Most of us have heard of campaigns, such as Let Toys be Toys, that have caused toyshops (from Hamleys to Toys ‘R’ Us) to remove labelling that says toy guns are “for boys” and dolls “for girls”. But there is a silent change underway, coming from the most unlikely of places: fashion, the world of stick-thin beautiful women in stiletto heels, is going gender neutral.
Luxury retailer Selfridges, recently announced it was becoming, in the name of its new line, Agender. Initially promising dedicated spaces in their London, Manchester and Birmingham stores to gender free clothing and accessories, it has been widely reported Selfridges are turning all three fashion and accessories floors in their Oxford Street branch to a free-for-all of clothing, scarves and skincare without gender barriers or even gendered mannequins.
In fact this is a trend for shattering gender binaries in the fashion world. Gucci’s Autum/Winter15 show, last year, has already brought us women walking on a menswear catwalk, three years after male-model Andrej Pejic walked for Jean Paul Gaultier’s Paris couture show in 2011, gracing the runway in a wedding dress. Perhaps Selfridges are right when they put it, “clothing is no longer imbued with directive gender values, enabling fashion to exist as a purer expression of ‘self’.”
Look in my wardrobe and next to the thigh-grazing summer dresses and potentially ankle-breaking platform shoes, you’ll find my army surplus khaki jacket and men’s jeans (perfect for the ever-popular “boyfriend” look). For the last wedding I attended I wore a fabulous bright red and blue tartan men’s suit and, to the gym, I forgo the tight latex in favour of my boyfriend’s t-shirts. I love masculine styles, but, as with the models in the Gucci show, I am a girl in men’s clothing. How many gender lines am I really breaking, when sexualized women are frequently depicted as lounging in their partner’s shirts a la most perfume adverts?
Selfridges, although serving a certain type of fashion savvy man, has a largely female customer base and women are not afraid to dip their toes into the cross-dressing pool. Mainstream stars, such as Rhianna and Rita Ora, are often seen in men’s clothing, but few men go the other way. David Bowie and Prince have famously worn women’s clothing as part of their avant-garde performances but neither would have what you could call “street style”. Perhaps breaking gender lines it less about political motivation for Selfridges and is rather about opening up the expensive world of men’s clothing to cash rich women.
Kanye West wears lady’s shirts on a regular basis, but would a guy with a normal office job dare turn up for work in a flowery silk blouse? I understand the point Selfridges and others are making, “why should it matter what anyone wears as long as it expresses who they are?” But not everyone can afford to shop like Kanye, however Selfridges lays out their store, until Topman merges with Topshop and Next becomes gender-free this is not a re-invigoration of culture we live in, this is a fashion fad.
High-fashion has always existed in a realm outside of what we wear day-to-day. I’m never going choose to wear Alexander McQueen’s “Alien shoes” just like my boyfriend is never going to choose to wear a vintage 1950s dress to work. Real fashion is about comfort and the world is not ready for men comfortable in women’s clothing. When we have to sign petitions and campaign to make sure plastic mega-star Lego have a female doctor toy rather than only a female nurse the world is not in a place with gender binaries have eroded. For a-gender clothing to prevail it has to be matched with gender freedom in all areas of society.
I wish Selfridges the best of luck, I applaud models for crossing gender lines, but we need more to stop this from being a fashion trend that dies the death of bellbottom jeans.
Commissioned by dfynorms.com