NEW HAVEN, United States — Fashion is an ever changing and moving target. It’s an expression of our society and the experiences we’ve had. As you look at the world around you, you might notice that the lines of gender fashion aren’t as clear as they once were. What was once acceptable only for one gender has slowly bled into acceptable fashion for the other. For the fashion industry, gender neutral isn’t just some Sci-Fi concept to discuss in a far off galaxy.
Gender fluid and gender neutral fashions aren’t just a phase in fashion, they’re a compelling movement and a step toward the evolution. People are more comfortable than ever with who they are. The concepts of masculinity and femininity no longer define the clothing people wear. Both men and women are choosing to define themselves on their own terms rather than bound to a specific idea, culture or class.
Gender Neutral Fashion: Where Did The Movement Come From?
As with everything in life, it’s difficult to point to a single source fuelling gender neutral fashion. Rather, consider it a culmination of circumstances and ideals. In many ways this movement isn’t new or surprising. In fact, you’d be shocked to know that it started when women won the right to vote and worked alongside men during World War I. The day when women started wearing trousers with regularity and social acceptance, can be seen as the tipping point to this revolution. The first “gender neutral movement” occurred in the 1960s with a look that was markedly more masculine than today’s version.
For a long time now, women have been wearing men’s clothing. From blazers to jackets to just about anything else, women have been sporting men’s clothing with little attention from society. While it may have been acceptable, though not always “normal” for women to wear men’s clothing, there has never really been a time where men wearing women’s clothing has been.
One of the notable changes is the crossing of gender lines from male to female. In the past, men showing any signs of femininity risked ridicule, exclusion and possibly physical harm. These days, more and more men are willing to push the envelope.
Gender Neutral Fashion: A Generation Redefining Itself
In a newly defined world where Bruce Jenner can come out publicly and without fear as Caitlyn and men like Kayne West feel equally as comfortable wearing a skirt as they are with wearing sweatpants, it’s clear that the social norm is changing in the Western World. Millennials and Generation Z are taking the world by storm by challenging everything we accept about fashion and clothing.
For this Generation Z, the whole concept of sexual orientation is changing, both inside and outside of fashion. Men are now taking on what would traditionally be considered women’s roles and careers while women have long been playing in a “man’s world.”
When Dawnn Karen, M.A., Ed.Mc, fashion psychologist and founder of the Fashion Psychology Institute was asked about the origins of gender fluidity, she pointed to the evolution of women entering careers traditionally held by men.“ So once we were allowed to do that, then men now are able to enter the industries that are dominated by women and this seemingly is with fashion as well,” she comments. “We were kind of tiptoeing this way. It was just seemingly with women’s and men’s industries and that’s reflected in clothing because the police officer’s uniform looks like it’s made for a man. So, women at one point couldn’t be police officers and now they are police officers, now it’s like women are wearing men’s clothes.”
Karen also highlights: “Basically, I wanted you to focus on the evolution of women entering occupations and seemingly when they enter these occupations they must wear men’s clothes. These uniforms are really not designed for women so with that being said that has now been accepted, the next part of the evolution would be men entering women’s professions and also wearing women’s uniforms.” She points out that once this evolution becomes accepted in our professional lives, the next logical step becomes fashion.
In our connected world, life is fluid. The way our newer generations sees the world is like no other. Information is just a few mouse clicks away regardless of someone’s time or location. To this generation, everything in life is about fluidity. They don’t see life in binaries, but as something more flexible and not as easily defined. Today more than ever, terms like transgender and pan sexual have become part of the accepted, popular culture. Karen explains:
“The blurring of the industries [occupations] has had an effect on the blurring of fashion, the fluidity of gender. So yeah, at one point women were tomboys and now men are just extremely feminine or flamboyant if they wear women’s fashion.”
She does note that this isn’t true of every culture, but of Western culture.
Gender Neutral Fashion: The Future Will Be Extreme
As with everything in fashion, it will once again change and morph into something new.
“Something extreme will happen, so either we’ll go back to what we used to dress in, I don’t know, the Victorian ages or we’ll do something totally different that no one will recognise. In my opinion, as far as the advancement of technology, if I’m comparing it to that, it will be something that we totally won’t recognise. Now with the technology entering fashion I feel like we could be bordering on something that is unrecognizable. There’s this celebrity that wore this dress that was glowing in the dark, so I think that the future will be using technology inside our fashion where the temperature will be controlled in your shirt whether it’s cool or it’s hot it will be controlled with your shirt or with your trousers. Technology is seemingly unrecognisable,” says Karen. She says that while these things may not exist yet, it seems like it’s certainly something that will be entering fashion, especially in the athletic industry.
The bottom line is, we evolve and change as a society and our fashion follows right behind us.