Think of this, in ancient Greece, the standard attire for both man and woman typically consisted of two pieces of clothing worn draped around the body: a tunic (either a chiton or a peplos) and a cloak called himation. During our history, clothing was more or less gendered in different eras and locations. If we take a look at the 1514 oil on panel painting The Money Changer and His Wife by the Flemish painter Quentin Matsys, we can see that the two individuals portrayed in it are wearing pretty similar clothes. A significant turning point in the West was hit in the early 19th century, as gender roles became more defined due to industrialization. One clear example of this shift is how, over the course of said century, skirts have disappeared from men's wardrobes. In fact, up until the 19th century, the skirt wasn't a garment that only women were supposed to wear. On the contrary, it had been a part of the male outfit in both Medieval and Renaissance Europe. For example, in 16th and 17th century Europe, the noblemen's go-to attire included hoses, sometimes codpieces, and skirt-like voluminous puffy breeches. But from the 19th century on, even small boys stopped wearing skirts, a garment that up until then European children were dressed in regardless of their gender, up to the time they were considered old enough to wear different clothes. This trend is depicted in many portraits of young boys from wealthy and influential families, who were dressed in lavishly ornate gowns, like Louis XV of France in his portrait by Pierre Gobert. Or Charles II of England in his portrait attributed to Justus van Egmont. Our modern understanding of unisex clothing was born in 1968 when designers such as Pierre Cardin, Andre Courreges, Paco Rabanne, and Mary Quant started it all with the “Space Age”: a triumph of sleek and simple silhouettes, decorated with bold graphic patterns, and new, synthetic fabrics that had no historical gender associations. From then on, many celebrities like David Bowie, Prince, and Grace Jones, defied gender norms with their clothing choices.
Nowadays, more and more people seem to want to free themselves from gender roles and norms, and this attitude influences the current fashion scene, which is becoming increasingly more gender-neutral. Of course, fashion houses have been blurring the line between menswear and womenswear for decades now, but nothing quite like what we are witnessing now, as society’s perception of gender is visibly shifting. There has been a proliferation, in the streets and on catwalks, of oversized clothes, shapeless silhouettes, and traditionally gender-neutral patterns like tartans, ginghams, houndstooth, and Prince of Wales checks. Luxury and high-street brands alike are putting out collections and photoshoots that are clearly influenced by their consumers' new-found genderless taste. The British Fashion Council (BFC) is also trying to keep up with this shifting fashion scene. So much so that on the 21st April, they released a statement announcing that for the next twelve months, London Fashion Weeks will merge womenswear and menswear into one gender-neutral platform, to allow designers greater flexibility. Thanks to this decision, London Fashion Week won’t be separated along binary lines for the first time in its 37 year history, reflecting the fashion industry’s increasing willingness to get over the gender binary.
Gender-neutral fashion seems to be loved by celebrities as well, and those who sport it, and rock it, often rise to the status of fashion icons, as shown by Lyst’s annual report "Year In Fashion", which listed 2019 most fashion-wise influential celebrities. In fact, several of them are famous for their gender-norms-defying style, or at least some of their most popular looks are. As society embraces a culture that encourages people to express themselves in gender non-conforming ways, the market trends also shift: according to Lyst there was a 52% increase in searches for the terms "genderless" and "gender-neutral" with fashion.
Members of Generation Z are behind much of this trend, and as shown by a report by the trend forecasting agency J. Walter Thompson Innovation Group, over a third of Gen Z respondents strongly agreed that gender did not define a person as much as it used to. And they also seem to reject the gender binarism while shopping, as only 44% of the Gen Z participants said they always bought clothes designed for their own gender.
Conscious consumers can also dip their feet in gender-neutral fashion, as more and more eco-brands are taking notice of this shift. A great brand for edgy genderless pieces is the New York-based brand Zero Waste Daniel. They make high-quality universal clothes, tailored to fit everybody. They are also the first company to make 100% zero waste clothes, thanks to the ReRoll technique, which allows them to create unique fashion items with the fashion industry’s waste. In fact, Zero-waste pioneer and founder, Daniel Silverstein uses pre-consumer waste sourced from New York City’s garment industry and other hard-to-recycle materials, to create genderless clothes that send nothing to landfills. Another amazing example of gender-neutral ethical Fashion is Riley Studio. They believe in individuality, and for this reason, their apparel is genderless, or as they say: "style knows no boundaries, and neither should we". They produce their gender-neutral and high-quality pieces in small, limited runs with eco-friendly materials such as ECONYL® Yarn, Lyocell, and Organic Cotton. Official Rebrand, non-binary artist and designer MI LEGGETT’s creation, is a gender-free and anti-waste brand offering rebranded used clothes that are altered, painted, and drawn on, with the intention not only of giving garments a second life and conserving resources but also of creating one-of-a-kind pieces, stripped from gendered confines and the typical sanctity of pre-packaged consumer products.
+ Words: Roberta Fabbrocino
Roberta Fabbrocino is a writer and an environmentalist who loves sharing stories about all things sustainability. She runs @mosclothingsubscription, an eco-friendly personal styling service, and creates content for green brands.