For Austin VanderWheele, clothes are genderless

Lexi Gavlas, Creative Editor

Senior Austin Vanderweele turned many heads in his direction when he showed up to school for the first time in a skirt. Vanderweele, having always had the reputation of “Best Dressed,” decided to change things up from his usual style which tended to lean more towards the masculine side of fashion.  He would be seen in the halls on any given Tuesday in a dapper suit, a 90’s inspired ensemble, or even a boho casual outfit. However, this year, Vanderweele decided to stir things up.

Austin Vanderwheele takes a selfie wearing a skirt. To Vanderwheele, clothing is genderless.

“I’ve always questioned masculine and feminine fashion. I would say around freshman year I completely tried to express myself more masculine wise and I just kind of found my niche.  I mean I enjoy suits – it’s just fun to dress up and look nice in general. But I think this year I’ve read a bunch of articles and looked at what’s going on in fashion in more gender neutral clothing.  I just was like you know what? Screw it. I have one year, why not just have fun and actually try to be who I feel like I am on the inside,” says Vanderweele.

Fashion has always been a big part of who Vanderweele is: “ I enjoy fashion just as art in general and clothes are a way that we’re able to express ourselves and I find comfort in wearing things that I am comfortable in,” he says.  This year he’s just decided to change it up.

In addition to this big fashion leap, Vanderweele owns a shirt that reads: “Clothes are Genderless.”  He explains that the idea of gender being attached to clothing is somewhat ridiculous. “Going back to the very original clothing pieces, the first piece of clothing was a loincloth, the second was essentially a skirt. They wore tunics, gender neutral tunics in Roman times. I mean if you look at clothes they’re literally cloth stitched together in different forms. This skirt I’m wearing, it’s literally a piece of cloth.  It’s a piece of clothing, a piece of cloth. And the fact that we put gender on a piece of cloth is kind of ridiculous in my mind,” explains Vanderweele.

Vanderweele further illustrates that his sense of fashion does not stem from his sexuality. “For me, I don’t think it plays into what I wear.  Obviously sexuality is separate from gender no matter what. But for me, I think people don’t think of it to be that weird because I am pansexual and everything.  However, it’s kind of a hard line because for the longest time people are always like, “Oh if you’re gay you’re feminine no matter what and you wear dresses,” but that’s not the case. And I don’t think sexuality should play into what you wear.  I think all men no matter if you’re straight, bisexual, asexual, should be able to wear what makes them feel comfortable and if that’s cargo shorts then so be it. And if it’s a dress, there you go,” says Vanderweele.

With this alteration in style, there comes gossip and negativity, and Vanderweele explains how he deals with the opinions of others: “I wish I could say that it didn’t affect me but I mean I’m always thinking about what people are thinking of me in terms of what I’m wearing. You judge people in 3 seconds and I know people judge me, but I’ve never had a bad experience.  I mean people have made comments, asked questions, but I would never say I’ve had a bad experience because most people just see me as I am. I’ve always been the same person except now I’m expressing it in a different way,” says Vanderweele.

For those who have trouble expressing themselves through fashion, Vanderweele offers some advice: “I’ve been there. I know exactly what you feel, and take the time that you need to feel comfortable because it’s taken me 17 years to finally feel comfortable and express myself in public. But I would say do it. You’re always afraid of what people will think of you and I know I’m still kind of afraid sometimes with what new people I meet or even some family of what they’ll think and I’ve never had a bad encounter.  So I’d say do it and you’ll feel happy that you actually did it.”

In the upcoming months, Vanderweele says we can expect plenty more skirts and dresses, along with some 60’s and 70’s inspired Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie flare.  Lovers of fashion should stay tuned to Austin’s looks for more crazy outfits chock full of fun jewelry, rebellious vibes, and self expression. We hear there might even be some “rock and roll blouses” on the horizon.