Not every fashion trend is worth paying attention to. Indeed, most are fleeting moments that generate little momentum before fizzling out, making room for the next batch. Some, however, are genuinely interesting, and have the potential to change the way we dress forever.
Take Marlon Brando, who, throughout the 1950s, defied the suit generation and popularised the T-shirt and jeans look, which continues to dominate wardrobes today. Then there was Mary Quant and the miniskirt in the ‘60s, helping to liberate many women from the confines of hemlines.
But, these may pale in comparison to a current movement in fashion: the decision by some brands to reduce dedicated ‘male’ and ‘female’ collections, and make unisex clothing. Clothes that aren’t defined by gender; clothes that don’t chase a predetermined demographic, but rather aim to be worn by just people. Inclusive clothing for a divided world, then? Or just another marketing fad conceived to sell more units?
What Is Unisex Fashion?
Quite simply, unisex clothes are garments that are designed without a specific gender in mind. Throughout time, society has dictated that men should dress in one way and women in another – it often starts in school, trousers and blue are for boys, skirts and pink for girls – but unisex fashion does away with all this.
For some, it represents more than just clothing. Tanmay Saxena, founder of London-based unisex label LaneFortyfive believes “it’s already very hard to break the metaphorical walls and create equality in the times we live in. I feel unisex clothing is a small but effective way to roll out a line of conversation towards a broader dialogue about equality”.
Stephen Doig, men’s style editor at The Telegraph agrees: “It’s a natural progression in a world where, thankfully, there’s more acceptance of gender fluidity”.
H&M’s Denim United campaign
Current affairs editor at leading LGBT website PinkNews, Nick Duffy goes further, stating that unisex fashion is setting a new standard for the industry. “Unisex clothes are absolutely becoming the new normal in high street fashion. We’re seeing more and more major brands acknowledge that clothes do not have a gender – whether that’s launching specific unisex ranges, or removing gender-specific signage in-store and simply letting their products speak for themselves. This is really what fashion should be about, free from judgement and based on individual self-expression.”
How Unisex Fashion Entered The Mainstream
Unisex clothing is not a new concept, although it’s one that has only recently made it to the high street. Haute couture brands went first, of course, and more recently department stores and fast fashion chains have dabbled, realising that many of their consumers don’t want to be defined by the label on their clothes, or the section of the store in which they shop.
In 2015 Selfridges launched its ‘Agender’ initiative, merging its menswear and womenswear sections as well as displaying unisex pieces from over 40 brands. A year later Zara put out its ‘Ungendered’ line – a selection of jeans, hoodies and shirts – and in 2017 H&M released ‘Denim United’, a collection of workwear staples designed for all. Shortly after, John Lewis removed the gender labels from all of its kids’ clothing, in a move that drew plenty of praise (and some criticism, although Piers Morgan shouldn’t count).
Alongside this high street action was high fashion, and certain celebrities who helped to drive unisex clothing to the fore. Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele has had a significant impact since introducing pussy bows and lace shirts in his first menswear shows of 2015 and only using svelte, androgynous models to wear his ungendered clothing. Michele transformed Gucci, and the rest of the luxury fashion set followed.
More recently, at his first ever Celine 2018 menswear show, Hedi Slimane announced in the accompanying press release that “the entire wardrobe worn by the male models is unisex, and therefore will also be available for women.” Numerous other designers have been showcasing both menswear and womenswear together in recent seasons too, highlighted again this year by big hitters Burberry and Balenciaga.
The Celebrity Effect
Louis Vuitton’s SS16 womenswear campaign
The list of public figures adopting unisex fashion is also increasing. Jaden Smith famously wore a skirt in Louis Vuitton’s SS16 women’s campaign, and has since incorporated traditionally feminine clothing into his personal style. In the world of hip-hop, an overtly masculine genre, American rapper Young Thug wore a floor-length purple dress on the cover of his Jeffrey mixtape in 2016 and Kanye West became known for a while for wearing skirts and oversized T-shirts.
More female actors than ever are choosing suits on the red carpet over gowns too – Rachel Wood out-dressed mostly everyone at the 2017 Golden Globes. Today’s stars aren’t the first to do it though. There was Prince during the ’80s, Kurt Cobain who wore a dress on the cover of The Face in 1993, and of course, David Bowie.
Kurt Cobain on the cover of The Face
“It’s hard to underestimate the impact David Bowie had on fashion”, says menswear historian and author Josh Sims. “He broke free of the then still powerful norms of gendered dressing – make-up, hair colouring, androgyny; he broke the mould. This, remember, was an era of the three day week, strikes, of rampant nationalism, racism, sexism. It was a pretty grim, dark period. Bowie’s dress sense was like switching on a lightbulb.”
