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by Emily White

All fashion, no agenda

For a while it seemed gender-neutral fashion had become, paradoxically, a tad butch and frankly a little boring. Plain, oversized garments, frugal masculine designs – this was the drab definition of unisex clothing. Which seems strange to me. If you’re going to design truly unisex fashion, why not embrace all sides of the gender spectrum? Perhaps designers have been simply too terrified at the prospect of ‘feminising’ men, stripping them of their phallic status with anything too ‘floaty’ or floral. Historically designers and cultural icons have been bending, blurring and shaping gender lines for decades, paying lip service to the idea of androgyny when the mood is right. But any real attempts at subverting gender norms have never quite gotten over the time old women in suits and men in, well …  suits. With perhaps the odd shirt that looks a little bit ‘blousey.’  True androgyny, completely gender-neutral fashion, has hitherto only existed in the whimsical daydreams of gender-fluid progressives.  With a shift in cultural attitudes and a little help from the East, 2016 is the year of the gender-neutral fashion revolution.

Back in 2015, Suzy Menkes wrote ‘Generation Gender Neutral’, an article detailing the burgeoning gender-neutral fashion scene in the vibrant capital city of Seoul. Calf- length sweaters for men and women, light airy fabrics, bold exuberant colours and swooping hemlines. Each garment exhibiting a mutable playfulness or, Gentle unions’, as Menkes described, those were the brainchild of designers Steve J and Yoni P. From their lively Beaker store they operate a ‘no questions asked’ approach to selling the same clothes to either gender and it’s an approach that seems to be making its way westward.

Given the crippling gendered society we live in, androgynous fashion has had a hard time gaining popularity here in the West. Remnants from the Industrial Revolution continue to shape the way we still rigidly assign sex to clothing. So donning the attire of the opposite sex, particularly for women, has been a way of eschewing gender norms. It’s this symbolic gender grabbing that has only sought to dramatise cross-gender relations. But this season’s gender-neutral look goes far beyond that. There seems to be a clear effort to portray true androgyny – clothes that simply have ‘nothing to say’ about the gender of the wearer. What’s so exciting is the smorgasbord of designers pushing the trend forward. Already the Italian powerhouse Gucci has announced that their 2016/17 show will incorporate a mixed gender runway. At the helm is creative director Alessandro Michele who, displaying a delightfully blasé attitude towards the gulf between menswear and womenswear, unveiled his new Autumn Winter collection earlier this year. It features models in pussybow shirts, delicate hems and ruffles that cut deliciously feminine silhouettes. Male and female models in polychromatic chevron print suits; all alluding to echoes of looks seen in Seoul. This is gender-neutral fashion at its most gleefully rambunctious.

But Gucci isn’t alone, last year designer Rad Hourani sent his models down the runway in gender concealing masks. Brands like Eckhaus-Latta, Vacquera and Moses Gauntlett Cheng are no strangers to mixing art with fashion. They too epitomise gender fluidity in their collections. At street level, Selfridges’ Agender campaign last year featuring transgender model du jour Hari Nef was a storming success.

To slightly paraphrase Alessandro Michele, fashion has always found a way to express what is going on in the world. In part the recent successes of gender-neutral fashion owes itself to the youth-led cultural change in attitudes. Millennials, on the whole, are more tolerant and willing to accept ways of living that fall beyond the traditional binaries. The rise of gender fluid icons like Ruby Rose and Jaden Smith reflect a desire to do-away with rigidly defined gender constraints. While past generations may have adhered ideas about gender that were inflexible and simplistic, Millennials seem to be embracing nuance. We still have a long way to go before gender binaries are a thing of the past but carving a space for expression is a start.

Image: Simon Kotyk by Jork Weismann for Under The Influence Magazine, ‘The Irrational & The Dream’.