• Phoebe Gardner

2017 the year of gender fluidity?

Updated: Oct 15, 2019

Fashion recently has reflected a culture shift towards gender fluidity. High end and high street fashion are increasingly blurring the lines between men and women’s clothes. One designer leading the way, Thom Browne, his SS/18 menswear collection at Paris fashion week featured crisp, beautifully tailored clothes, but these were not just your stereotypical suits.

Browne still incorporated influences from traditional male suits, but replaced trousers with plaid knee-length skirts, button-up midi and maxi dresses, a suit/dress jacket and crisp white shirtdresses. All the models had chiselled faces, and physically very traditionally attractive, matching the masculine dark grey wool colour scheme. He showed not only that it’s okay for men to wear skirts, but that it looks darn good.

Sammy Cullins, a part-time model and currently studying art and design at Ravensbourne University, agrees, “I have noticed a rise in awareness towards gender fluidity, it's always been there, people just aren't looking.” Cullins has modelled for designers who are part of this gender fluid movement, “of course I welcome it, I love it!”

Earlier this year Highgate School, in North London, drew up plans to introduce gender-neutral clothes as more students were questioning their gender identity. You may also remember last summer male pupils at a secondary school, Exeter’s ISCA Academy, wore skirts on the some of the hottest days in protest as they were not allowed to wear shorts. As the movement became so big that the school changed its rules and shorts are now permitted.

As I remember it, school was the place I experienced the biggest divide between girls and boys, in the clothes we wore and also in attitudes towards each other. It was still regarded a big thing for classmates to come out as gay, bi, trans or anything that which wasn’t heterosexual; and many didn’t until they graduated. The idea of boys, full of testosterone, to even think about wearing an item of clothing that was even slightly ‘girly’ was out of the question, even if it was to benefit them. Highgate and ISCA show a whole generation’s shift in attitudes to what girls and boys can wear. This just would not have happened only five years ago.

It is not just high-end designers creating non-binary clothes though, Zara, last year released a line called ‘ungendered’ that featured a collection of plain t-shirts, hoodies, and sweatshirts. It also has recently hinted at a further progression to gender neutral clothes, by having models of both sexes wearing the same product on the Zara man and woman website.

Last month, another powerhouse high-street brand showed acceptance to the LGBTQ community, Topshop; which now has gender-neutral changing rooms after Travis Alabanza, who identifies as a woman, was denied access to female changing rooms.

It’s not all good news, or some such Zara has faced criticisms over its actions. Cullins continues; “I think its a good and bad thing. I think that there shouldn't be a separate section for 'non-binary', it’s kind of embarrassing in a way. They should just scrap sections altogether and normalise the fact its fabric sewn together, nothing more nothing less.” The collection has faced many similar responses online. Cullins does acknowledge positives he believes in, “It does reflect the Wests inclusion of the LGBTQ community”. Although it appears the negatives outweigh the pros, “it is a huge marketing tool again to use communities as trends and ways to make money... if you look into the owners of these corporations and their views on such groups it's a different answer from what the shop floor may be trying to display.”

Damilare Joseph, a fashion photographer known as VVEASKE, also disagrees with Zara’s ‘ungendered’: “Zara's gender fluid collection lacked the same range of ‘feminine clothes’ as opposed to more masculine pieces.” The collection features large baggy t-shirts modelled on women. He goes on to talk about his opinion on gender fluidity: “I think its definitely the case that girls are often dressed in male clothes, so, in that respect fashion’s relationship with gender fluidity must have changed to some degree. I actually think girls pull off menswear better than most men pull off menswear.” Joseph goes back to criticise Zara’s line, “In my opinion, brands making unisex clothes is just a way for big brands to make more money.”

They both make fair points, if Zara and Topshop were serious about equality and gender fluidity why hasn’t Topshop abolished gender-specific changing rooms before. If Zara actually wanted to release an ‘ungendered’ collection, as Cullins discussed, why didn’t it take off the words ‘men’ and ‘woman’ on their current lines? On one hand, it is creating the much-needed platform for clothes the LGBTQ community needs, but, on the other, it seems like a bid for popularity.

Fashion influences all of those who can afford to buy clothes, and styles dreamt up by high-end brands trickle down to the high street shops, meaning whatever is ‘hot right now’ will be subconsciously effect everyone; just by walking past shop windows displaying non-binary clothes. While the public is becoming more accepting of the LGBTQ community, large brands are dangerously taking advantage of these communities and turning gender into a trend itself, for profit's sake rather than benefitting the customer. As seen at Highgate School, there has been a complete change in attitudes towards gender and the clothes associated with this term. Browne’s collection showcased that gender fluid clothes can be just as beautifully made as gendered clothes, but also breaking the stereotype that the men who wear skirts are only feminine.

Fashion is welcoming the gender fluid movement, and in many aspects of society, is a pioneer in breaking away from gender constraints. The public needs to be aware of what Cullins and Joseph discuss though, this isn’t just a new trend like streetwear has been this year, this is representing the voice of hundreds of thousands of people who have not had the chance for it to be heard before; it can’t be taken advantage of.

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