We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination. —Nelson Mandela
I wouldn’t necessarily call it a revolution, but there’s a change coming to fashion, a change that few are talking about. Not that it hasn’t gotten any press, but those articles go largely unnoticed in the wake of designers dropping from labels and shallow wannabe’s screaming about who is sitting front row at which show. Fashion is steadily making moves to support those for whom gender is either fluid or nonexistent and the result is not merely an added sales point but a shift in how society views gender.
There were two significant moments last week. One was the Dries Van Noten Fall/Winter collection. While I didn’t have space to cover the issue in our review, the folks over at Fashionista.com didn’t let pass the genderless aspect of the entire collection, including evening wear. No, this isn’t the first genderless collection we’ve seen on a Paris runway, but this one was significant in that the Belgian designer has traditionally been quite feminine in his designs. Last season we saw tight pencil skirts and bustier tops. Those were nowhere to be seen this season. Instead, we had a plethora of four-in-hand ties, trousers with plackets, and masculine tailored coats. Sure, there were some traditionally feminine touches here and there, but those were blended in to create as close to a genderless collection as we’ve seen from a major designer.
The next day, online fashion retail giant Zara very quietly, without so much as a press release, added a gender neutral section to their website. Contents may appear rather bland to some: hoodies, athletic wear, trousers, and jeans. Yet, each of those entries is important, especially the jeans, because they’re not assigned a gender target. The jeans are just jeans. That’s it. Either they fit or they don’t. There’s nothing about their design that promotes one gender over another.
Gender fluidity has been getting attention in fashion advertising for a while. You may remember when we told you about Jaden Smith appearing in an ad for Louis Vuitton wearing a dress. The gender-bending stunt drew a lot of attention to the brand at the time, but was quickly forgotten as it was replaced by something else in the line of our short attention spans. While the campaign was important, though, it was still primarily about women’s wear, clothes designed with a specific gender in mind but worn by the opposite gender, which is the exact same thing drag queens have been doing for decades.
What the Zara move promotes, though, is something different: clothes designed without a specific gender in mind. This shift could be more difficult for the fashion world simply because the system itself is set up to cater to each gender separately. We have menswear, we have womenswear, and we tend to keep the two completely separate. While some designers, such as Tom Ford and Burberry, routinely mix men and women in their runway shows, we are still set up to accommodate separate men’s fashion weeks and women’s fashion weeks.
Change happens slowly in fashion primarily because we’re all comfortable with what we’re wearing now. Designers who venture too far into something different find themselves stuck with inventory no one wants. With margins already so slim, not selling clothes is an untenable situation. Moves like the one Zara has made, though, open a door, no matter how slight that opening may be. Gender neutral clothing finally has a place with a dominant retailer.
As always, the question remaining is whether the new move results in selling more clothes. We’ll see. We’ll cross our fingers. Maybe we’ll even shop. Consider it.