While categorising clothing as ‘men’s’ and ‘women’s’ is still the norm, in some spaces, fashion is beginning to break free of the binary. We look at how this rising push against traditional gendered dressing as self expression is positively impacting the sustainable fashion sector.
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Pink is for girls; blue is for boys.
It's not just colour: Unicorns are for girls; trucks for boys. Bunnies for girls; dinosaurs for boys.
I can recall shopping trips growing up where I would peruse the vividly coloured skirts, glittery dresses and fluffy coats of the girl’s section and giggle at the thought of approaching the boy’s side of the store.
A decade on and in the throes of re-defining my gender identity, I often find myself dressing in unisex, or even 'mens', clothing.
Rather than giggling in embarrassment about the prospect of looking like a 'boy', instead, I’ve started to wonder why clothing is gendered in the first place? And what would the fashion industry look like without gender?
Although categorising clothing as ‘men’s’ and ‘women’s’ is still the norm, in some spaces, fashion is beginning to break free of the binary – as am I.
Over the years, genderless fashion has taken centre stage on the bodies of famous faces, performers and creatives alike – mostly in the form of performative androgyny.
Now, the style is becoming increasingly popular thanks to a movement of non-binary, trans and queer folk pushing the industry to break free of gender labels and to think outside of arbitrary structures set around dressing.
The idea behind the movement is to take away all preconceived gendered notions surrounding items of clothing. Traditionally, this manifests as dresses and skirts reserved for femme presenting people, and pant suits for masculine folk.
Although genderless clothing has a rich history, one of the earliest examples of genderless dressing within the fashion industry we know today came about in the 1920s when influential women like Coco Chanel began styling pieces from the men’s section.
In recent times, we’ve seen the fight for trans and queer rights grow tenfold – and with this fight many have noticed the need for a change in collective thought around gender.
Gender roles are evolving - they’re not as they have always appeared and that’s a good thing, not only for the communities this change impacts, but also for fashion.
According to WWD, 56% of Gen Zers are already dressing outside of their assigned genders, so clearly the appetite for this sort of fashion is there.
Not only are young consumers using their purchasing power to push against the strict gender binary, but they’re also vintage shopping, upcycling and feeding into subversive trends such as ‘Avant Apocalypse’ to explore their relationships with gender.
By making use of existing clothing to subvert traditional dressing and allow for genuine gender expression, these young fashion folk are shining a spotlight on why genderless design can be an asset to the sustainable fashion realm.
Aiming for a fashion industry free of gender archetypes means that items of clothing can technically be worn by anyone from either end of the spectrum.
In this version of fashion utopia, pieces have far more potential for wear by a wider audience, which in turn, has a positive impact on the sustainable fashion sector.
By increasing the potential for wear of a single garment, the focus will need to shift towards durable designs while reducing the turnover of worn clothes and desire to buy new.
Both of these factors essentially help to minimise the already exorbitant amount of waste created by the industry by creating fewer disposable garments, instead designing pieces to withstand the test of time.
Not only fabulous for the environment long term, but this impact may also encourage consumers to invest in well-made items of clothing that represent their values.
Oftentimes brands committed to cultivating an inclusive community of consumers from all ends of the gender spectrum are also progressive in other ways.
Designing thoughtfully with sustainability in mind is just one of those aspects.
Industry leader for sustainable and ethical fashion ratings, Good On You, touted brands such as A.BCH, Stella McCartney, Afends, AndAll, and tonlé as ahead of the curve in the way of environmental, ethical and gender neutral designs.
While it’s a question not simply answered, genderless fashion can mean something different for everyone.
For many, dressing without regard for the gender binary is incredibly freeing. For me, it looks like investing in genderless denim from small brands, adding to my oversized shirt and blazer collection, and leaning on accessories to express myself over traditionally gendered shapes.
Playing with traditionally masculine silhouettes is a way for me to explore the fluidity of my gender presentation, while also happily opting for more feminine ensembles when it feels right.
Advocates for the genderless fashion movement, online non-binary creators, Alok Vaid-Menon, Deni Todorovič, and Sandy McIntyre (pictured above), are living examples of what de-gendered fashion has the potential to be – joyous beyond bounds.
To truly embrace the diversity of us all, while simultaneously fostering sustainable design and production - the fashion industry has some catching up to do.
Whether you’re interested in experimenting with your relationship with your gender, are looking for ways to support the gender-diverse community, or simply searching for a new staple piece for your wardrobe – investing in genderless brands and designs is a way forward for the industry as a whole, not just a select few.
Because clothing isn’t just for those who fall onto either side of the binary, it’s for everyone.