I grew up in the 90’s, and fortunately for me, my parents raised me mostly gender-neutral. As far as I know, they never discussed the decision, it kind of just happened…
My bedroom as an infant was, for the most part, gender neutral. Prior to the seventh grade, I purchased the majority of my clothes from the “boys” section of Walmart and Zellers. Yet, regardless of the amount of clothes I owned, my black pull-over Spongebob hoodie was the staple of my childhood.
As much as I strayed away from more “feminine” clothing as a kid, and sometimes even now, I identify as female. I never questioned my gender. I mean, why should I? Why should how I want to dress decide what gender everyone else is going to label me as? If you think about what I just said, you’ll realize how ridiculous that entire concept is.
Let’s go ahead and dive into a quick lil’ history lesson. Clothing wasn’t always about fashion. To this day, no one truly knows when clothing became a thing, but most evidence suggests that humans may have begun wearing clothing as far back as 100,000 to 500,000 years ago. As far as fashion goes, the Industrial Revolution had a huge impact on the clothing industry. It made clothing choices and expression feasible because clothes were made en mass in factories and could be transported from factory to market in record time, also making clothing cheaper.
Females began wearing men’s clothing to depict a movement forward in terms of power, social status, and freedom. However, men who wore women’s clothing were often looked down upon because they automatically lost status when dressed as a woman.
So, why are we still accepting gender inequality in 2017 by basically pushing the same ideology when big name companies are releasing “gender-neutral” clothing to every day consumers, which is actually “men’s clothing”, labelled gender-neutral? They’re basically saying “women can wear women’s clothing, and everyone can wear men’s clothing”.
Clothes are clothes.
I went on an online search for independent retailers across Canada and the US which offered a variety of clothes without binary labels but still used colors, designs, sizes, etc. To my surprise, there’s actually quite a few out there.
One that stuck out to me based on the clothing shown on the website was Radimo LA. The first thing you see when you visit the website is a collage of pictures showing articles of clothing, created by Radimo, being worn by people of all different genders, colors, and sizes. Radimo is an independent clothing brand based out of Los Angeles and ran by Dannielle Owens-Reid, who I was lucky enough to interview.
“Once I started to realize that I liked presenting more masculine, but also kind of androgynous, I realized no brand was going to cater to me, so I had to think outside of the box.”
Gender-neutral clothing has been around longer than the majority of us think. “Unisex clothing” was a baby-boomer corrective to the seemingly immutable gender stereotyping of the 1950’s. Also in the 50’s, the term “gender” began to be used in description of social and cultural aspects of biological sex, an implicit acknowledgment that one’s sex and one’s gender might not match up. In all honesty, women have been dawning men’s wear for decades and calling it subversive. But a man in a dress? No way, that’s just ridiculous.
“Most of my cis male, straight, guy friends have talked to me about either (1) not feeling comfortable in anything deemed feminine because of the way they are treated or (2) not being able to find anything with fun colors, fabrics, etc.”
We’re at a point now where the majority of us are trying to get away from the binary typology of what is “masculine” and “feminine”. We still have a long way to go, however, with the help of celebrities in the public eye, there’s been at least some progress. Take Jaden Smith for example. He wore a dress to prom, and was also named the face of Louis Vuitton’s spring 2016 womenswear line. Kanye West and Jared Leto have been embracing all manner of skirts, bows, and blouses. Ellen DeGeneres launched a clothing line for GAP kids.
This is all fantastic, and Jaden Smith grew on me a lot because of it. However, celebrities are known for being out there with style. They also having the ability to afford, and pull off, almost anything designed by a famous, trendy designer without being judged. What about average, every day consumers like you and I? This is where we run into some problems.
“A lot of small brands that focus on androgynous style are very expensive and because marginalized communities are my target, we are also the people with the least amount of money.”
When it comes to affordable, trendy clothes for the average consumer, what are some stores that come to mind for you? Personally, I shop a lot at stores like Zara and Forever 21. All of these big, chain company brands and stores generally have a section for women, and a section for men. However, recently, a lot of these stores have been creating a third label and section called “gender-neutral”. I’m iffy about this because in my opinion, all clothing should be considered “gender-neutral clothing”, or better yet just “clothes”.
Furthermore, if you look at the clothing options in the gender-neutral section you’ll find that the majority, if not all, the clothes are oversized, colorless and plain. It’s basically “men’s” clothing with the majority of the color options being neutrals, reminding us that colors MUST have genders…
“These brands are almost reinforcing the binary they’re claiming to break down”
Creating a third label, does exactly just that, creates another label, which then leads to more categories for people to fit us into. I feel as though all we really want as a society is to not be shoved into categories and judged by others, and to be able to express ourselves for who we are, with something as simple as fashion.
“You have to try pretty hard to NOT be inclusive. It’s an active choice these brands are making.”
So, big company brands, how about we stop making “gender-neutral” a trend to make profit, and let fashion be what it is, for everyone.
Edited by: Shelby Mailloux
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