Ryerson fashion professor proposes new textbook

Boys wear blue and girls wear pink. It’s a social norm we’re taught, but it’s something Ryerson fashion professor Ben Barry wants to redefine.

Barry has partnered with University of Hawaii Professor Andrew Reilly to co-edit a textbook titled Crossing Boundaries: Fashion to Deconstruct and Reimagine Gender.

The proposed 300-page textbook will be divided into four chapters: the construction of gender through dress, femininities, masculinities and androgyny.

“We’re not only looking into drag, we’re also looking at people in different countries who are forced to dress (differently),” Barry says. “For example, girls in Afghanistan have to dress as boys to go to school.”

Ben Barry, fashion school professor at Ryerson University.

Ben Barry, fashion school professor at Ryerson University. (Courtesy of Ben Barry)

Several textbooks required in Ryerson’s fashion courses explore gender issues, but according to Barry, few of them investigate the issue through the lens of fashion.

“Fashion as an academic discipline is emerging and growing,” Barry says. “We can now use fashion as a way to see the world.”

The book’s primary audience is upper-level fashion students, but the editors also hope to market the textbook for social science-related studies.

Ryerson’s fashion school curriculum covers topics about gender but students are only required to take one gender-related course: Fashion Concepts and Theory.

“A book that explores gender in fashion can help loosen the gender constraints in the fashion industry,” said third-year fashion student Willis Chan. “The trend for unisex clothing is growing not only because it’s more marketable, but also because it gives people more freedom on what they can wear.”

Barry says that the artistry of creating clothing and fashion history are often thought of, but with this book fashion can be used to understand the world. “Our hope is that Ryerson students will be provided with an additional source that can better the relationship between gender and fashion,” he says.

Barry and Reilly are looking for proposals for chapters in their book. They hope to finish the project within two years.

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