at large, has different meanings to different meanings to different people. In regards to rugged style, masculinity takes a very conventional, traditional, meaning. A quick Google search for “rugged fashion” yields results of motorcycles, cigars, whiskey, beards, and a very sedate color palette. Short answer, how men have traditionally been portrayed throughout the last two odd centuries.
In previous articles and conversations, I have stated again and again that what matters most when considering your style is your comfort. A person’s sense of style should make them feel good about themselves, and for some people, that is dressing in a masculine way. There is nothing wrong with donning a leather jacket (faded), throwing on a pair of dark washed jeans (pin rolled), and lace up a pair of brown desert boots (please make sure they match your belt, for crying out loud!). Oh, while riding a motorcycle. Or smoking a cigar (preferably something medium blend!). Or drinking whiskey (something with flavor!) Or, do none of these things–whatever makes you feel like your most authentic self.
It is okay for a person to want to really lean into the masculine aesthetic, and it is okay to label it as such. Whether you identify as a man, woman, both, neither–it doesn’t matter–masculinity is not reserved to any one sex, and it is wrong to put down those who feel like they are being true to themselves when they label their style as they see fit.
Straight men should be proud of their masculine, rugged, style. Queer men should be proud of their masculine, rugged, style. Straight women should be proud of their masculine, rugged, style. Queer women should can be proud of their masculine, rugged, style. Non-binary people should be proud of their masculine, rugged, style. Has the point sunk in yet?
Titles that people use to help identify how they see themselves should not be used by others to bash them with. This includes femininity, as defined by how women have traditionally been portrayed throughout the last two odd centuries. If someone, regardless of their gender expression, wants to accentuate the feminine aspects of his or herself through fashion, who are we to tell them they are wrong for using gendered language? After all, they are just being their most authentic self.
Anyone can embrace femininity in the same way that anyone can embrace masculinity. Leaving these labels by the wayside runs the risk of diminishing the ways in which someone chooses to express themselves.
So drink whiskey in your rugged outfit. Sip tea in your sundress. Comb your beard in your chemise. Ride your motorcycle in heels.
Can you ride a motorcycle in heels? I wouldn’t know, I don’t ride motorcycles.
Benjamin Kahn is a staff writer for the UB Post. He writes a weekly column, KahnJunction.