I recently chaired a Model United Nations committee for my university's annual high school conference. For those unfamiliar with Model UN, think about it as your school's nerdy debate team combined with the politically obsessed and you've pictured a "MUN" delegation.
For the last day, I asked the conference's secretary general if I could wear lipstick. She sighed in quick defeat and uttered "sure."
I didn't have the guts to go through with it. Perhaps I felt more confident in asking that question, considering that the secretary general was a peer, and less comfortable carrying out the ploy in a committee room of young students — who were expected to respect me as an authority figure — and their helicopter parents.
But would it be so radical to think that such a question wouldn't be inappropriate in any other formal setting?
Why is what we throw on our backs still the source of such rigidity and contention?
Like many of our unnecessary — and sometimes downright damaging — human traditions, textile trepidation has its roots in early human development. The more clear and divisive we are in separating ourselves, the more transparent our objectives become, and the better our chance of survival and reproduction.
However, it's 2014.
Actress Laverne Cox is making waves for the revelatory and shocking truth that you are not actually required to feel or look a certain way simply because it is expected. The Supreme Court is striking down bans on same-sex marriage left and right across the country, proving to all of us that freedom and love prevail over gender paradigms and ancient arbitrary rules.
It seems silly, in light of such strong social and legal developments, that clothing remains the last frontier in human integration.
What stops one, as a male, from wearing a skirt or high heels, or what stops one, as a female, from wearing a box-cut T-shirt and cargo shorts, is indicative of a senseless Stockholm syndrome that we have developed from a creative imprisonment of global proportions.
To put this into better perspective, let's think about the actual function of clothes. Protection from extreme temperatures and lacerations jumps out at us. So does style and personal choice, and there's nothing wrong with that.
Yet a strong undercurrent of gender-role adherence, in terms of hyper masculinity and femininity, continues to plague our most basic daily routine. Stores and websites remain separated first and foremost by gender, taking into zero consideration colors, patters, individual tastes or functionality — qualities that better define our personalities and tastes.
Remove "male" and "female" from catalogs and banners.
Don't stop selling clothes that look different; simply allow people make their own choices and see where it takes them. I'm willing to bet that walking down the street will suddenly become a hell of a lot more fun and interesting.
For corporations worried about revenue losses stemming from the lack of variety in integration — the variety that forces us to buy or push different clothes in larger quantities — consider the look of glee and relief in your customer's faces when they're no longer plagued with stiff labels that cage them upon entry. This could be the push the fashion industry needs to end the sluggish sales figures of the past few years.
Or just consider the positive PR. Never underestimate good PR.