Gender neutrality is now a hot topic in Western society and a subject that’s frequently discussed within gender politics today.
With the likes of popular trans activists including, Janet Mock and Laverne Cox spearheading the trans movement in the US, discussions around gender and gender identity are not only a common topic being discussed in wider society, but it’s also influencing how brands and retailers communicate to consumers.
John Lewis recently became one of the first retailers to remove gendered labels from its children’s clothing amidst backlash from customers of Morrisons, who criticised the supermarket of sexism in relation to gendered slogans on its range of children’s t-shirts.
It’s mistakes like this that are causing high street brands to tread carefully when it comes to marketing products to children, but we’re also seeing a shift in the way retailers adopt gender neutrality in order to position their brands in line with popular culture.
Brands including Levi’s, Hugo Boss and Zara currently stock small lines of unisex branded clothing, using non-gendered language in product descriptions to target a wider consumer market.
But the fashion industry has been overtly playing with gender norms for years – taking influence from androgynous models or pop cultural icons in order to leapfrog into the 21st century and remain relevant.
I love the dichotomy of pop culture and the fashion industry today. I often think back to the 90’s and being in ore when I watched supermodels walk the runway, and how unobtainable the industry seemed to be in relation to my real life.
Back then, unless you were sitting front row, the only place you saw the latest collections were either in Vogue magazine or The Clothes Show.
Cut to 2018. Top 40 artists, bloggers, fashionistas, YouTubers and a new generation of supermodels models are some of the major influencers of high-end and high-street fashion in order to connect with younger millennial consumers. Many of these influencers have centred gender identity at the centre of their aesthetic.
Lady Gaga, who’s openly bisexual, a popular LGBTQ+ icon and often teeters in the boy world of her own high-end aesthetic, became the ‘go to’ celebrity muse for fashion designers in the late 2000’s, including Diesel’s artistic director, Nicola Formichetti.
We also can’t forget the infamous Andreja Pejić, who shot to fame in 2011 as one of the first androgynous models to walk the runway for both menswear and womenswear collections.
I adored watching her walk for Jean Paul Gaultier during Paris Fashion week in 2011, and it was the first time I saw a model walk for both the male and female shows for the same designer.
After coming out as a transgender woman in 2013, Andreja is now one world’s most well-known trans models. But it seems even then, the idea of androgyny is still rather taboo in mainstream culture.
But the fashion industry’s love for androgyny didn’t start with Andreja. Designers have always played with mixing male and female silhouettes – especially with womenswear.
The boyfriend shirt and blazer are perfect examples of traditional male apparel reimagined with a feminine twist – usually taken in at the waist and chest to fit a ‘traditional’ female form.
Even designers such as J W Anderson have designed with the idea that men and woman can borrow items from one another.
In a recent interview with the BBC’s, Newsbeat, the Irish born designer admits to utilising items, such as a Mac, between male and female designs. It’s a common practice used each season by the Northern Irish designer in order to create different meanings between one show and the other.
For me, I’ve always loved Jean Paul Gaultier’s aesthetic, in particular, his personal style of wearing skirts and kilts in the 90’s. He was even the first designers to put a man in a skirt on the runway way back in 1984!
But it’s only recently where we’ve seen a real push by fashion designers not only to include androgynous models but also blurring the lines between male and female fashion – either by having both male and female models walking during the same show or creating designs that can be worn by any gender.
Times are changing, and there’s now an actual demand for better representation and inclusivity in all industry sectors.
The LGBTQ+ community now has a bigger voice than they’ve ever had in the past. Furthermore, they’re equipt with a complex language to better describe the nuances of their lives, how their lives intersect (in relation to race and class) and demand a need for better representation.
And it’s this appetite for representation across the board that’s allowed designers to open the floodgates of creativity, and take high-end fashion to the next level.
We’ve even seen celebrities including Jaden Smith become a surprising figure for gender neutrality when he featured in a Louis Vuitton womenswear campaign wearing clothes designed for women.
On the runway? Men and women are often spotted walking together. Burberry is well known for peppering male models on the runway during its London Fashion Week womenswear shows – thanks to Christopher Bailey, who recently departed the British fashion house in 2017.
But it’s the new generation of young, talented designers such as Jeffrey Charles, who seems to be really breaking gender norms in the fashion industry today.
Jeffry’s designs are a true deconstruction of gender that digs deeper than mere male and female aesthetics to explore freedom and creativity, through colour and playful mix and match-style costume-wear.
Referring to his career as ‘a journey of my own identity’, according to the Guardian, the Glasgow-born designer has turned heads in the fashion world since the inception of his label, Loverboy in 2015.
Put it this way, his debut Spring/Summer 18 runway show, at London Fashion Week Men’s, closed with a man in a floor-length wedding dress adorned in colourful child-like prints, plus hair and makeup resembling Alice in Wonderland’s, Queen of Hearts.
Where Vivienne Westwood and Leigh Bowery started in the 80’s, Jeffrey seems set to take the reigns of hyper-creative, gender-neutral fashion into the 21st Century.
It just goes to show that there really is space for both traditional and evolutionary forms of fashion to share the runway. If true freedom and creativity is the future of fashion, then I’m here for it.