- Carola Kolbeck
Defying Gender Bias - The Couple Embracing Fashion Freedom
© Photography by Vlastimil Černý
Women wear men’s clothes and get hailed for their masculine style. But what happens when the high heel is literally on a male foot?
INJECTION spoke to married couple Vlasta and Michaela, who embrace fashion freedom and celebrate Vlasta’s love for what society labels 'women’s' clothes and shoes.
The first thing I notice about Vlastimil and his wife Michaela when I meet them virtually for our interview is their smiles. I have rarely come across an expression so full of light and power, warmth and welcoming. We talk about Prague Pride which just concluded, and its rainbow parade, which took part the previous day. Both Vlasta and Michaela were taking part, with Vlasta organising IBM’s involvement, and Michaela baking cakes for participants.
They say they’re tired from the weekend but appear in good spirits. Just a normal couple chatting to INJECTION Mag on a Sunday night. The only thing is, Vlasta is wearing a women’s dress and has bright pink nails.
The couple are somewhat famous on social media for their open and affirming attitude towards non-binary and gender fluid fashion. Vlasta wears what society normally classifies as ‘women’s clothes and shoes,’ and the nearly 10,000 followers of their Instagram account @genderblender1 are here for it.
The couple met in 2018 and married a year later. Their blog champions fashion freedom and shares details of their journey, as well as tips for anyone looking for advice. Men wearing what’s categorised as women’s clothing is nothing new, looking at celebrities such as actor Billy Porter, fashion designer Marc Jacobs and singer and actor Harry Styles prove. Seeing this reproduced in everyday life, however, is still a rarity. INJECTION Mag spoke to Vlasta and Michaela about their story, issues and triumphs with being authentically themselves, as well as inclusivity and acceptance in the workplace and society.
Michaela, in one of your first blog posts you write about your reaction to meeting Vlasta for the first time in real life. You are very open about your initial thoughts. Can you describe these initial feelings and how they developed?
Michaela: We met on Tinder; his profile was a little bit different than the others because he described what he was looking for and he had also asked a question, wondering if somebody was able to find the answer and I found that interesting. So, I wrote to him and said that, although I’m not the one he’s looking for, I was wondering if the answer to his question was right. And because I had given him the correct answer, we subsequently started exchanging messages. Because I wasn’t the one he was looking for, there was no pressure. It was just fun exchanging messages and having a laugh.
We had this kind of contact via Tinder for a couple of months. Eventually, Vlasta asked me for breakfast, and I said yes. During our conversations, Vlasta didn’t mention that he liked painting his nails and dressing in women’s clothes, but occasionally he would mention that he wasn’t normal, not a regular guy. And I said, that’s OK, nobody is normal. Finally, when we met for breakfast, I was a little bit late and Vlasta was already sitting there, in a T-shirt and jeans. But he had bright orange nails! And I panicked. I thought: ‘It's impossible this is happening,’ and my second thought was that there must be hidden cameras. But then I remembered our messages and that they always made me laugh. So, I took all the courage I had, and I thought ‘OK, I will sit, and we’ll see.’ We had breakfast, and apart from the initial shock, it was lovely, but I was still thinking: Why?
I had never before met a guy who liked to have his nails painted and at the time I didn't know that he also liked to dress in skirts and dresses. I couldn't imagine that there might be a guy who likes that and still wants to meet a woman.
Vlasta, tell us a little about yourself and your journey to defying gender conformed dressing.
Vlasta: Well, one of my reasons is: They are just clothes! So why shouldn’t I be wearing them? I’ve been feeling like this for as long as I can remember. However, it used to be difficult because we were born deep into the communist era so there wasn't any freedom. Then we went through a revolution and times were changing, not only in the former Eastern bloc, but everywhere around the world. I often say that my brain is divided into two sections: One is highly analytical and the other one is much more creative. I’ve also been playing drums from the age of 16; I have a punk band and we’re still playing. As you go through life you have to think about what’s important to you. Of course, there’s always the question of why I dress in women’s clothes and I say: I just like it, so why not?
Do you remember the first time stepping out wearing what you wanted to wear, Vlasta? How did that feel?
Vlasta: I was scared to death. I thought that, if someone sees me, the world will collapse. And then I found out that this wasn’t the case. Nothing happened. But yes, I was scared but at the same time I felt excited, I liked it. It’s just like a drug. It felt good and I wanted to feel that feeling again. Of course, it wasn’t from zero to hero. At first, I was really scared to go out in the evenings or even just to open the front door. But I had to find the courage to open the door and to walk outside.
And Michaela, how did you feel the first time stepping out with Vlasta wearing whatever he wants?
Michaela: I didn’t care. But what did surprise me was, and this will probably never change, that I’m invisible when I’m with Vlasta. As a woman, you are used to people looking at you. They want to talk to you or compliment your outfit and when I’m with Vlasta, none of that happens. People want to talk to him and all the attention is on him. At the beginning, this was really exhausting for me, all this attention whilst we were just trying to do regular stuff, like buying milk.
Vlasta: Sometimes, when we’re out and about, and I am standing somewhere, maybe waiting, and I’m looking around, I see that people are staring and I’m wondering: ‘What’s the reason, why are they staring?’ And then I realise: Oh, yes, it’s me. [laughs]
© Photography by Vlastimil Černý
In one of your social media posts you highlight the prejudices Vlasta faced looking for work. What can be done to make the world of business more inclusive?