David Bowie on stage in 1973
Many of the current unisex collections available on the high street aren’t as glamorous as a Ziggy Stardust stage outfit. Rather, they’re often made up of versatile staples: sweatshirts, straight leg trousers, boxy T-shirts and oversized outerwear. While the high street won’t be truly progressive until it offers skirts, dresses and traditionally feminine silhouettes as part of their unisex collections, this can be seen as a step forward.
Why Unisex Clothing Needs To Be On Your Radar
We Shouldn’t Be Restricted By Gender
As Saxena says, “a chef does not care for whether the food will be eaten by a person of a specific gender”. So why should we care about whether we wear ‘male’ or ‘female’ clothing? If you like a piece of clothing and it fits in the way you intended, buy it – gender shouldn’t come into it.
It Offers Clothing Options For Everyone
Zara’s Ungendered campaign
We should be able to wear what we feel comfortable in and unfortunately for many, the choice of only two styles of clothing – male or female – isn’t enough, and it doesn’t fully represent the world we inhabit. Unisex bridges the gap somewhat, and “it’s provoked an interesting conversation and shifted the goalposts in terms of [people] feeling more at ease” in what they wear, as Doig says.
You Could Be Supporting Slow Fashion
Many brands that make unisex clothing are independent and produce small batches with considered designs. Take LaneFortyfive for example, which almost entirely hand makes its garments, or Community Clothing which only produces in the UK in factories that are operating below capacity.
The Question Of Fit
How clothes fit is highly subjective: one man’s ‘cropped’ is another man’s ‘too short’. And for some, the question of whether unisex clothing works boils down to whether it fits them or not.
For Marcus Jaye, founder of style blog The Chic Geek, “Fit in clothing is important and men’s and women’s bodies are different. It’s not unisex if it doesn’t fit me, and often it’s cut too small to get your shoulders in or just doesn’t translate into the full range of sizes.
“It works for more shapeless things like sweatshirts, and as we’re moving away from skinny fits unisex styles will work better. Clothes are all about proportions and finding a one-size-fits-all style is difficult”.
Perhaps a ‘one-size-fits-all’ style isn’t realistic after all, especially when it comes to trousers. Shirts and jackets can be made fairly easily for everyone, yet anatomical differences in men and women’s bodies make trousers a harder prospect.
Saxena at LaneFortyfive has a solution. “We make the tops (shirts/overshirts/jackets/coats) with the same cut irrespective of the gender. But for bottoms, we do adjust the cut to fit certain body types for comfort and practicality. The idea is not to force all body shapes and types into one single fit to prove a point. The idea is that everyone can wear every piece of clothing that we make irrespective of gender and that the silhouette that comes out at the end is uniform.”
The Key Brands For Unisex Fashion
Since it was founded ten years ago, JW Anderson has been blurring the lines between traditionally masculine and feminine clothing. Although the London-based brand produces dedicated men’s and women’s clothing, the designer encourages clients to shop both – its garments tend to be flat-fitting and wear well on a wide range of body shapes.
Nobody describes Rad Hourani’s clothes better than Mr Hourani himself: “They are genderless, ageless and limitless. They come from no nations, no race, no religion, yet they could be at home anywhere, anytime.” Designs range from minimalist rain macs to unisex wrap skirts in muted colourways of black, navy and grey.
While not strictly a unisex brand, Cos is well known for its boxy silhouettes and versatile designs. What’s more, it recently launched its Soma collection – a lineup of contemporary pieces including a /3/4 length belted coat suitable for all body types.
Founded by Patrick Grant – of E Tautz and Norton & Sons fame – Community Clothing is your new destination for quality basics. All made in UK factories, expect interchangeable wardrobe pieces that won’t break the bank: sweatshirts, raincoats and selvedge denim are all available.
A brand passionate about producing ungendered clothing, LaneFortyfive takes inspiration from classic workwear garments – think chore jackets and wide-legged trousers – and renders them in beautiful fabrics such as corduroy and pure linen. Oh, and nearly everything is made by hand in London.
Unisex clothing isn’t going anywhere. This is a good thing. For too long mainstream fashion has pushed only men’s and women’s collections which, in today’s landscape, is a notion that simply doesn’t fit.
No, it’s not likely to ever entirely replace the traditional fashion formula, but the increasing number of unisex options available is a step towards inclusivity in an industry that’s notorious for the opposite. As consumers, we should always welcome choice.
Can it work in terms of fit? In the direction fashion is currently moving – that is, looser cuts and oversized styles – unisex clothing makes more sense than ever.
It’s true that certain trouser styles are difficult to offer as a unisex garment, but trousers are notoriously hard to buy anyway, and we’d recommend getting alterations done at your local tailor regardless of where you get them.
Still not sold? Well, you don’t really have to be. The rise in mainstream unisex collections has helped further the dialogue of gender and identity in society today and honestly, that’s more important than clothes anyway.