Gender Expression Clothes Rack

This is another provocation with which I love watching children engage! For some it is the very first time they’ve truly had the opportunity to choose their own clothes — and that’s what it’s about. Not dressing up and playing make believe, but choosing your own style, your own gender expression. From my observations, unless a child has an older sibling who is a different gender from them, they don’t get the opportunity to wear clothes of a different gender. This seems particularly the case for boys; if they don’t have an older sister, they never get the opportunity to wear clothes from a “girls” section of a store.

The idea here is to set up a clothes rack with regular clothes that children would find in Kmart or Big W, particularly stereotyped from the “girls” section and “boys” section of these stores. Skirts, dresses, T-shirts with unicorns, dinosaurs or trucks, suit jackets, vests, pre-tied ties, blouses, button down shirts. Your unclaimed lost and found box might be a good place to start building your collection! It’s really important these are regular clothes and not costumes. Dressing up as Princess Elsa is not the same as dressing as yourself in a dress.

The clothes should all be easy enough for kids to put on themselves — although some challenges like buttons and zippers to help develop fine motor skills and self sufficiency is a good idea too. Also provide a full length mirror near the clothes rack so children can look at their outfits. Also let them know they can keep wearing the clothes all day no matter what other activities they want to do. One girl I worked with would choose the same blue T-shirt with a pirate on the pocket every time the clothes rack was out. She’d wear it all day and even wore it home once. I have no idea what it was about this T-shirt she loved so much, but it was certainly more “boy” stereotyped than any other clothes I saw her wear from home.

It might not be that children want to wear clothes gendered differently from the gender they have been assigned. Some children will just put together outfits or wear clothes differently than expected such as ties outside suit jackets or multiple skirts at once. Some boys will have never worn a tie and jacket and find this exciting. This is about children’s autonomy and having the opportunity to choose their own expression; develop their own sense of self. It can help gender diverse kids by normalising variety in gender expression as well as break down stereotypes for all kids.

I’ve seen children extend this idea in multiple ways. One group imagined they had a shop and made money for buying and selling the clothes. They imagined the roles of being a store keeper recommending outfits and a customer shopping for someone else. Another group thought about how clothes are presented in separate “boys” and “girls” sections and drew floor plans suggesting alternative layouts.

Try this out and let me know how it goes.

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