What we choose to wear is firmly intertwined with our values, opinions and culture and functions as a visual communication of individual identity. So when new identities begin to emerge within society fashion and the fashion industry will always play a very important role. Within a split second of meeting someone new we identify this person as either female or male largely based on their choice of dress. There have always been individuals using fashion and dress to rebel against rigid gender norms and expectations but now more than ever binary gender representations are being thrown in the trash and new more fluid identities explored. The real question though is how this will translate into the mainstream and can we expect to see gender neutral or gender non conforming clothes widely available anytime soon?
When contemplating a gender neutral future Katarina Socan (2015) identifies problems with the way the concept of gender neutral is often dealt with.
“gender-neutral often appears to simply mean masculine activities and products for everyone, while the activities and products perceived as feminine remain reserved for women only and degrading when used/practiced by men” – Katrina Socan for Scenario Magazine 2015
However in January of this year Luxury Brand Louis Vuitton took a step in the right direction by choosing Jaden Smith as the face of their Spring/Summer womenswear collection and in turn caught the attention of the mass media and millions of social media users. The campaign was widely circulated serving as a rejection of heteronormativity (McCall 2016) and a reflection of the more fluid identities being formed within society.
-Louis Vuitton Spring/Summer 2016 campaign photographed by Bruce Weber
Major department store Selfridges has also made a move to cater to gender non-conforming consumers with their concept store Agender featuring a range of high-end unisex clothing lines from designers such as Toogood, Gareth Pugh and Comme Des Garcons (Voynovskaya 2015). In a Q and A with designer Faye Toogood featured on the Selfridges website she describes what ‘agender’ means to her.
“Agender literally means ‘without gender’, but it also suggests a plan of action or an ideological goal. This projects sets out an agenda to move fashion forward and to reflect the realities of the way we live now” -Faye Toogood 2015
-Toogood Unisex collection 004 Image source http://t-o-o-g-o-o-d.com/
Leading gender theorist Judith Butler describes gender as a “complex cultural construction” (Butler 1990, 36) and recognises individuals as vehicles for change through their social interactions. People like Jaden Smith (who outside of the discussed campaign is not afraid to sport a skirt and embraces a more traditionally feminine style) are what Butler might describe as ‘gender trouble makers’, people who refuse prescribed gender norms and challenge mainstream gender ideals. Although the fashion industry has begun to recognise the want and need for clothing that caters to consumers with more fluid gender identities I am left wondering to what extent and in what time frame will this become visible and accessible in the mainstream?
Butler, J 1990, ‘Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity‘, New York: Routledge.
McCall, T 2016 ‘Jaden Smith Continues Smashing Gender Norms In a Midi Skirt’ Teen Vouge, accessed 18 August 2016, <http://www.teenvogue.com/story/jaden-smith-skirt;
Socan, K 2015, ‘A Gender-neutral Future’ Scenario Magazine, accessed 19 August 2016, <http://www.scenariomagazine.com/a-gender-neutral-future/;
Voynovskaya, N 2015, ‘Beyond The Binary: Is Gender Neutral Retail the Future?’, Sleek Magazine, accessed 19 August 2016, <http://www.sleek-mag.com/2015/02/10/agender-selfridges-future-of-gender-neutral-retail/;