Romphims: The Ridiculous Practice of Gendering Clothes

by D. Elaine Fields

Art by Jenn Solo

Art by Jenn Solo

Men's summer fashions, especially those bearing the label "urban", can be heavy and hot and uncomfortable . They're often cut from unforgiving fabrics that cling to the skin and require an undershirt to carry the look off as intended, forcing men to wear layers during the hottest months of the year.  Not all guys enjoy shopping, but that doesn't mean that their fashion dollars don't deserve better.  They should be able to choose from looks that are lighter, cooler, more stylish and versatile.  

The team at ACED Design has evidently had some of the same ideas.  Recently they launched a Kickstarter campaign introducing the "Romphim". The Romphim is a best described as a one piece short set  that comes in an array of colors and in sizes up to XL. Since its introduction, ACED has exceeded their $10,000.00 fundraising earning more than $175,000.00 in pledges in 48 hours.

Like any fashion choice the Romphim will have its supporters and detractors but the negative comments made about the Romphim are reflective of more than just differing style choices .

Hypermasculinity has kept men in hot restrictive clothing in much the same way societal norms have kept women in bras and ill fitting shoes.  Today women are challenging traditional ideas about gender roles, but the reaction to the Romphim shows that in some cases even women themselves can reinforce toxic hypermasculinity.

The primary way of demeaning a man is to associate him with what is feminine––since what is considered feminine is the antithesis to what is considered masculine, and because what is feminine tends to be associated being superficial, frilly and dainty. Once a man is associated with the feminine it’s acceptable, and even considered laughable to objectify and harass him in all the ways women normally are, and the proof of that is in the reaction to the Romphim.

The problem with using “femininity” as an insult is that it can cause men and boys to become so instensely “male” and aggressive and anti-women. The hyper sexualization, and emotional and physical violence toward women are treated as an innate part masculinity and thus considered acceptable because “boys will be boys”. These ideas of what is considered masculine or feminine are arbitrary, there is no logic behind it, they’re social constructs. That toxicity is bad for everyone. When we assert masculinity by defaming femininity we are essentially making the statement that men, or moreso, masculinity is superior.  In reality our places in the world exists somewhere along a spectrum.

Why then is it that anything classified as unisex or androgynous is essentially masculine? It illustrates the perception that in order for anything to deemed “good enough” for a man; an article of clothing, a hobby, a child's toy, it must be void of the feminine.  Non-binary people that present as hyper-feminine are never allowed to simply exist as non-binary solely because they might want to wear lipstick, but who told us lipstick is only for women? Or that women who wear lipstick are solely femme. Exploration of a non binary gender spectrum will be interesting. People will be tempted to try new things and the suggestion that men can wear lipstick will rile some people up. Some seem to take the suggestion that it's o.k. to do things differently as an endorsement that all things should or must be done differently. It's ok if you aren't  attracted by a dude in lipstick- but it is wrong to tell a grown man that  he can't wear it if he wants to or to demean him for it, especially if you attack femininity in the process.

For some a shift in the gender roles and presentation is perceived as a threat.  Even small changes become elevated to the point where something as simple as a fashion choice is representative of a crumbling society.

Suddenly a man in a romper seems like the end of the world.

Change doesn't happen in a vacuum and if we do not move from a place where perceived femininity diminishes a man then we limit our collective potential. And clearly, the consequences of hyper-masculinity don’t stop at fashion. Ultimately if the Romphim suits your tastes, no matter who you are, you should wear one.  Not everyone's going to like your outfit and so what? Who cares what you wear as long as you’re comfortable.

D.  Elaine Fields is a writer and craft hustler based in Richmond, VA. Her writing credits include romance novels, Love and Lies in the River City and Apples & Oranges.  #amwriting / painting / sewing / beading while holding down a 5/40, raising three awesome kids, and being a superlative wife (she has the receipts).