Tori Attwood on what it means to shop genderless clothes in 2017
Pink for girls, blue for boys. It’s a dichotomy I spent much of my childhood puzzled over. Shoe-horned into vibrant pink dresses, I knew I was supposed to love the colour. It was the colour of my gender after all. But, I must confess, I totally despise pink. Perhaps it’s the sickliness of the floral hue that I found so overbearing, or perhaps the fact that I was supposed to like it because I was a girl. So much was my dislike, that one morning I refused to wear my checked red school skirt, the white and red print blurring into a cringe-worthy shade of pink in my paranoid mind. When I wore shorts to school, my teachers were perplexed; the girls’ uniform clearly stated skirts.
Fast forward two decades, and Jaden Smith features in Louis Vuitton’s SS17 campaign wearing a woman’s skirt. Not because he was put in one, explains Creative Director Nicholas Ghesquière, but because “wearing a skirt comes as naturally to him as it would to a woman who, long ago, granted herself permission to wear a man’s trench or a tuxedo”. * The conversation around gender norms has exploded, and fashion is eager to take part. This year, SS18 menswear shows saw a definitive blurring of boundaries - in Paris, Thom Browne’s models shared a wardrobe of grey pleated skirts, heeled brogues and dresses, regardless of gender. Whilst Vivienne Westwood paraded male models in fishnets and couture silk gowns. With men modelling garments previously reserved for women, perhaps polarised wardrobes could finally be laid to rest.
"gender fluid refers to an individual who does not identify as having a fixed gender"
But whilst breaking down the parallels of what men and women can wear no doubt progresses the discussion on gender, some have critiqued that true gender fluidity is more than just swapping threads. US Vogue fell under heavy criticism recently after their cover story of Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik branded the A-lister duo ‘part of a new generation embracing gender fluidity’ because they swap clothes sometimes.
“I shop in your closet all the time, don’t I?” Hadid asks Malik in the cover story, to which he replies that he does the same. The 22-year-old model continues: “Totally. It’s not about gender. It’s about, like, shapes. And what feels good on you that day. And anyway, it’s fun to experiment...”
For those unfamiliar with the movement, gender fluid refers to an individual who does not identify as having a fixed gender. Advocates dress according to how they feel; perhaps wearing a dress when they feel feminine, or trousers when they’re expressing their masculinity. Occasionally borrowing your boyfriend’s jeans is not gender fluidity, many mocked Vogue; it’s just bog-standard couple behaviour. Both Gigi and Zayn identify as their respective genders, so they are not gender fluid.
Although fashion’s glamourised portrayal of gender-fluidity is a far cry from the identity crisis experienced by the transgender community, perhaps mainstream society can learn a thing or two from embracing a non-binary approach to gender. Surely relieving restrictions on what men and women can wear can progress the gender equality discussion – wear and do what you want, not what society conditions you to want.
But an office discussion sparked a different perspective – if gender fluidity encourages us to identify with different genders based on how we’re feeling, does it not reinforce gender stereotyped characteristics? Can a woman not feel strong, fierce and resilient without having to state that today she is identifying as masculine? Does a man have to identify as female in order to be able to wear a dress? Perhaps in that sense, the movement has lost its way.
Whatever your opinion, there’s no doubt that challenging the conventions around gender norms can lead to positive change. Already, high street retailers are exploring gender-fluid fashion, easing the conversation on what gender means through carefully curated collections.
Genderless, gender-fluid or just wanting to express yourself, these are our favourite non-binary collections seen on the high street:
High street hero H&M announced the launch of a unisex denim line earlier this year, much to the glee of shoppers worldwide. Named ‘Denim United’, the new range sees dungarees, shirts and shorts take form in relaxed fits and cool, over-sized styles.
Launched in 2015, Selfridges’ Agender campaign aimed to challenge convention through ground-breaking fashion and collaborations. A celebration of style without gender restriction, the concept refashions a selection of hero pieces for the unisex market, including blazers, bomber jackets and the ‘Man Handbag’.
During 2016, Zara’s branch into ungendered clothing was met with mixed response. The cosy, comfy collection featured relaxed silhouettes and simple basics suitable for any shape or gender. Whilst some praised the retailer for adopting a more unisex approach to fashion, many criticised the boldly labelled move as simply playing it safe, claiming that the campaign featured what largely resembled men’s loungewear worn on both sexes.
Manchester-based boutique BiNO may be in its early stages of design, but the brand is already standing out thanks to its signature hornet motif and organic-inspired embroidery. Available on ASOS market-place and showcased this summer at British Style Collective’s ‘Fine Tuned’ - an exhibition of iconic future fashion at Liverpool’s Albert Docks - the genderless apparel range is one to watch this year.
For luxury unisex brand Ataraxi, genderless clothing is a state of mind. “Gender neutral/ genderless / gender fluid / Call it what you want / If you like it wear it” – is the mantra blazoned by the brand alongside sports-inspired collections that span sarongs to sheer shirts.
Sister designers Faye and Erica Toogood fashioned their industrial-inspired collection without size or gender in mind. The collection speaks to their love of structured shapes and strong silhouettes inspired by their shared passion for architecture and interiors, with a focus on outdoor-wear reminiscent of their countryside childhood.