If most “unisex” styles are masculine, are we really degendering fashion?

Gender-neutral clothing is finally in the spotlight, but are we really getting there?

Even those barely online, or within reach of a magazine, were most likely intimately aware of the cultural mark left by Harry Styles. vogue cover end of 2020.

Receiving countless reactions on Twitter and numerous discussions among friends, the cover became a catalyst for conversations that attempted to address the presence of gender in fashion.


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Representing Gen Z’s desire to dress outside of the binary, the singer has become a vanguard (of sorts) of the gender-neutral fashion movement. “The lines of what you should wear depending on whether you’re ‘man’ or ‘woman’ are crumbling,” he said. told the publication. “I’ve never really thought too much about what that means, it’s just this extended part of creating something without limits.”

Celebrities like Billy Porter, Bad Bunny and Jaden Smith are among a growing legion of male-identifying public figures who routinely challenge the parochial traditions of the fashion world.

However, this expression is not without its criticisms. “Bring back some manly men,” is a sentiment that has been circulating fervently. This Tweet from conservative political commentator Candace Owens highlighted just how contentious debates around gender expression have become, especially on a global scale.

Although confronting, is it a surprise? Subject to the gender model, the fashion industry has operated purely in the binary, using strict gender categorizations as a way to communicate and market both product and brand ethics.

It’s only been a few years since the tide started to turn. Generation Z, a demographic group pushed the demand for style rather than sex, would represent, it seems, $143 billion spending over the next few years.

Not to mention, according to research conducted by The Phluid project56% of people buy regardless of their gender and 81% think a person shouldn’t be defined by that. The game is starting to rewrite itself and digital natives are urging the industry, through their words and their dollars, to look beyond binary.

But it begs the question: how can a gender-based industry successfully invest in this new direction? While we’ve seen great strides from both emerging and existing players in the industry in recent years, sometimes with exemplary casting and marketing efforts, the end result sadly falls short.

Physical stores and e-commerce sites have become playgrounds not only to check the temperature of what is important to their audience, but also to send the message to their respective clienteles that they are keeping up with the times. .

The words ‘unisex’ and ‘gender neutral’ have become buzzwords in the market, both being used interchangeably to refer to a brand’s ‘genderless’ collection. But the reality is that they usually still have only one gender in mind.

A few years ago, the sartorial monolith Zara released a gender neutral clothing line. What started as a breath of fresh air for those looking to shop outside of binary quickly turned into a collective sigh when male-coded clothing started going digital.

By opting for loose, color-neutral clothing, the gender-neutral movement can easily be tainted with a hidden message that’s too strong for those who know it best: This genderless design is nothing more than a ” men’s fashion” reworked with dollar signs. attached to it.

The industry has long operated on the belief that gender categorization is easier for consumers and businesses. Such a vein of thought has led brands to believe that safe and profitable adoption of the gender-neutral movement is a proverbial sidestep rather than a genuine commitment. Ssense’s Vice President of Women’s Fashion Purchasing, Brigitte Chartrand, is up to the challenge.

“We recognize that [style] can be fluid and flexible – meaning that one day you can identify with and choose to express a greater degree of femininity than you might on another day, [but] we also recognize that the average consumer at this time, and despite our growing collective awareness of gender identities and continuums, still has a mental model that they use when shopping for clothing,” she says.

It’s clear that traditional consumer habits and commercial margins largely inform what happens in the world of fashion, but with Gen Z’s refusal to conform to conventional archetypes, this antiquated structure is being challenged. question. “How we dress from a gender perspective is, to a greater extent, a reflection of how we view gender roles,” said model and resale brand owner Zeke Hemme. vintage clothing. Highsnobiety.

“As they fade, the traditional fashion identities of men and women fade with them. As we continue to become more progressive in our view of what it means to be male or female, we will see more progressive fashion designs to deal with change.

What if clothes weren’t a third option, but went completely genderless? It’s an idea that many fashion commentators, like Alok Vaid-Menon, have played with.

“Ask your favorite brands, your favorite designers: why do you continue to gender your product? Do we dress to match an idea of ​​what women or men should be, or do we dress for ourselves? says Alok.

Alok’s weighted queries highlight an important notion; that true “gender neutral” clothing does not need to be separated from the rest of a brand’s range. This shouldn’t be a project that only gets extra marketing budget for one month a year. We need to completely get rid of gender-specific clothing categories.

As luxury brands and retailers continue to embark on their journey towards a less gender-centric world by creating independent product lines, countless individuals remain captive to the rigidity of the binary model.

These wannabe fashionistas walk into malls and browse online sites only to receive directions on where they should shop and who they should be.

The function of fashion is self-expression, yet the system is restrictive. As incredible as it may seem to see brands commit, it’s important to remember that the problem lies with the boundaries of the genre itself, not the clothes.

For more on genderless fashion, try this.


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