In 2015, UK department store Selfridges kicked off a fashion pop-up store called Agender whose clothes eliminated men and women’s sections in favor of a unisex fashion line. A few months ago, fast fashion retailer Zara released its own genderless line that sells basics such as sweatpants and hoodies to men and women without differentiating. These two brands are two of the many fashion powerhouses that in recent years have blurred the traditional boundaries between genders, producing clothes that transcend the definitions of male and female.
Though unisex fashion seems novel, it is part of a larger pattern all over the world of people loosening strict gender standards and experimenting with new identities that cover the entire spectrum from male to female. Traditionally, the fashion industry has marketed androgynous clothing as menswear for women, but increasingly designers like Gucci, Saint Laurent, and Rick Owens are leveling the field as male, female, and non-binary models walk down the runway wearing outfits where skirts, long hair, suits, and florals make equal appearances. As these clothes trickle down from high-end fashion houses to the mass market, they allow people to dress themselves in ways that eschew traditional indicators of identity and better reflect their true selves.
While genderless clothing is a forward thinking step towards inclusivity, there remain many problems. Zara’s collection was particularly boring and uninspired as the clothing options stayed within the safe boundaries of sweatshirts and sweatpants – clothes that many consider genderless already. More seriously, the clothes still skew towards menswear and women remain the primary customers. Some of the reasons are obvious – outside of the fashion world it is still commonly socially unacceptable for men to wear skirts or dresses, while there is no such stigma against women wearing pants. These social patterns reek of rigid definitions of masculinity that unfairly limit the ability of men to experiment and express themselves. Furthermore, genderless clothing are still geared towards people who are slender without giving much thought to larger body sizes, despite claiming to support diversity. Selfridges’ campaign specifically hinted of hypocrisy when just a few months ago the company was denounced for installing spikes outside its stores to prevent homeless people from sleeping in front – though homeless youths are disproportionately LGBT. In light of such contradictory messages, the customer begins to wonder whether genderless clothing is nothing more than a marketing ploy concocted by fashion retailers. Are these stores genuinely trying to make clothes more inclusive, or are they simply manipulating a progressive cause to sell more products?
Clearly, there remain many issues with the way designers are currently creating and selling genderless clothing. Despite all these problems and suspect motives, fashion retailers have taken an important step forward to offer unisex clothing by supplying readily available options for people to freely express themselves. More importantly, they have shown they support a future where gender identity is not restrictive. As people become comfortable identifying outside binaries, hopefully the clothes industry can keep in close step.