Transgender model Andreja Pejic attends the 26th Annual GLAAD Media Awards at Waldorf Astoria. lev Radin / Shutterstock.com
Gender binaries aren’t what they used to be. There’s been a huge push toward accepting people’s gender identities. It’s a big deal in pop culture recently with Caitlyn Jenner, Miley Cyrus, Laverne Cox and other noteworthy celebrities leading the way. Gender has been blurred in fashion before—women wear tuxedos and boyfriend jeans, often modeling men’s clothing on runways and vice versa—but the industry is now faced with total reconceptualization.
With transgender models like Andreja Pejic, and women modeling men’s clothing and vice versa on the runways, fashion’s already moving in the right direction when it comes to embracing changing gender norms, but it still has a long way to go. Yet to give up harping on what constitutes as masculine or feminine, and instead design gender-neutral clothing, is not difficult in today’s ever-evolving and open world.
“Nobody cares anymore. The distinction between man and woman is disappearing, aesthetically at least…As a designer, you reflect the culture, and this is a big facet of our culture right now,” Proenza Schouler, co-founder of Lazaro Hernandez, tells Vogue.
But it will be inevitably harder for legacy brands to essentially rebrand. The social responsibility to embrace transgender, pangender, agender and everything in between will fall largely on the shoulders of start-up brands with powerful messages. They have the “new and exciting” competitive factor that will drive large design houses to swim with the tides.
Gender Is Over (If You Want It), for example, is a project with a purpose that looks to fashion as medium of expression. Their company produces t-shirts with the slogan, “Gender Is Over (If You Want It)” to promote a lack of gender binaries, but the (If You Want It) part is crucial because, just as gender norms shouldn’t be forced on others, saying that one shouldn’t identify with a gender isn’t necessarily fair, either. The founders, NM and Marie McGwier, recognize the power of such a simple statement on something as simple and unisex as a t-shirt.
“A cool thing about wearing something like this is that it sort of forces an interaction. When you wear something like that people are going to ask you about it,” says NM.
McGwier adds, “Clothing companies need to own and acknowledge their role in perpetuating binary gender norms. That’s a super important step. Then they should actively do something about it…If I’m in a store to buy a shirt, why must my first decision be between a ‘men’s’ shirt and a ‘women’s’ shirt?”
It’s up to the fashion industry and stores to decide how to make shopping less constricting, and to recognize that not everything has to be labeled a certain way would be a great place to start. Unisex fashion, says McGwier, makes perfect sense.
“A shirt: covers some part of your torso, ends somewhere around your hips, leaves space for your arms to stick out and leaves space for your head to stick out,” says McGwier. “What about that item of clothing inherently needs to be gendered?”
Gender, NM explains, is shorthand discourse for speaking about a certain body type or aesthetic.
“But there are so many bodies and styles that don’t fit into those narrow boxes,” NM adds. “Feels like a lot of social and body dysphoria is directly tied to gender and body norms set by clothing manufacturers.”
Working to change the body norms and aesthetics is another organization, AELLA. Their most recent modeling campaign features unconventional models and showcases just another way that issues within the fashion industry can be confronted.
“People want to see more of themselves in the brands they seek. Every brand should tell their own story in a way that makes sense, but I do think that it’s refreshing when brands connect with their audience through their actual audience as a conduit,” said AELLA co-founder and creative director, Eunice Cho. “It grounds the story and the experience. It can also be an opportunity for brands to stand up for their mission, like walking the walk.”
Campaigns such as that of AELLA show that it’s not just about acceptance of gender (or lack thereof), it’s about acceptance of all.
The body positivity movement was another recent pop culture phenomenon and the landscape for plus size shopping is finally starting to evolve and expand; designers will have to readdress gender assignments to keep up with it.
The day that model casting choices and clothing can make everyone feel included, rather than leaving many excluded, will be a huge success, and that’s definitely where it’s heading if pop culture is any indication. More unisex brands and less segregating of gender is in fashion’s future in order to cope with the societal changes.
“A dress that can work for both, because there is both in us, masculine and feminine. I’m 51 percent man and 49 percent woman, I think. I just look like a man. But I can feel like a woman, I can understand women,” Andreas Kronthaler told Elle about the Vivienne Westwood “Unisex” collection.
Let’s just hope that unisex fashion, and the fashion world’s recent embrace of gender fluidity, is here to stay.