With a number of big-name designers tackling collections meant to be worn by both him and her, “unisex fashion” and “genderless fashion” are among the industry’s hottest buzz terms. However, in an apparent effort to remain ever contrarian in the face of mainstream cachet, streetwear giants are going against their grain and taking on a new space: women’s collections.
Considering the collapsing fashion calendar and the range of designers who have recently turned to unisex collections (including Vivienne Westwood), it would seem that fashion is well on its way to loud-and-proud gender inclusivity.
But after years of forcing women to borrow from the boys, streetwear is carving out a room of their own: In late 2015, cult New York streetwear store Kith launched Kith Women, a 400-square-foot space on Soho’s Bleecker Street. In addition to Kith’s women’s streetwear line — which it launched in conjunction with the store opening and is not influenced by the men’s line, according to the brand’s founder, Ronnie Fiegs — it houses women’s styles by brands including Nike and Adidas.
Two month’s later, in February of 2016, Hypebeast, the lifestyle site popularly known as a bible for sneakerheads and streetwear enthusiasts, introduced Hypebae, which it describes as its female editorial division. Along with including stories on Kith’s women’s collection, it has shed light on many women’s streetwear labels that have popped up since its launch.
In November, it hyped Jennifer, a 40-piece women’s line centered on soft hoodies that was created by Bobby Kim, co-founder of 13-year-old streetwear label The Hundreds. Kim insists he never wanted the collection to be a gender-neutral thing. On the contrary, true to form, he meant for it to shake up fashion’s current direction.
“When we started our brand [in 2003], men were not that into fashion — there was a derogatory word of ‘metrosexual’ being applied to guys interested in fashion,” he said. “Today — thank Kayne or whoever — it’s very OK for men to be into fashion. So now I can start interrupting some of the inequality issues women are dealing with.”
Jennifer’s “Girlfriend Hoodie”
He pointed to the fact that, though women often wear Supreme sweatshirts and The Hundreds caps, it’s not socially acceptable for a guy to throw on a style from his girlfriend’s closet.
“There’s a giant hypocrisy there,” he said. “So I wanted to create a women’s brand that men would covet. If a man is wearing one of these pieces, I wanted it to be loud and clear that he is wearing a women’s article of clothing.”
Streetwear designed specifically for women is not exactly new. Lanie Alabanza-Barcena launched HLZBLZ, touted as “the original women’s streetwear brand,” in 2005, driven by the lack of non-girly women’s styles on the market. “I’m not necessarily a tomboy, but I liked a more masculine look and feel,” she said.
A sports bra and leggings by HLZBLZ
Lately, though, she said she has noticed more women’s sub-lines being introduced by men’s streetwear brands, and she is hopeful the trend will continue. “It would help my business, because there would be more floor space dedicated to women’s styles in stores,” she said. “It will lead to more women’s sections and more stores dedicated to women’s streetwear.”
Since the early 2000s, a number of women’s streetwear lines have popped onto the scene, including L.A.-based DimePiece and Married to the Mob, the latter of which has dabbled in menswear. In addition, some have emerged that have clear menswear counterparts, including Crooks and Castles, Civil Clothing and Obey — in 2016, Obey relaunched its women’s line to further differentiate it from its men’s offerings.
A dress from Vans’ women’s line
Vans also backs a women’s line, which launched in the early 2000s. Like its men’s brand, it is influenced by skateboarding, music and art. “The difference is we may add a more feminine color, and we tailor the fit to be more flattering for women,” said Faye Fredericks, Vans’ director of women’s apparel.
Unlike many streetwear bands, Vans is also paying attention to the genderless fashion movement. “Our answer is the Vans Pinnacle assortment, a collection of men’s-inspired pieces with feminine touches,” Fredericks said.
Shepherd Laughlin, Director of Trend Forecasting at The Innovation Group at J. Walter Thompson, said consumers and brands — streetwear or not — should hesitate before jumping on the “ungendered collection” bandwagon. “When people announce these, it’s basically a PR stunt,” he said. “I don’t think these specific collections are all that popular, however the media is responding.”
He said women’s streetwear brands are perfect for women wanting to get in on the excitement of the trend but not yet ready to cross into androgynous territory.
“Some of the most interesting new ideas in fashion are coming from streetwear brands, whether we’re talking about Hood By Air or emerging brands championed by VFiles,” he said. He added that, currently, some of these brands are being called “post-gender” in terms of their marketing and runway casting, but he’s confident such titles will be short-lived.
VFiles founder Julie Anne Quay pooh-poohed them, too. “Only the fashion industry approaches it that way,” she said, regarding labeling streetwear either by gender or as “genderless.” “The kids don’t see male or female, and we don’t look at male or female when we view collections. We look for strong ideas that translate.”