Mark Bryan is a mechanical engineer, a fast car lover, a family man and a football coach who believes in inspiring his team on and off the field. Defying stereotypes one fabulous outfit at a time he became a worldwide fashion sensation when he decided that the sartorial options available to him were far too limiting.
With over half a million followers on Instagram, including the likes of Rihanna, Sam Smith and Dita Von Teese, Mark has had to learn to juggle his work in robotics with his new gig as a fashion influencer. He inspires people everywhere by embracing a simple concept: clothes have no gender.
For defying stereotypes, for his passion for blending historically masculine and feminine clothes and shoes, and for his consistent messages that encourage people to embrace whoever they are the Red Shoe Movement honors Mark Bryan with the 2021 Hall of Fame.
Robotics and Fierce Heels
RED SHOE MOVEMENT – Can you tell us a little bit about your job as a robotics engineer? Do you feel your experience in a male-dominated industry influenced your move towards gender-nonconforming fashion?
MARK BRYAN – I am a mechanical engineer and have been working in the robotic packaging industry for over 30 years. Working in an engineering environment I was required to wear a suit and tie during most of the 30 years. It was not until recently that the dress code became more casual. I was basically very bored with the black, brown, navy, or gray suits that I had been wearing for so long. Plus, the only options for shoes were black or brown. The new dress code allowed jeans and polo shirts. I did not want to dress down but wanted to explore more options with colors and patterns. I had always liked the idea of wearing high heels as they provided the color and style I was looking for. The skirts added the different styles, patterns, and colors. But in general, when I wear a skirt and heels, I am still very masculine. What I wear does not change the person that I am.
RSM – How was it to show up at work dressed in your new style defying stereotypes for the first time?
MB – I actually started wearing heels with my pant suits. There was talk around the office about what Mark was wearing and I had a few people come up to me and ask what the deal with the shoes was. Eventually, they got used to me doing it and then later the joke around the office was: “when is Mark coming to work in a dress or skirt.” So, when I did show up wearing a skirt, nobody was really surprised. Some even asked what took me so long to wear the skirt.
RSM – How has it been to balance your life as a robotics engineer with your life as a fashion influencer?
MB – It’s been very busy. My engineering position requires a minimum of 8 hours a day but at times I work much more. My Instagram account requires maybe 2-3 hours per day which entails answering messages and responding to comments made on my posts. Taking pictures and then posting them. Also working with brands and doing interviews, and the weekend long magazine shoots. Plus, I still coach American football now that the Covid restrictions have been eased. That adds another 6-8 hours per week. All this leaves very little time for my restoration project on my 1967 Porsche 911.
Defying Stereotypes Through Fashion
RSM – Did experimenting with clothes that are traditionally seen as femme always feel natural or were there any preconceived gender notions you had to get over first?
MB – I feel very natural and comfortable in high heels and a skirt. Afterall, it is just a fashion statement. My clothing choices are not a declaration of my sexuality, nor should they be. Nor does what I wear change the fact that I can still be masculine.
RSM – Tell us about your family and friends: how did your spouse and kids react to this fashion choice? Did you get pushback from them or your friends?
MB – No, everyone around me has been incredibly supportive. I believe it is because I am the same person whether I am wearing pants or a skirt. I am still the same father, and still the same friend.
RSM – Have people’s reactions to you changed since you started playing with defying stereotypes through your fabulous outfits?
MB – Well naturally when I was wearing men’s clothes nobody paid attention to me. I did not stand out in a crowd as I do when wearing high heels and a skirt. Not that it was my intention to draw attention towards me, but I have started being a bit more overdressed for the circumstances. I want people to talk about what I am wearing, and not what my sexual orientation is. Most reactions I get from women are very positive, while most men will look and then quickly look away and pretend they did not see me. Or they just go back to what they were doing.
One Fabulous Outfit at a Time…
RSM – Has the way you perceive yourself in the world changed?
MB – Yes, very much so. If you would have told me back in September 2020 that I would have over 500K followers and I am being a positive influence on many people’s lives, I would have not believed it. As a football coach I had always thought that I was shaping young men for the future. Stressing teamwork, making commitments, and seeing them through. Being responsible for your own actions, both on the football field and off. It is not always about football but to help these young men learn how to apply themselves to see the parallels in football and in life. But now, I have a much bigger influence over a large group of both men and women. That makes me proud of the person I am and gives me a kind of fulfillment for my time here on this planet.
Clothes Have No Gender
RSM – As a cishet man defying stereotypes one fabulous outfit at a time, what do you feel is needed to create a world where all expressions and identities are embraced and celebrated?
MB – I would like to think that showing the world that what a person wears does not make me a monster, evil, or a bad person. Just different. And if I can get people to realize this and accept this, then maybe, these same people may accept a person’s skin color or religion differences as well. This is the biggest problem we face, not an old man wearing high heels.
RSM – If you could suggest one action that organizations can take to make everyone feel included, what would it be?
MB – Stop putting gender to clothing. Yes, we will always have gendered clothes, because the man’s body is different from the female. Unisex clothing will basically be shapeless. Women can wear men’s clothes and still be feminine. Just like a man like me can wear feminine clothes and still be masculine. The fashion industry while trying to promote unisex clothing predominantly uses a feminine male model or a masculine female model. This prevents males and females both from wanting to wear such clothes for fear of people questioning their sexual orientation.
RSM – If you could suggest one action to inspire people from underrepresented groups to accelerate their career growth, what would it be?
MB – Just be yourself and be comfortable with your choices. Do not worry what complete strangers may think. Concern should only be for family and close friends.