Gender-neutral fashion and queer representation in media

A review of gender-neutral fashion in Netflix’s “The Sandman” and “The Umbrella Academy”

Queer fashion in media has come into its own in recent years, especially since society has become more open-minded regarding gender identity. In recent television and film, there are numerous characters who are able to express this through clothing alone. It’s wonderful to see this level of representation in popular media, as it can ultimately normalize this level of gender expression.

One great example is Desire from the Netflix comic-book adaptation “The Sandman.” In the comic series of the same name, the character is depicted as gender-fluid, and they are portrayed by nonbinary actor Mason Alexander Park (“The Legend of Vox Machina”). While Park gives an incredible performance as the character, what makes the character distinguishable from others is their attire. For the most part, the character spends the show wearing only either full black or full white, which usually contrasts with the fully red aesthetic of their domain (which is literally just a massive statue of themselves). Not only that, but they tend to flaunt their bare chest throughout this first season, specifically with V-necks. Their style also includes a pair of golden earrings and a heart necklace, directly modeled after their character in the comics. After all, the character is an anthropomorphic embodiment of lust, sexuality and … well, desire.

Another example is the character of Viktor Hargreaves in the show “The Umbrella Academy.” After the actor Elliot Page came out as a transgender man back in 2020, his character was rewritten in the third season to also come out as trans in a loving tribute. When it comes to how the character expresses himself, his fashion choices are more subdued than in the previous example. After he comes out, Hargreaves spends most of the remaining season wearing a white shirt underneath a black jacket. Viktor was always a very soft-spoken and relatively shy character throughout “The Umbrella Academy,” so his fashion choices could just be an extension of his personality rather than an expression of his queerness. Regardless, I do still believe this is an example of a queer character’s fashion which shows that their wardrobe doesn’t necessarily have to coincide with their queerness.

Some more campy examples from “The Umbrella Academy” are the fashion choices for the character Klaus Hargreaves, as played by Robert Sheehan. The character’s clothing varies throughout the show, but he is often very showy with how he expresses himself. There is even a funny moment in the first season when his sister Allison asks if he is wearing one of her old dresses. One of his outfits in the third season is a sort of Stevie Nicks-esque black getup and a black hat; plus the character’s long hair adds to the aesthetic. But he can also be seen wearing a vibrant, blue suede jacket, sunglasses and striped pants (no shirt though). Throughout the show, we can see him with earrings and nail polish, and even scenes of him with a feather boa in early episodes. Klaus as a character is a lot more energetic than the aforementioned Viktor, so his costume design being more exaggerated helps amplify his queerness while also adding a sense of ambiguity to the overall way that the character expresses his gender.

In short, costume design for characters can add a lot to their personalities, their sexualities and their gender identities. They can range from subtle to luxuriant and rich, as can be seen in these examples, but they are important. As stated earlier, this level of representation in media can normalize gender expression and their target audience could take it as a sign to fully embrace their gender if they haven’t already. Being able to live in your own skin and feel comfortable is something that everybody should be able to do. If anything, these characters and their fashion decisions can teach others that they can do the same, regardless of how showy they may choose to be.