“Getting dressed makes me feel more like a person,” said Kyoko Caulfield. “I need to do it even if I’m in virtual school, even if I’m not working, even if I’m not seeing people. It’s still nice to share my outfit with the world in some capacity.”
Caulfield is 22 years old, identifies as genderqueer, and uses she/her pronouns. She is also one of the most prolific posters to Reddit’s “r/MaleFashion” (the subreddit is also referred to as Malefashion, or MF). Her all-time most popular post is of her wearing a hand-sewn kimono of her own design, upcycled from reused plaid fabric in a nod to her Japanese-Scottish heritage. This month, her most popular post to MF sees her modeling a vintage Boy Scout uniform next to her dad, captioned “father and son.”
MF began in 2011 as Reddit’s home for fitpics and conversation from men “dressed by the internet.” At the time, this meant devotees of fashion micro-cultures: raw denim-heads, Antwerp Six historians, Rick Owens zealots, people who could spell “sprezzatura,” etc. Diehards from these groups came from their separate blogs/forums and coalesced into r/malefashion as Reddit grew in popularity.
“Those guys were freaks!” said 23 year-old Dylan Burgoon (they/them), in loving admiration. “They knew everything about everything!” Burgoon joined malefashion just as this balkanized, pre-social media era ended. Now a fourth-year student at UC Berkeley running an Ann Demulemeister archive in their spare time, they joined the subreddit when it was run by folks who had just arrived from isolated, predominantly-male spaces like StyleZeitgeist or SuperFuture. As such, the board at the time was overwhelmingly masculine. But, owing to the demands of its contributors, that’s changed.
“Even though I wasn’t on the board when it was just men,” said Caulfield, “every post I make I still get comments from people who are not aware of the switch.”
The “switch” she’s referring to has to do with r/malefashion’s name. Its reason for being, even. The name implies male exclusivity, but that’s not what the community wants anymore. The page is still called malefashion, but a banner across the top reads “fashion/antifashion/malefashion/femalefashion/androfashion/queerfashion.” The board’s sidebar reads: “The sub has evolved beyond its name and we welcome posters of any gender.”
So what happened? Well, over time, more and more people were attracted to the wealth of avant-garde fashion knowledge on the subreddit. Many of these individuals already felt that they “stood out” for reasons relating to their identities. “The community itself is great,” said Caulfield. “It’s very different from the public perception of Reddit,” which tends toward the right-wing and reactionary. “It’s extremely inclusive.”
But some users wanted the subreddit to behave as the rest of Reddit does, where each community strictly adheres to the name it’s organized under. But Burgoon and several others were posting outfits that were among the most popular on the subreddit, despite not being conventionally masculine. Heated debates ensued, though calling many of these comments “debate” is being charitable.
“[Even today], if there’s any perceived gender transgression, you will attract negative comments,” said Caulfield. “I got lucky, today I posted a male-presenting outfit… but I don’t think [the trolls] realized that I was assigned female at birth.”
As the debate raged on, it became clear that the vast majority of those complaining about the subreddit’s drift had little-to-no presence on the subreddit: they were just there to gripe (or troll outright). Zach E. Adams, the moderator of r/malefashion, identifies those who want MF to be exclusively male as belonging to one of two camps. “There are people who will say, ‘the forum is named male fashion, go use r/fashion.”