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What A Year Of Scrunchies & Sweatpants Taught Me About Gender Expression

For many, pandemic reinvention manifested itself through tie-dye and sourdough. For me, it meant a deep dive into how my clothes related to my identity.

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We are bored, horny, and ready to re-launch our social lives. Welcome to Hot & Bothered, our guide to safely and stylishly getting out there (and getting off) this summer.
My post-COVID fashion transformation started with a moth. Not just any moth — this one was the size of a pinky, and flew out of my closet just as I had finally settled on yet another disappointing, but pandemic-friendly outfit: a basic black T-shirt, sweatpants, and a scrunchie for a messy top knot. I was just about ready to drag myself out to the living room for another day at work when I saw it. I shrieked and woke up my partner, who looked over at me and laughed. I explained, but they just rolled their eyes and went back to sleep.
For me though, that moth was the final straw. In the pre-COVID era, I always saw myself as a fat version of Moira Rose. But now, everything I thought I knew about fashion was in a particularly dire state, and with the summer months quickly approaching, I needed to figure something out, and fast. Because like the moth emerging from its cocoon and chewing into my clothes, the outside world was starting to beckon — and I no longer wanted to be seen like this. 

For many, self-reflection and reinvention throughout the pandemic manifested itself through sourdough bread starters and creating tie-dye shirts. For me, it meant a deep dive into how my clothes related to my own identity.

Clothes have always been my preferred form of self-expression. Throughout the years, as my body took various shapes and sizes, what I wore acted as a shield when I didn’t feel strong enough to protect myself from others. Later, they were a political statement when I realized I had a voice to stick up for myself. But like many individuals in the first months of the pandemic, I accepted my fate, surrendered my outfits, and joined the sweatpants army. As days turned to weeks, package after package rolled in from Girlfriend Collective and Universal Standard including matching sports bras, leggings, bike shorts, and bodysuits in neutral greens, navy blue, and black.
With the vaccine rollout underway (I have been officially inducted into the House of Pfizer) and with the summer months inching closer, my heart has started to fill with optimism so intense, it feels like I'm on the verge of a panic attack. In normal times, when people’s lives change, they might mark the occasion by buying new things to wear. But as the news shared reports of our American counterparts getting back to their “normal activities,” I started to think to myself: What exactly does normal mean, and for whom? 
For many marginalized individuals including myself, the pre-pandemic world wasn’t always safe. For me, going back to the way things were means worrying about some asshole on the street yelling at me that I'm fat and I shouldn’t be wearing a crop top, or constantly having to validate my queer identity (as if I needed a membership card or something) because I wore lipstick and presented too "femme" — yes, something a woman on a date once told me.
After this year, I just want to forge ahead with something new, but still entirely myself. For many individuals, self-reflection and reinvention throughout the pandemic manifested itself through sourdough bread starters and creating tie-dye shirts. For me, it meant a deep dive into how my clothes related to my identity. I was tired of being perceived by others, especially in social contexts. It was the perfect time to change that once and for all, to abandon the pressures of others and embrace who I felt I truly was. 
I’m not the only one to feel this way. "People are reevaluating what they want to wear, maybe for the first time ever since they were kids," Fashion Psychology Institute founder Dr. Dawnn Karen (aka the world's first fashion psychologist) recently told Fashionista. According to Elemental, more individuals are critiquing gender norms than ever. After a year spent at home, away from prying eyes, I started to realize that some of the discomforts I kept feeling were a form of presentational dysphoria, as outlined in the Gender Dysphoria Bible. For me, this dysphoria stemmed from the way my style gendered me and somehow made me easier to be categorized, one way or another.
Moving forward, more than anything, I want to break free from the shackles of gendered presentation without any preconceived notions or fear of what others might think. Rather, I just want to embrace my inner weirdo, or the way I’ve been thinking about it lately: the person I always wanted to be growing up. Something that has become healing for me is to pause in the middle of the day and try to listen for my inner child’s voice, telling me what they want to see me in.
Right now, they crave loud prints, bold colours, and big flowing fabrics with lots of movement — things that make me feel positive and in control. This inner child is fearless, with no fucks given. They have provided me with the reins to open the door, even just a crack, to who I want to be and redefining what exactly fashion means to me through a brand new lens of gender fluidity.
“The more that I sat with it, the more I was just like, I just hate gender, and I started to name that with people in my life,” Margeaux Feldman, a community builder and educator based out of Calgary, tells me over the phone. Throughout the course of the pandemic, they started playing around with their clothing and beauty choices through their non-binary identity. They purchased more lingerie and sent thirst trap selfies in their friend group chat, they got long acrylic nails, and tattoos on their hands and neck. Basically, they just embraced the '90s teen witch they always wanted to, but never dared to be.
“I like how I can sort of present as this tough person with all of these tattoos but the reality is, I'm five foot one. I always have a massive smile on my face and am very gestural, like I want to be your friend. I love being out in the world and having strangers compliment me on what I’m wearing because it’s just this beautiful moment of stranger intimacy.” Those brief fleeting moments, where just for a second you feel seen based on clothes, makeup, and identity — those markers can reshape how we relate to others.

As we begin to re-enter society, I understand now more than ever, the power of self-expression through our clothes.

Of course, many of us haven’t actually been seen by others in quite some time. But soon, our lives are about to start changing again — profoundly, and outwardly. So, why not reevaluate what you need? Maybe sweatpants and T-shirts aren’t the vibes anymore. The last 14 months have been tragic, and hard — but they’ve also forced us to get back to basics, and find a way (albeit somewhat cruelly) to reconnect with ourselves.
After years of wanting to try it out, I finally experimented with drag makeup, and have started to take bigger chances in my fashion. Recently, I bought this Biddell playsuit in yellow pansy flowers to live my best flying squirrel fantasy, and even joined in on the Crocs craze and bought some in tie-dyed lavender. As we begin to re-enter society, I understand now, more than ever, the power of self-expression through our clothes. Regardless of where we end up on our journey, we deserve to be honoured in our self-expression, our unfiltered stories, our personal identities, and in our fashion choices. Because at the end of the day, they are our own, they are personal, and they can have such a huge effect on one's overall joy.
This summer when I am walking down the street, I want you to see me in my bright yellow Nooworks jumpsuit (fun fact: yellow represents those whose gender exists outside of the gender binary) and I want you to perceive me. This is my new normal.

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