As the discussion around gender goes mainstream, what impact might this have on the fashion industry, and what are retailers already doing?
Fashion has always blurred the male and female gender divide, but recent seasons have seen a rise in genderless collections. Is this just a passing trend or is there a shift taking place as awareness and acceptance of non-binary gender goes mainstream?
Ungendered by Zara
In March, Zara joined the conversation with Ungendered, a subsection of its TRF range available online and in 29 UK stores. This “gender-neutral” collection focuses on basics such as T-shirts, jeans and hoodies in neutral colours. Similarly, department store Selfridges introduced its Agender initiative in March 2015, dedicated to more design-led clothing and accessories, sold without any gender categorisation.
“At one end [of the genderless trend], you have clothes that are uniform and neutral enough to look quite normal on either sex. On the most basic level, that’s what Zara are doing,” says Volker Ketteniss, director of menswear at trend-forecasting service WGSN. “What’s true is that men’s and women’s lifestyles and interests are more similar today than they ever were. Brands are increasingly keen to reach male and female customers with the same message.”
Independent Manchester store Hervia has also seen a rise in interest in genderless product. For the autumn 14 season, it added a unisex section to its website, selling genderless items from brands including Y-3, Jeremy Scott and Comme Des Garçons. Its popularity has caused Hervia to increase its unisex budget year on year. “We don’t believe that you should be defined by social barriers,” says founder Oscar Pinto-Hervia. “Gender and sexuality are being talked about much more, particularly in mainstream media, and this has led us to discuss and reconsider genderless fashion.”
Ungendered by Zara
Female shoppers might be used to “borrowed from the boys” shirts or “boyfriend-fit” jeans, but will male shoppers be as drawn to these offerings? “I think this unisex look of basics and wardrobe staples are easy for female and male consumers to understand – they can buy into it without making too much of a statement,” says WGSN’s womenswear editor, Robbie Sinclair. “Women do appear to adopt unisex clothes faster, because they are exposed to more fashion. In the past 10 years we’ve seen men become more and more self-aware about how they look and dress. Men are a little slower in this field but I think we will see a change in the near future,” he says.
While some argue that genderless collections are simply a buzzier, on-trend repackaging of unisex clothing, which is nothing new for such retailers as American Apparel, the move towards brands and retailers not defining products as either menswear or womenswear, male or female, his or hers, is an interesting development and is most likely to have a broader impact in the coming years.