When I was growing up, I was sometimes coaxed into the idea of wearing clothing made for boys. “Don’t worry, no one will notice”, my parents would often tell me. Money used to be scarce and with options often limited, I would have no other choice but to sometimes go along with it. Naturally, being a girl, I used to despair at the idea that out in public, somebody might notice that my jeans were actually made for boys, or that at school on a non-uniform day, someone would simply look at me and identify something amiss (I got this anyway though). And of course for any child, wearing clothing not designed for their gender was distressing beyond belief, and I was no different.
Recently, in my previous workplace, I asked one of my female co-workers where she’d purchased her rather nice shirt from. “Oh, ASOS, it’s actually from the men’s section…” she told me. Unbound by the restrictions of ‘his’ and ‘hers’, she was proudly wearing and telling me about an item of clothing which hadn’t technically been designed for her, and of course, it got me thinking…
Right now, there is an evident and indisputable shift occurring in gender dynamics. As definitions of gender become more fluid, style is also changing to accommodate that. For instance, the androgynous look is back and in full swing, with Hollywood actress Kristen Stewart and Orange is the New Black star Ruby Rose nailing it, and even singer Taylor Swift jumping on the androgynous bandwagon in a recent cover for Vanity Fair.
Elsewhere, retailers are also reflecting dramatic changes in their approach to categorising clothing. In America, Target announced they are moving away from gender-based signs, and American Apparel has recently started a unisex line too. Athletic brands like The North Face typically retain a genderless stance, and footwear companies like Converse and Vans also occupy this position too. More recently, London department store Selfridges has also impressed with its gender-neutral ‘Agender’ concept store.
And with this all occurring so rapidly, it points to one thing only: retailers and consumers alike are gravitating towards the removal of rigidity. Somewhere within us, we know that it would be great to go into a store and pick something to wear without worrying that our gender excludes us from wearing it, just because society once said so. And responding to that, retailers are taking risks and feeding our secret desires. As we read more and more into celebrities and non-celebrities sharing stories of defining themselves outside of expectations placed on them, we become more and more inclined to accepting that ‘woman’ does not mean frilly dresses and tight skirts, and ‘man’ does not mean sharp-looking suits or casual sports gear. In fact, there is more of a push to look at someone and not be able to decide ‘what’ he or she is except being a) human and b) happy in their own skin.
Just like a toy related to science or construction shouldn’t be sold as being exclusively for boys, so a t-shirt or blouse should not be sold as being exclusively for a woman. And let’s not forget that influential personas have been battling against these gender binaries to positive effect; everyone’s favourite superstar Kanye West wore a woman’s shirt by Celine during his Coachella performance in 2011, Kid Cudi sported a crop top showing off his midriff at last year’s Coachella and this year, Will Smith’s son Jaden was also the topic of discussion when he was photographed wearing a dress at Coachella.
Celebrities have always been known to push trends into the spotlight, but is wearing the opposite of what’s decided for you more than just a trend now? Clothing speaks volumes for our identity, allowing us to look presentable and feel comfortable in expressing ourselves. With the sudden upsurge in celebrities and retailers erasing gender labels, it seems as though we are being forced to change the way we have been taught to think for centuries and simply embrace newness.
With the direction fashion and retailers are going in, it won’t be long before we enter stores and see no signs pointing to ‘menswear’ or ‘womenswear’ – everything will be ours to choose, according to our own decisions and desires. That’s the kind of fashion I’ll be investing in.