Gender-Neutral Dressing Isn't a Trend, It's the New Normal
Gender neutrality in fashion might not be mainstream quite yet, but the discussion hardly seems to raise eyebrows. If you just take a look at the runways of Gucci, Public School, or Marc Jacobs from this past fashion month, the lines between what once clearly identified men’s and women’s clothing have blurred. Consider them suggestions, at best. Even fast-fashion brands like Zara and H&M, who appeal to a mass audience are on board. But while the idea of ditching traditional gender labels in fashion is nothing new, can we assume that this approach to consuming fashion has officially become the new normal?
“I first remember gender-neutral fashion being a thing in the 1980s,” recalls Olivia Kim, Nordstrom’s Vice President of Creative Projects, “but back then, we called it unisex or free-size clothing. Early adopters included designers like Katharine Hamnett who made oversized T-shirts with political statements (think George Michael’s ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ music video). Then in the ’90s, female rappers and musicians also started wearing fashion and clothing that was originally designed and intended for men.”
Kim is a not only responsible for so many of the emerging and under-the-radar designers that have been introduced to the brand through her Nordstrom SPACE and Pop-In shop series, but she’s also one such industry insider who’s helped put gender-neutral clothing onto a bigger stage. Most recently it was through her introduction of Korean brands, including Hyein Seo and Kye. “There are no rules with genderless clothing, which is appealing to the young or fashion trendsetters who want to use fashion as a self-expressive way of communicating individuality,” she says explaining the concept’s popularity. “You see that in Seoul but also in any major city.”
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To her point, Korea’s not the only country that you can credit for its progressive take on gender. In Japan, the concept of Genderless Kei has been a fixture for the last couple years, and you can also refer to the runways of UK-based labels like Ashley Williams and J.W.Anderson, the historically unisex designs of Rick Owens, Hedi Slimane’s non-binary approach to fashion during his time at Saint Laurent, and the aforementioned Gucci under the direction of Alessandro Michele, which continues to confront many preconceptions, gender or otherwise.
“I’m sure politics has something to do with it, but more and more I think people are challenging the idea of gender as something that is black and white,” designer Rachel Comey tells us. Of course, she herself is embracing the gray area—she just debuting a line a non-gendered clothing this spring, simply found on her site under “unisex.”
“As a brand, we started in menswear and evolved into women’s RTW. Introducing it again for S/S 17 was a nod back to our roots, but also a way of including male employees who were already wearing the designs in their own way. We were inspired by how we saw them wearing the items and tweaked little things here and there to make it more accessible, sizing-wise, across the board,” the New York designer explains. However, gender-defying fashion—as common as it may seem—doesn’t come without its biases. “I think it’s a more generally accepted thing for a woman to wear a man’s shirt or pants and it is labeled ‘boyfriend’ or something. Why can’t it be the other way around?” asks Comey.
As with any major change in the status quo, it’s difficult to determine just how long it will take until men’s and women’s clothing simply becomes, well, just clothing. And perhaps that’s not even what every fashion-loving person wants. But Kim offers a refreshing perspective on the shift that’s hard to argue with, especially for anyone whose style plays a strong part in their identity. “The way I think of it is, anyone who makes clothes is essentially creating garments that are gender neutral, because as long as you like the way it looks on you, it fits!” says the expert, summing up the lofty issue with the simplest of answers: “Bottom line, wear what makes you happy and what you feel confident in.”
To that point, scroll below for some of the coolest brands with a gender-neutral appeal.
Check out another brand breaking down stereotypes: Chanel with its first handbag campaign starring a man.