In the past few years, I've found myself contemplating what it means to be woman in modernity. As someone who identifies herself with a generally traditional notion of womanhood, there may not seem to be a need for me to contemplate ideas on gendered or genderless fashion. In many ways, my fashion choices have already been dictated for me as a cis woman by society's fashion standards for the stereotypical woman.
But as I live in this changing world, it would be ignorant of me to not at least consider how genderless fashion is changing our culture. I'm highly interested in the roles women play in this day in age, which are often roles they couldn't entertain even 30 years ago.
I would call myself a feminist in that I truly want to see equality for both women and men. I do not adhere to any ideology that says men are better than women or that women are better than men. The fact is, we all have bits of each gender in our identity. I have lived in a community and familial culture for most of my life where women are deemed inferior to men. I don't think my cultural heritage is overtly oppressive, or that my community expressly means to belittle women, but there have always been certain subtle expectations put on a woman or man that I have now realized are not necessarily fair and no longer line up with my current mindset.
A part of these expectations and ideals is the type of clothing one wears as a woman or a man. Clothing has throughout history inherently identified people as either of the genders, as a member of some social class, or as some part of the professional world.
I don't have to detail the traditional views on gendered fashion as it's been something passed down to us subconsciously in our culture. All you have to do is look at baby clothing, and you'll find a stark contrast for what is for a baby boy and what is for a baby girl with little to no common ground. (Trust me, I'm currently preparing for a baby girl in the fall, and I literally had to wait to find out my baby's gender before I could really start shopping for clothes easily.)
Why is it so hard for us to get away from these fashion identifiers? I don't think they are necessarily bad for each gender, but they are limiting. It's not wrong for a woman to enjoy the stereotypically female type of clothing, nor is it bad for a man to like wearing the clothes he has always seen on other men, but it is sad and uncalled for when someone is shamed for dressing outside of the gendered boxes we've created.
Recently, Sara Moroz of New York Magazine's The Cut interviewed three European designers about how they see unisex fashion. One of the things that struck me in the piece were some of the statements made by German designer Wolfgang Jarnach of the brand w'lfg'ng.
We [at w'lfg'ng] believe menswear always has to be masculine, and womenswear always has to stay feminine. The only difference is that we suggest the same style for both genders. Which means there is a bomber jacket in a certain color and fabric for men, and then there is a slightly adjusted bomber jacket in the same color and fabric for women. At first sight it looks like the same thing, but if you take a closer look, the jacket for girls has a distinctive feminine touch to it. What we do is better described as “multisex,” because it is one style that works for many. It’s so much more than just one garment for everyone.
He also stated:
There will always be a pattern for both genders. The human body is very unique, which means a female body wants to be presented in a different way than a male body. You can play with this, of course, but it should never look like a forced compromise.
The distinction he makes between the two sexes is interesting. Our bodies are shaped quite differently, so it makes sense that cuts and designs may never truly be unisex in that the fit of the garment, in this designer's opinion, must always be tailored to the particular body it is on. This desire to tailor clothing to the body is certainly a factor in why it's been hard for us to get away from gendered fashion. Otherwise, unisex garments are forced to become shapeless.
That shapelessness is exactly what another designer brand interviewed in the article is doing. Italian designers Andrea Masato and Gianluca Ferracin, who created the "agender" label EDITHMARCEL, started their latest collection with a male physicality in mind, but they have said that doesn't mean they won't begin the next from a female physicality.
"We arrive at a result that negates the definition of gender."
They have developed their own way of sizing their garments, which allows the customer to decide what kind of shape they want to create for their own silhouette. They describe their collection as such:
"More than the sum of the two genders, we try to look at how to erase them both, giving shape to a body that is entirely new, freed from typical characteristics. Our project does not have to do with the idea of union, but with that of absence: the absence of differences, and the absence of gender. Our goal is to re-create an aesthetic, linked to physicality, which respects the features of both sexes, annulling the notion of gender itself."
So why does this type of fashion matter? Why is it currently trending in the industry, and where will it go from here? We are at a crux in history where gender identity is being challenged and explored and made public. Even though it's still controversial, it's not as uncommon to discuss gender roles, LGBTQ rights, and other matters of personal identity. Unisex, multi-sex, a-sex, or genderless fashion, whatever you want to call it, is highly appealing to a generation who is tired of the stereotypes and who'd like to see any and all identities accepted.
Is genderless fashion eliminating sex? I think the answer is yes and no. Yes in that traditional ideas of womanhood and manhood are seemingly erased, but no because the wearer of the clothes still gets to bring forth their personality. True genderless fashion isn't a man wearing feminine clothing or a woman wearing masculine clothing. It is, IMO, a human wearing clothing fit for either.
When thinking of genderless fashion and the future of it in the industry, I know my mind tends to recreate images of clothes worn in some dystopian society in a film — a type of clothing that eliminates individuality and traditional definition of gender and makes a group of people equal in its sameness. That's not where I'd like to see this fashion trend go. I hope to see genderless fashion become not just a trend but a stepping stone for progress in equality of the sexes. I think it's advantageous in that we might be able to stop seeing people through the eyes of societal limitations of genders and rather possessing the strengths of both woman and man.
Images: edithmarcel_official, w_lfg_ng/Instagram; Giphy