My gel platform sandals sit in my wardrobe collecting dust. Purchased on a holiday in Japan, I know they are fucking cool. The coolest thing I have in my wardrobe. Yet, they’ve been worn three, maybe four times. Uncomfortable? No. Difficult to walk in? No. Different? Yes. Unique? Yes. QUEER?! YES! Every part of me that’s afraid to be my queer self comes flooding in and I throw them into the depths of my wardrobe.
I’ll admit that I’m scared to wear them out. But @cute_straight_boy on Tiktok would throw them on for a few thousand likes. Surely, if I scroll on my fyp on Tiktok, it’s not long till I see my gel platform sandals on any countless number of cis-gender heterosexual (cishet) boys. Or maybe I’m mistaken and it’s not the sandals. Maybe it’s black nail polish? Colourful earrings? Maybe if they want a million likes, they’ll even chuck on a skirt!
Through the rise of social media, particularly Tiktok, men’s fashion is evolving to defy traditional gender norms. Many young cishet creators are adopting fashion outside of traditionally ‘masculine’ attire. Tiktoks of these creators wearing nail polish, sweater vests, corduroy pants, leather boots and skirts are all raking up millions of views. For many, this is cause for celebration, to throw your hands up and say, “Yay! Finally, men can wear what they want! Goodbye to chinos and polo shirts being considered the most fashionable statement a man can make.” Those people wouldn’t be wrong. An openness and acceptance of all forms of fashion for men in a society of binaries should be the norm. However, I fear that we are neglecting an important aspect—queer fashion and its history.
The LGBTQIA+ community, for a long time now, has found a way to express their individual identity through fashion. Recent trends in men’s fashion have largely ignored its pioneers; queer men who were discriminated against for their refusal to conform to masculinity. Wearing nail polish, make-up, skirts or androgynous styles of clothing has always been a powerful statement to express our queerness. A statement that has put us in danger.
That’s why it’s so disappointing that the adoption of these queer forms of fashion often seem to be for shock factor. The place for genuine adoption of queer fashion definitely exists, but it’s not what’s gaining attention. I’m not the first person to voice my disappointment in how these fashion ‘trends’ are being used. Some reaction videos to these trends (or the ridiculous amount of queer-baiting on Tiktok—see my 1000000 page article on that nightmare) have been posted online to a sad but expected response. “It’s not that deep.” Thousands of times over written in the comment section about how queer people are making a big fuss about nothing at all.
So then, how does it really impact queer men and their fashion identity? I spoke to a couple fellow young queer men to get their take on things. Neil started off by saying how amazing he thinks it is that people are experimenting with gender norms through fashion. “For young queers, I can only guess it feels quite liberating… exploring their style… without the pressure of normative society expecting us to wear [certain] clothing.” David also shared his positive feelings. “I think seeing people on social media experiment with fashion encourages others to do the same… [It] makes me feel more confident in engaging with queer fashion.”
David goes on to talk about seeing fashion niches flourish online that help him experiment with his clothing. This is important to remember. Yes, there are many positives to the adoption of queer styles in mainstream fashion. I feel that too.
However, Neil also shared my feelings on the negative implications these fashion trends have when it comes to creators trying to get social media attention. “Our lives are being seen as a passing trend, where in reality, we’re constantly battling anxiety and confusion to figure out who we are and how we want to present ourselves…”
These trends ignore the very real history that many people have had to endure.
Personally, I can’t help but feel frustrated. Seeing young cishet men who are proud of themselves, experimenting with queer fashion styles in order to gain popularity and profit is a slap in the face of every queer kid who has struggled for years to wear something as simple as nail polish. I have always struggled with my fashion. I stop myself from buying a shirt because it might make me look “too feminine” or maybe I need to pick shoes that are “more masculine.” Like many queer people, I have struggled greatly in confidence when wearing fashion that better reflects my queerness. So, watching Tiktoks of people who find it all so fun and a bit of laugh can be super fucking difficult.
I don’t want to say that cishet guys should not experiment with fashion. They should. Please do! But there always has to be an awareness of what you are wearing and what the history of fashion is. Even as we create greater openness, break down gender barriers and allow for people to rightfully wear whatever they want, we still need to acknowledge the past.
If I feel safe wearing my gel platform sandals out to lunch, that’s only because so many queer people before me didn’t. Countless queer people struggled and fought hard for all of us to be able to express ourselves through our clothes as we choose. People died for it. So don’t tell me it’s “not that deep.”
Maybe one day, I’ll wipe the dust off my gel platform sandals. I’ll walk out of the house and be proud, expressing a small part of my true queer self. I’ll breathe and smile.
Or a Tiktoker will steal them and go viral.