Bowie, Prince, Grace Jones, Lady Gaga…hell, even Miley Cyrus – anyone who doesn’t care for labels, defiantly bends rules and gloriously challenges stereotypes is to be celebrated.
Once viewed as counter-cultural, gender blending isn’t new or even a trend per se. Despite some (Mr Piers Morgan) calling non- binary identification a “fad”, Bowie was offering a different way of being a man or a woman – and the idea that you didn’t have to choose – back in the 1970s. Today, Gaga encourages her followers to embrace their “individuality”, promoting fashion, makeup and heels for all, regardless of gender.
Part of a much larger movement of unisex fashion, the shifting of gender boundaries poses serious questions for the traditional, rigidly gendered retail sales markets of menswear and womenswear. A report by agency J. Walter Thompson found that only 44 per cent of Gen Z shoppers buy clothing designed for their own gender. It was also revealed last year that around 80 UK state schools were allowing pupils to wear agender uniforms.
Progressive brands, such Toogood London, TILLYandWILLIAM and FLAVNT Streetwear are leading the way in gender-neutral clothing, while Selfridges celebrated fashion without definition with its Agender shop-in-shop concept. Zara is one of a growing number of retailers that have since launched its ‘ungendered’ line of garments. When Zara launched its range in 29 stores across the UK, some criticised the retailer for using cisgendered models to present the range, rather than anyone gender non-confirming, and questioned just how ‘bold’ the move really was – arguing that genderless should not simply equal plain t-shirts and sweatpants.
Overall, the move must surely be viewed as a positive. Whether more brands will continue to embrace androgyny remains to be seen. If more do, it could lead to a fundamental instore transformation – the end of traditional instore segregation – requiring retailers to explore how clothing ranges could be merchandised more fluidly. It would also mean that brands could potentially sell twice… just think about that for a minute.