Dressing on the gender spectrum: Students find growth through fashion and identity

“Especially as someone who’s struggled with dysphoria previously, I rarely feel it anymore,” said Ty Walthall, a junior at Berkeley High School.


“Especially as someone who’s struggled with (gender) dysphoria previously, I rarely feel it anymore,” said Ty Walthall, a junior at Berkeley High School. “Being able to dress in a way I feel comfortable has really affirmed my gender identity and made me a lot more comfortable with my body and who I am.” 

Walthall’s daily outfits, which feature vibrant clothes and makeup that accentuate their blue-streaked hair, are a vessel for them to show the relationship between gender identity and style.

The world of fashion is not perfect. Being thoroughly laced with harmful mass production and otherworldly price tags, ignoring fashion’s tidal wave of ethical and societal problems is pretty much impossible. Yet, despite its flaming red flags radiating the color of crimson toxic waste, many still love the creativity and expression it provides. It’s a way to show how people feel about themselves. For many BHS students, gender is crucial for identity and expression. 

BHS junior Simone Strader described how her relationship with fashion has been a consistent source of self expression as she has grown in recent years. “I think I’ve definitely evolved how I present myself and how I look throughout the years … It definitely is attached to finding and growing myself and how I look throughout the years… It definitely is attached to finding and growing into myself more.” 

For many, fashion is a handy and versatile tool for expressing gender identity. It can help to create a positive sense of security and minimize gender dysphoria. However, in addition to being a vessel for one’s own style, fashion can affect how students are perceived and treated by others. Are students treated differently on days they dress more femininely than the days they dress more masculinely? The answer is reflected in sexism, homophobia, and other forms of bigotry that remain present in society. For Pele Scher-Levin, a freshman at BHS, being judged by others based on their outfits is a frequent experience. 

“Clothes are a big stereotype, so being gay, I might be seen more gay if I dress more feminine and less gay if I dress more masculine,” he said. Scher-Levin added that when they dress on the masculine side, they feel more accepted or respected by men, both on and off campus.

Similarly to Scher-Levin, others noticed a difference in how they’re treated and seen while dressing in a more feminine style. Many expressed that infantilization and objectification are an undeniable occurrence in our BHS community, and both become more apparent while dressed in feminine attire.

Walthall explained that they focus less on masculinity and femininity and instead try to express their queerness. 

“I definitely get treated as a woman regardless of how I dress,” Walthall said. “Even if I dress very masculinely, people will still assume I’m a woman… I very much present a queer identity, which is what I’m going for… it’s an important part of how I present myself.”

For so many students across the gender spectrum, fashion lets them express who they are. How people interpret their appearance is another story, but at the end of the day, Scher-Levin will always, “dress with what will make me most comfortable in my identity.”