The rise of gender neutral fashion

April 6, 2021

Gender neutral fashion icon, Harry Styles performing in Denver, Colorado, in 2018 – image by Lovclyhes

Clothing for just boys or girls? Nicole Colucci asks why young people are no longer wearing it

Growing up, I have many recollections of refusing to wear anything my mum gave me that looked to be for a boy, especially when I recognised my male cousins’ hand-me-downs.

However, as I have become more au fait with the fashion industry, I have adopted the liberal mindset that we should wear whatever we like, regardless of its gender category. As a result, I am a strong supporter of the ‘genderless’ fashion collections emerging from the likes of Stella McCartney and oneDNA.

Social conditioning
According to a survey conducted by the Innovation Group, 56% of Generation Z are stepping away from the gender norms in fashion, while the remaining 44% will still only purchase clothes designed for their own gender. I believe this is influenced by our social conditioning and the clothes we perceive ‘traditionally’ masculine or feminine; baggy, plainer clothes in navy or black are associated with males, while females are known for dressing in bright, patterned, more elegant pieces.

This traditional mind-set still limits some of us from wearing certain outfits, as this is what we have been ‘taught’ from a young age. Therefore, ‘genderless’ fashion lines give us an extra push in the right direction and hope for the future of fashion, where the consumer is left to make their own choices based solely on the clothes they look and feel good in.

Celebrity influences
Since the advent of visual mass media, we have been influenced and inspired by celebrities when it comes to our style. Therefore, the rise in celebrities promoting gender-neutral fashion may be the encouragement we need to adopt a similar style.

Recently, singer-songwriter Harry Styles became the first-ever solo male to be featured on the cover of Vogue. However, it was his outfits that grabbed the headlines.

In the series of shots taken by Tyler Mitchell, Styles can be seen modelling a range of traditionally ‘feminine’ skirts and dresses styled with ‘masculine’ garments such as zoot suit trousers. These unconventional pairings blur the boundaries between male and female fashion which the star has a reputation for ‘playing with’.

Addressing the topic of ‘genderless’ fashion in his feature, Styles explained, “What’s really exciting is that all of these lines are just kind of crumbling away. When you take away ‘There’s clothes for men and there’s clothes for women,’ once you remove any barriers, obviously you open up the arena in which you can play.”

Since the release of the ground-breaking issue, the former One Direction member has been showered with praise and support from fans and fellow celebrities. He follows in the footsteps of Billy Porter and Cara Delevigne as the new face of gender-neutral fashion. Meanwhile, the worldwide support for the star may prove how society is becoming much more open to a future of androgynous fashion.

‘Eccentric’ fashion
We have arguably been exposed to androgynous fashion for decades. Icons such as David Bowie and Prince were pioneering a balance of ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ elements in their wardrobes in the 70s and 80s, so why has it taken so long to be accepted into the mainstream today?

As well as triggering controversial discussion and a terrifying gunpoint incident for Bowie, ‘genderless’ fashion has often been overlooked when modelled in the public eye, being branded ‘eccentric’ and ‘quirky’, as opposed to the expressionist value it holds today. This ‘eccentric’ label may be the reason people have feared to adopt this style until modern times, where society begins to offer more positive responses to breaking gender boundaries in fashion.

Responding to demand
As we begin to hear the voices of 1 in 10 millennials who identify as transgender or gender neutral, an intensified pressure is being placed on designers to remove gender-based dressing – and its rigid boundaries – from their clothing lines.

In recent years, existing fashion brands have responded to this demand by releasing new collections, with Stella McCartney being the latest to debut her unisex line. Modelled on both men and women, McCartney’s compelling take on ‘genderless’ fashion is expressed through bold colours and striking patterns which challenge the plain styles commonly implemented in unisex designs.

Meanwhile, there has been a rise in the number of solely gender-neutral fashion brands emerging, including contemporary London label Riley Studio. Known for its sustainability and gender inclusion, Riley Studio states on its website, “We believe in individuality and that’s why we design without gender in mind. Style knows no boundaries, and neither should we.”

Fashion of the future
Therefore, as we begin to welcome more ‘genderless’ lines into the fashion industry, we are left to question: will we eventually be rid of gender-based dressing once and for all?

Nicole studies Graphics, Business and English Literature at the Compton Sixth Form. She likes travelling and seeing different cities. She aspires to be a journalist, reviewing new products on the market.

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