Vlasta: That’s a difficult question. Usually, it’s not the policy of the company but the people that are the problem. So even in companies which are very open to diversity and inclusion, you can find that people internally aren’t so in sync with the company values and policies. Of course, they don’t say that being different is a reason they won’t hire you and sometimes it really just isn’t the right fit.
What I've experienced, however, is that if you have really happy employees who don’t have to hide something, then they’re much better employees than if you have employees who can’t be themselves, who live in constant fear that their true identity might be a problem in their workplace. That would be my message to these companies: You have no idea what kind of power you have, to help those people and to help them find their way in life, and to be themselves.
What are your biggest triumphs so far in being truly yourself?
Vlasta: I think the biggest triumph is that feeling of freedom and that's something you don’t even realise before you reach that stage. When I was in my 40s, I still had really bad acne. Then I met Michaela and she helped me with my confidence. And like a miracle, because of this internal freedom, I don’t have acne anymore. I have only one life, so why should I care what these people in the streets, who I’ll probably never meet again, think about me and what I'm doing? I'm not hurting them or anyone else.
You got married in 2019, just before Covid, and your wedding dresses are beautiful. Did you go wedding dress shopping together?
Vlasta: Well, around this time in 2019, was the Prague Pride Parade. On the Friday before we were having some beers in a restaurant and afterwards we were passing some wedding studios and so we stopped and went in. There was a young girl working and we told her that we’d like to try some wedding dresses. And she just said: ‘Yeah, OK.’
Michaela asked her to start with me as it will be much more difficult for me to find a dress which will fit. When we found my dress, we asked if they had the same dress in Michaela’s size, and they did. Afterwards, we were talking about our wedding and that it would probably take a year or so to plan. And I asked her why we should wait for another year because we won't be any younger or any prettier! That Sunday, we had lunch with Michaela’s parents and I asked them for permission to marry their daughter. After that, we bought our wedding rings, spoke to a priest and booked a restaurant. So, within three days, we had everything arranged for our wedding.
© Photography by Vlastimil Černý
Michaela and Vlasta, finally, what advice would you like to give to a society that is still so full of prejudices, loves to categorise people and defines people as normal or abnormal?
Michaela: People should try to imagine how it would be if it was their children. Some people think that they and everyone around them is ‘normal,’ but that is just not the case. So what would you do if one of your children was homosexual, or liked to dress differently? Would you say ‘we don't like you anymore’?
Also, it’s really about something much bigger here. One question we get a lot on our blog and social media is if I like men wearing women’s clothes. And I say: ‘No. I don’t specifically like men wearing women’s clothes. I like Vlasta.’ And that's it. It doesn't matter if you wear a dress or jeans. You like the person.
Vlasta: Social prejudices will always be there. It depends what we, in society, do with them. For example, lots of men write to us, saying how lucky I am that Michaela allows or tolerates me wearing dresses and high heels. Or that it should be "normal and allowed by society" to dress the way we want, and they point out that women wear trousers or men’s wear.
We try to explain to them that this is a completely wrong mindset. Because Michaela doesn't "allow" me to do anything. She rather tells me that she can't imagine that someone would tell her what she can and can't wear. And she is not “tolerating” anything either. It's about our freedom and happiness. You can't wait for someone to "allow" you to wear a skirt or a dress. After all, no one forbids men. If men want to wear what they want, they have to fight for it themselves, just like women fought for it. No one told women "Okay, and from now on you can wear trousers, you're allowed.” They had to go their own way and overcome social prejudices. And it wasn't just about trousers, but about the overall emancipation of women.
Michaela: A lot of our followers on social media ask us for our advice to help them and we always say it’s difficult for us to give advice if we don’t know their lives, families and environment. There are still places in this world where our advice, to just go out and wear what you want, might get them killed, attacked or seriously injured. Our life we see through our lenses, but the circumstances may be completely different a couple of hundred of kilometres down the road. Sometimes, when people are shouting something at us, I just say that this is the price we pay for the freedom to do what we like, to be who we want to be, because, fifteen, twenty years ago, they would probably have just locked you up in a psychiatric hospital. So we’re grateful for freedom and for what we have achieved so far.
Vlasta: The world is changing and within our generation dressing as you please might be difficult for some to digest. However, for our kids it’s less of a problem. Prague Pride Parade was attended by 60,000 people and the majority of them were young. They are open minded, driving change. To give you a last example, in the Czech Republic, 16 to 17 year olds who go to school also learn ball dancing in the evening. Once their course is finished, they celebrate by having a formal evening ball, where they invite their parents to dance. Michaela spoke with her son to ask if he felt comfortable with me wearing a dress. If not, she’d told him, I’d be happy to wear a suit and tie. Her son’s response was: “Mum, everyone knows. He can wear a dress.”
© Photography by Vlastimil Černý
As we come to the end of the interview, I want to stay online and keep talking to Michaela and Vlasta. There is an incredible force of determination and conviction which radiates from them, that living life on our own terms and setting an example by being truthful to ourselves is a priceless way to contribute positively to society and give courage and strength to others during their own struggles with adversity.
Although they are in no way delusional about the problems and prejudices in a modern society and the differences in cultures across the world, they are hopeful and excited for the future, one that allows everyone to overcome gender-biased stereotypes and find confidence in dressing whichever way they want.