The current swirl of controversy over the question of whether access to restrooms and shower facilities should be based on a person’s birth gender or current gender identity brings to the fore a trend that the fashion industry has increasingly embraced over the past few years: gender neutrality. Also called gender fluid, no gender or bi-gender, this trend embraces the concept that a person’s choice of clothing and accessories should be based on what looks good and feels right, not which department displays the apparel.
Back in March 2015, the British retailer Selfridges took a bold step in dismantling its men’s and women’s department for six weeks, replacing both with a unified department it called “Agender” that offered clothing, beauty products and accessories. This mirrors a trend on the catwalks where male and female models wear fashions of their own and the opposite gender, and fashion shows are increasingly combined to display men’s and women’s clothing together and interchangeably.
A Little History
This trend is not as new as it may seem. European women “stole” the fashion of high-heeled shoes from men way back in the 17th century and, at the same time, cut their hair short, wore men’s style hats and added military elements, such as epaulettes, to their outfits as a fashion statement.
Fast forward to the 1920s and we find the “la garconne” look – women’s clothing with a distinctive masculine edge that freed women from the bondage of corsets and layered petticoats. This was women’s liberation on both the physical and psychological levels!
Half a century later, Diane Keaton rocked the grown-up tomboy look in the movie the 1977 film Annie Hall and singer/song writer David Bowie was famous for his androgynous look in the same era. Jean-Paul Gaultier pushed boundaries even farther by releasing a line of men’s skirts in 1985. Calvin Klein grounded the movement with unisex clothing lines in the 1990s.
Japanese or Korean designers innately have sense transgender fashion. Remember Comme des Garçons, Yohji Yamamoto, Gentle Monster…
Not the Same Thing as Unisex
The gender neutral concept is a step forward from unisex. It’s not about a garment or accessory styled for both genders. It’s a shirt, coat, or eyeglass frame that speaks for itself and refuses to be limited by gender. The focus is on the object itself and that breaks down gender barriers.
The eyewear industry was ahead of the rest of the fashion world with its debut of the “geek chic” look nearly a decade ago and the concurrent revival of vintage styles that gave young women “permission” to wear replicas of their grandfathers’ glasses. Since then, sleeker lines, bold colors and revolutionary materials have made gender boundaries irrelevant in eyewear fashion. Wear what looks good on you and expresses your unique fashion sense!
Collection 2016 by students of Rhode Island School of Design Fred Mezidor, Adam Blake and Jacob Valencia: