While the concept of androgynous fashion is of course nothing new – in fact you might arguably say that men and women have been swapping clothes since at least the early 20th century, if not before – several recent developments would seem to indicate that not only is gender-neutral styling becoming more mainstream than ever before, but that it may be here to stay.
A great deal of press attention surrounded the launch of Agender, a three-storey pop-up store owned by the leading British retailer Selfridges, that can be found on Oxford Street, stocking more than 40 brand names with no set male/female sections. Its stated aim is to celebrate ‘fashion without definition’ and by the looks of things it is seeking to explore how gender boundaries are being stretched and crossed, not just with apparel, but in personal grooming, design and music too.
With several cutting-edge and prestigious design houses showcasing recent collections on this theme of androgynous fashion also (Gucci put men on the catwalk during their 2015/16 Milan womenswear show), can it be long until it’s all over the high street?
The resurgence in gender-blurring has its origins, some commentators believe, in ‘athleisure gear.’ Unisex sportswear, in other words, opened the floodgates, and now inspiration for clothing to suit every occasion is pouring in. As one former Project Runway contestant, Fabio Costa, says when discussing his new gender-neutral clothing line that custom-fits every outfit, fashion often reflects what is going on in a society, and from Caitlyn Jenner to Ines Rau, we are clearly seeing gender fluidity becoming part of the discussion.
Linda Hewson, the creative director of Selfridges, asserts that the store is responding to a major shift in culture, rather than trying to harness a temporary trend, and that this is no fad. Agender is certainly a significant financial commitment, with a unique take on clothing retail – just as one example, all of their pieces are sold in plain garment bags to emphasise their neutrality even further.
When most people think of gender-neutral style then they probably think of women in men’s suits, yet it’s not necessarily about taking an entire outfit from the opposite sex, but certain aspects. While we probably won’t see women ordering full suits from the Dobell formalwear range, selecting shirts, ties or other accessories might be more likely.
Or perhaps not. Celebrities, as one might expect, are leading the charge in this respect. Stars such as Anna Kendrick, Haim and Charli XCX have rocked men’s suits on the red carpet recently; Kanye West has popped up on stage in a woman’s shirt; Johnny Depp and Pharrell Williams have shown a taste for women’s jewellery; Harry Styles is said to prefer women’s jeans because they offer him a better skinny fit, and one of Noel Fielding’s favourite pieces of outer-gear is a woman’s fur coat. As we can see, men are now frequently joining women in moving out of pre-defined boxes.
For the time being however, the fact that it currently only appeals to a limited market sector, and that there is a great deal of experimentation going on – not just with how the clothes are designed and worn but also in how they are sold – means that gender-neutral clothing is pretty expensive.
Expect, then, to see plenty of men and women adapting and making do with what they can find in high street stores. But if it does gain a real foothold, prices will drop and the face of fashion as we know it may be changed forever.
(Image: Agenda @ Selfridges)