CAPE TOWN — To cut themselves free of the gender norms fed to them since birth, young South Africans aren’t using sharp edges but rather soft fabrics and turns of phrase. Their fashion and styling choices, as well as the words they use to describe their own bodies, challenge essentialism and the notion that any of our outward characteristics are fixed.
These young South Africans, most visible in urban centers like Cape Town, are playful in the ways they present themselves to the world. They eschew European designer labels manufactured for consumerism in favor of local designers, many of whom have caught the spirit of the moment.
That Cape Town, known as the “Mother City,” has become a front in the war on Western gender roles is somewhat fitting. It’s where the Dutch and, later, the British began their colonization of South Africa in earnest.
Indigenous populations and enslaved people, brought to the city in chains by the Dutch East India Company from as far away as modern-day Indonesia, were stripped not only of their lands, but also their cultural identities. They were robbed — as part of Europe’s so-called civilizing mission — of their history, of how their ancestors distinguished and expressed themselves through style.
Dressing has long been a critical lens for identifying differences across and within cultures. European colonialists in southern Africa used clothing as a boundary marker and an indicator of hierarchy. Today they no longer sport full-bottomed periwigs, replete with curls, but echoes of their black and white Dutch colonial garments, handmade lace collars and tight buckle boots appear in everyday men’s wear. Read more via New York Times