While on the surface, this is surely a step in the right direction, there are some problems with the new gender-neutral revolution that seems to be taking place within the fashion industry.
The main issue is: the collections themselves are pretty misogynistic.
Baggy t-shirts, loose-fitted hoodies and neutral colours all seem to feature in mainstream gender-neutral collections, but fewer brands seem to be celebrating femininity.
While female models don masculine styles, the male models don’t really push many boundaries when it comes to their gender, sticking to the hoodies and shirts normally associated with men.
This decision by retailers to avoid marketing feminine style pushes the notion that only masculine clothing is worth being worn by both genders.
Many trans and non-binary people have expressed frustration with mainstream retailer’s interpretation of the term gender-neutral, arguing that while these brands claim to be progressive, they always end up creating clothes designs that er on the masculine end of the spectrum of fashion, thus pushing femininity to the side.
Others argue that retailers are attempting to profit off of LGBT issues without actually doing anything meaningful for the community.
It has long been known that it is more socially acceptable for women to dress in masculine clothing than it is for men to dress in feminine clothing.
If retailers really want to make their brands more inclusive, they should include items from the entire gender spectrum, not just from the masculine side.
Mainstream gender neutral brands
Taking a look at these new gender neutral collections from major retailers, a common theme can be seen. They usually focus on simple styles, baggy fits and neutral colours such as grey and black.
The new River Island collection is described by designer Ashish as “something lazy and a bit dreamy”, the clothing within the collection is intended to be “relaxed enough to slouch around the house in, yet stylish enough to be taken out”.
While the collection is advertised as gender neutral, the released illustrations showing a woman in a dress and large jumper don’t seem to offer much in terms of pushing gender boundaries. Similar styles of clothing for women can be found in their regular collections.
Zara announced their gender-neutral options without much fuss, by simply creating an “Ungendered” section on their website. However, a quick search of this term on their site reveals once again a pretty dull selection of baggy shirts and loose trousers, and no masculine bodies in site.
Zara received some negative backlash for their designs, with shoppers complaining the basic styles were hardly revolutionary.
ASOS is the most recent retailer to announce their new gender-neutral collection, teaming up with leading LGBT advocacy organisation GLAAD to deliver a number of unisex items including hoodies and t-shirts.
All items have the word “unity” printed on the front in rainbow colours, with accessory pieces featuring the ‘&’ symbol.
While this is certainly a step in the right direction when it comes to queer representation in the mainstream, the pictures released so far show clothing of a similar vein to other gender neutral collections: jumpers and loose fitting T-shirts.
The androgyny that’s coming out of these clothes is usually based on women wearing items typically deemed menswear, but not the other way around.
Of course, the fact that major retailers are seeking to be more inclusive by exploring clothing options outside the binary is a sign of progress.
Are there any better alternatives?
A number of retailers have taken better steps when it comes to their gender neutral lines, by attempting to actually break down barriers instead of using gender neutral as a buzzword.
John Lewis recently faced backlash from members of the public after announcing they would do away with “boys” and “girls” sections in their kids clothing range.
The ridiculous categorisation of clothing for boys and girls has long been the way of the world in department stores.
However, John Lewis’ is one of the most well-known retailers to make childrenswear gender neutral, doing away with separate areas for boys and girls and replacing labels that say “boys” and “girls” with “Girls & Boys” or “Boys & Girls.”
What John Lewis did right was to make their entire range gender neutral, as opposed to only a few items. They still have floral dresses as well as jeans and shirts, but by refusing to label these clothes they are making the point that these clothes are made for everyone.
Speaking on the decision, Caroline Bettis, head of childrenswear at John Lewis, said: “We do not want to reinforce gender stereotypes within our John Lewis collections and instead want to provide greater choice and variety to our customers, so that the parent or child can choose what they would like to wear.”
Of course, plenty of members of the public did not take well to John Lewis’ move, with Piers Morgan being amongst those to share their views…
Thankfully, other people had more positive reactions to the retailers decision.
A number of LGBT-centered and androgynous brands have emerged in the last few years that I believe take a larger leap when it comes to representing “gender neutral”.
Instead of just producing grey jeans and t-shirts, these brands are specifically made for gender non-conforming people and are run by LGBT folk.
GENDER FREE WORLD
Based in London, Gender Free World was born out of the creator’s frustration with “the highly gendered world of retail”. Instead of the traditional “man” or “woman” labels, Gender Free World offers clothing sizes based off of body shape as opposed to gender.
The store offers three main sizes which fittingly all have gender-neutral names: Alex, Billie and Charlie.
Alex and Billie are made for people with wider hips and bust, and Charlie is designed for people with a more traditionally masculine body shape. Gender Free World offers a range of different items from T-shirts, button ups, hoodies, to hats, kids clothing and other accessories, all designed to fit the person, not the gender.
According to their website, Gender Free World wants people “to be seen as an individual regardless of physical or sexual characteristics” and to celebrate “masculinity and femininity across its spectrum in the spirit of free expression”.
The popular women’s fashion brand with a tomboy-chiche style began in 2010 and since then has amassed a large following and has been endorsed by a foray of badass female celebrities and self-described tomboys.
The brand seeks to “liberate menswear”, by offering male styles that aren’t just t-shirts and sweats. Wildfang offers everything from bowties, button ups and tailored trousers.
Famous musicians Tegan and Sara teamed up with Wildfang recently to create a new line of clothing called “The Future is Fluid”. The line features slogan tees, hoodies, jackets and pins and all proceeds will go to the Tegan and Sara Foundation – a foundation dedicated to LGBT+ women.
A video was made for the collection, which featured “20 queer, non-binary and trans individuals who represent non-conformity in their gender identity, expression, sexuality and relationships.” The inspiring video encourages people to embrace gender fluidity.
Despite this collection being for a fantastic cause, and certainly more interesting than some other brands, the line itself is still very masc-centred.
More from PinkNews
|Stars You Didn't Know Were Gay Or Bisexual||The Stars You Didn’t Know Have An LGBT Sibling||The Straight Stars Who Went Gay For Pay|
Male celebrities embracing womenswear
Some male celebrities have gone beyond the binary when it comes to menswear, providing some hope for the future.
Jaden Smith has been an outspoken advocate of not conforming to gender roles, and at the tender age of 17 he was featured in a womenswear campaign for Louis Vuitton wearing a skirt.
Jaden has worn skirts on other occasions too, and when asked why, he said he was doing it for “future generations”.
Other celebs such as Kanye West and Jared Leto have also been seen smashing male stereotypes by wearing skirts.
While it’s great to see these celebrities embracing traditionally feminine clothing, we still have a long way to go when it comes to mainstream retailers accepting that feminine clothing is for everyone just as much as masculine clothing is.
Ultimately, moving towards gender neutral clothing is a good thing. But this move needs to be more revolutionary than just selling the same baggy t-shirts and jumpers with a bit of pink of them and calling it gender neutral.
Masculinity and femininity is for everyone, and this should be reflected in gender neutral brands.
Once retailers start celebrating femininity for both sexes as opposed to just celebrating masculinity, then they will really be making some progress.