This summer, I went shopping with my dad for the first time in a long time. As we walked into the Vans shop my dad asked, “How do we tell what is for men or women?” His confusion over the lack of an overt division of clothes, and my answer of “why do we need our clothes to be separate?” got me thinking about the development of gender neutrality in fashion.
It goes without saying that fashion is an ever-changing art form and a very important means for self-expression. As the discussion of gender fluidity has found itself well within the mainstream reflection, how is fashion responding? What strategies are brands using, beyond implementing subliminal layouts in store, to accommodate those of us who wish to bend gender stereotypes through fashion?
In the last few years, a number of fashion brands have started to take steps towards meeting the demands of a new, younger consumer group, who viewed gender with more flexibility than previous generations.
On the catwalk, a selection of brands are disrupting the traditional showing of men’s and women’s collections. Over the last few seasons, a growing list of high-end designers including Gucci, Burberry and Bottega Veneta, have pushed traditional runway boundaries by staging co-ed shows. In doing so, these brands are challenging the binary presentation of a model. JW Anderson and Jeremy Scott stand out among luxury designers. Anderson’s gender blending designs reflect his nonchalant attitude towards the gulf between menswear and womenswear. JW Anderson’s male models have been sent down the runway wearing dresses, skirts and lace blouses. Jeremey Scott at Moschino has also taken the decision to intertwine his runways as his models walk in men, woman and neutral pieces on a variety of models identifying as different genders.
Retail giant, Selfridges & Co, promotes gender-neutral fashion in a bid to close the gap between its male and female departments. In 2015, Selfridges launched Agender, a campaign designed to celebrate the shift in gender binaries and the effect it has had on the way we dress and shop. Developed by Faye Toogood, Agender provides customers an environment in which they are free to transcend notions of ‘his’ and ‘hers’, and shop according to desire, fit and style. All of the garments are presented in unstated packaging and free from bold logos, which would ordinarily affect purchases.
A flexible approach to gendered clothing has started to take hold on the high street too. Zara, for example, has presented unisex campaigns in recent years, and ASOS currently has more than 100 items listed as unisex in their Collusion collection. Inspired by youth, creativity and collaboration, Collusion is driven by a desire to create an authentic, vibrant wardrobe that speaks directly to Gen-Z shoppers. Other brands, such as Vans, have slowly been taking steps towards gender neutrality. Agender collections are becoming more of trend in the high street market, although more permanent collections, such as Collusion, are really what we hope to see sooner, rather than later.
As time goes on, it is likely that we will see more shops follow the current example set by the select number of high street and luxury brands, and the division between menswear and womenswear will become less overt, as the case was in Vans. Although when walking into a shop, more often than not, we still see gender-divided sections, there are promising signs pointing towards a more gender-fluid attitude in the fashion industry.