Given fashion’s reputation for slow evolution, its recent embracing of gender inclusivity may seem out of left field. However, the industry has had decades to warm up to the idea.
Just this week, Amazon Fashion announced a partnership with September’s London Fashion Week: 60-minute delivery of a unisex collection. What’s more, Vogue’s August cover aimed to celebrate gender fluidity, and according to a diversity report by The Fashion Spot, the most recent New York Fashion Week featured a record number of transgender models: 12.
“It started with Marlene Dietrich, who was buying suits from her husband’s tailor and wearing them in Hollywood in the 1930s,” said Vogue contributing editor André Leon Talley, on a recent call. (He was fresh from a trip to the Midwest, where he had styled a fashion show — titled “Fluid Fashion 18” — for the St. Louis Fashion Fund.)
“There’s also been Katharine Hepburn, Josephine Baker, Grace Jones, David Bowie, Janelle Monáe; they’ve all marked pivotal points in the movement of the gender-fluid aesthetic.”
Though not all positive, the attention fashion is currently receiving for its acceptance is tied to progress. And as experts see it, fashion’s ramped-up celebration of individuality is a sign of the times.
Beyond his and hers
Though unisex collections have debuted on runways for years, by designers including Rad Hourani and Rick Owens, a gender-fluid look seems to be on the rise. Call it the Gucci effect. Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele has been showing ruffles, floral prints and butterfly embellishments on his-and-hers styles since taking charge of the brand in early 2015. The brand’s popularity has been on an upswing ever since: Its latest earnings report, for the first half of 2017, revealed a 43 percent increase in revenue, year over year.
During the most recent men’s shows (for spring 2018), Thom Browne dressed men in pleated maxis and mini kilts, paired with traditional ties and suit jackets. Vivienne Westwood’s Andreas Kronthaler showed male models in a range of dresses, including a series that resembled 1980s prom gowns.
A look from the Thom Browne spring 2018 runway show (Image via vogue.com)
In short, there was a refreshing percentage of runway lineups abandoning gender binaries — and many designers enlisted androgynous and transgender models to sport their gender-bending looks.
“I debate it all the time when reviewing runway shots: Is it a man or a woman?” said Heather Picquot, vp of creatives at trend forecasting service Fashion Snoops. “It doesn’t really matter, at the end of the day — but it is clearly the popular look on the runway today: In 2002, you had Russian dolls; in around 2011, we had the Karlie Kloss/all-American look. Right now, it’s the androgynous look.”
And it’s not just on the runway. Transgender model Hari Nef appears in the new campaign for Gucci’s Bloom fragrance. Jonathan Anderson chose androgynous model Max Overshiner to appear in his fall 2017 ads for Loewe.
“For a long time, we were coloring with just two colors: Gay or straight, black or white, male or female,” said Kayvon Zand, founder of Zand Wagon, an inclusive modeling and talent agency that launched in June. “For the first time, people are using other colors to paint their pictures. There’s a different language, different associations in play — we’re working with a whole box of crayons.”
Since 2016, popular mainstream brands have backed unisex lines and capsules: Guess launched Guess His & Hers (a lineup of “gender-free” jeans, tees and jackets), and Zara debuted Ungendered, a 16-piece gender-neutral collection. In March, H&M rolled out a 19-piece collection of unisex denim.
In addition, several all-inclusive brands (69, One DNA, NotEqual) have popped up, and some longstanding e-commerce sites have answered demand for unisex pieces.
“Our unisex category has been strong ever since we launched it a year and a half ago,” said Adele Tetangco, founder of Garmentory, a retail platform for indie boutiques. ”But I don’t really think about what’s gender-fluid; it’s more about what’s comfortable.”
André Leon Talley echoed the sentiment that, at this point, gender-fluidity in fashion is comfortable: “It’s been normalized,” said Talley. “It’s not a trend. Men can wear whatever they want, women can wear whatever they want. No one is judged by what they wear. It’s a choice; it’s democratic.”
Case in point: Even children’s clothing brands have sprouted up in the last two years that shun “boys’” and “girls’” labels, as well as stereotypical pink and blue styles.
Behind the movement
As Picquot sees it, pop culture is facilitating the movement: “In the last year, CoverGirl had its first cover boy [James Charles]; Young Thug wore a dress on his album cover; “Transparent” won an Emmy, plus it’s going into its fourth season,” she said.
Talley agreed: “It’s a conflation of what’s happening in music, art, television. These worlds overlap with fashion.”
Politics are also playing a part.
“This country can be very taboo about these issues: Look at Trump’s banning of transgender people in the military. I think that fuels the creative industry: They want to ‘show’ the establishment,” Picquot said. “In the ’70s, it was a different conversation; Annie Hall was just a style icon.”
Finally, fashion fans are starved for newness. “When you see people like Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga just pushing the boundaries of what a silhouette for a woman is, people get excited. There’s a disruption,” Picquot said. “I don’t think a woman in a tailored suit is shocking anyone.”
It depends on the context.
American Vogue’s August 2018 cover (Image via vogue.com)
“It’s important we don’t appropriate”
Take Vogue’s “gender-fluid” August cover, featuring Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik wearing looks meant to look plucked from each other’s closet. It angered a large swath of readers, who called it a misrepresentation of gender fluidity, and Vogue later issued an apology in agreement.
“The story was intended to highlight the impact the gender-fluid, non-binary communities have had on fashion and culture,” a Vogue spokesperson said in a statement. “We are very sorry the story did not correctly reflect that spirit we missed the mark.”
Zayn and Gigi are profiled in this piece on gender fluidity because… they borrow each other’s clothes sometimes? https://t.co/ItswHOaBUd
— Hannah Orenstein (@hannahorens) July 13, 2017
“For something that’s advertised to the general public, it’s really important that we don’t appropriate,” said Zand.
“It’s great to use words like gender-fluid and non-binary, and we’re seeing different genders, different orientations — but why not feature somebody who is gender-fluid? It’s disappointing that people who have struggled through it aren’t getting to wear the crown, now that it’s time to celebrate it.”
Image via Papermag.com