Gender bending fashion has made its way on the runway for quite some time now. Traditional expressions of masculine or feminine are fast disappearing and the world seems to be moving into an androgynous direction. Whether it is Vivienne Westwood, Louis Vuitton or Alessandro Michelle’s Gucci, it looks like gender fluidity is here to stay.
The concept of gender bending is not new and has been in existence ever since there have been gender norms. Although the concept has been trending over the runway, its mass explosion and diffusion in retail is slow to come. There is definitely a change brewing. Muted colours and gender neutral silhouettes were the first trends to hit the shelves of mass market retail stores. However, we are still a long way from ‘his/her sections’ and creating a neutral space for gender non-confirming shoppers.
Paving way for genderless fashion
Selfridges paved the way for change in 2015, announcing a pop-up in their Oxford Street store titled ‘Agender’. The campaign created a gender neutral shopping space spanning two floors. Additionally, the campaign was also promoted in stores in Birmingham and Manchester as well as online.
Similarly high street brands like Zara, H&M and ASOS have had gender neutral collections and collaborations. It is still unsure whether retailers have cracked the code just yet. Zara’s ‘Ungendered’ collection, for example received flak for being too grey and dull.
The brand has definitely added colour over the years, but it is still hard for retailers to decode what exactly genderless means. For many transgenders, gender neutral doesn’t mean boring but redefining who exactly can wear a skirt or heels.
Kids wear has proven to be a booming market in the gender debate and retailers have been quick to take action. The wave of gender neutrality targeted the age old concept of ‘girls wear pink and boys wear blue’ first.
Retailers are now meeting the expectations of millennial parents and designing children’s clothes in all spectrum of colours. The focus is more on durability, comfort and function.
It is not just clothes, toys are getting a revamp as well. Hamleys, back in 2011 changed their signages from colour-coded gender based to category based. Thus, by offering a wide array of products irrespective of gender, parents have more options to suit kids preferences.
Transgender figures and gender neutral fashion spaces
On the marketing front, things are shifting too. Campaigns today prefer to show diversity and hire models from across genders. Talent agencies are scouting trans—inclusive models. The industry is creating an environment that moves away from recruiting people just based on their gender roles.
The issue still is that diversity and creating a comfortable shopping zone is still hard to come by. It isn’t too difficult to create a neutral zone. Shoe brands like Converse and Vans have similar styles kept in different sections of men and women, which can easily be placed in a common section for ‘Everyone’.
Similarly Gap is known to sell boyfriend jeans, but isn’t it high time we just call them jeans? Is it too much to ask for a genderless tab when shopping online? While gender lines have blurred, it is time they become more fluid on the shop floor itself. We have to let go of our pre-conceived notions of male/female and instead focus on a space for everyone.
Gender bending fashion and sizes
Sizing is another area that needs some fluidity. While women clothes in the UK comes in sizes 4-28, mens clothes are generally in sizes XS-XXL. The difference in metric makes it harder for people to shop across the board. A neutral size guide or labels that highlight both metrics is essential.
Some critics argue that fashion retail may not fully dive into this gender-bending trend as most expect it to. Millennials have been defying labels and rejecting judgements but a similar approach is harder for the so-called ‘boomers’ to adapt to.
Primark received some backlash after introducing gender neutral changing rooms in two of its stores early last year. While the installation was praised by equality campaigners, some have come out to boycott the brand all together.
The brand made the move several retailers like Topshop, Urban Outfitters and COS made the shift to genderless changing stations. It is clearly evident that no change will receive full support from the audience but this shouldn’t stop retailers from taking steps in a more gender fluid environment.
Gender roles are bound to be challenged in the years to come and while each new runway collection is keeping up with this change, the retail sector needs a bigger push and catch up.