The feminist and queer liberation movements have made significant strides in equality and inclusion over the past century. They have helped to understand that gender is not a binary but a spectrum. Fluidity is now a defining characteristic of our age. A growing number of people identify as transgender, non-binary and gender-noncomforming. While gender-inclusive discourse has gained mainstream acceptance, it is important to remember that gender-nonconforming people have been revered and recognized by cultures around the world for millennia. Western society is only just getting started.
Today’s generation sees social media platforms like TikTok as a key tool in creating a safe place for genderqueer people. ALOK, an acclaimed writer and public speaker, is a key fashion figure who has used digital platforms to create community through belonging. The fashion industry has been responding to these powerful figures by developing product lines that are “gender-inclusive”, “gender-neutral”, and “genderless” and is promoting them as such. This is crucial for the development of the #DeGenderFashion movement.
We will explore the current shifts and innovations driving gender-inclusive apparel’s future and further cement it as an industry standard. This includes impacts on the runway, retail, design, and accessibility.
The Runway Gates are Open
Traditional runway strategies have changed from being a gatekeeping experience that is exclusive to one that is more inclusive to one that is gate-opening and all-inclusive. Social media’s influence on culture is partly responsible for this new approach. Live-streamed shows and runway looks that are posted in real-time have become the norm. This has allowed for the democratization of fashion consumption and given rise to new perspectives on the traditional runway.
The British Fashion Council announced in 2020 that London Fashion Week would transition to a gender-inclusive platform. This approach combines digital presentations with physical shows and features womenswear alongside menswear. Luxury houses and emerging brands feature transgender models and bodies alongside cisgender models. This allows for proper representation of marginalized groups and further reflects our diverse reality.
Collina Strada is a brand that values raising awareness and social issues. Hunter Schafer, a trans woman, and star of Euphoria, closed Prada’s show in a white tank top paired with a delicate, embroidered sheer midi skirt. This season, the white tank top was seen on multiple runways. It is clear that women are reinterpreting a traditional menswear item. Coperni’s mini-dress made entirely from upcycled suit tie is another example. This innovative design shows how womenswear designers can create new narratives through repurposing masculine-favorite items with fresh and modern twists. The bright glimmers for an industry revival are evident with Harris Reed, a gender-fluid high designer, gracing Harper’s Bazaar UK’s April 2022 cover.
Retail: Safe Shopping in Shared Space
The binary of male and female sections has been a hallmark of brick-and-mortar retail layouts. There is a clear line between what is for whom, from the product selections to how they are marketed and displayed on mannequins. Physical retail layouts and digital shopping environments are being upgraded to surpass gendered-merchandising strategies in order to create a safe shopping environment for all identities and forms of expression.
Selfridges, a London-based retailer, was one of the first to adopt gender-inclusive retail strategies. In 2015, “Agender,” an in-store experience called “Agender” featured a genderless shopping experience that organized products by color, item fit, style, and style. This merchandising strategy still holds true today. Adidas opened a new London store in 2020 that reimagined the traditional retail model by arranging products according to their sport, rather than gender. Gucci Mx, a Kering-owned fashion house launched in 2020. It features an all-gender section on its eCommerce site. This section features fluid pieces that are styled on models from all gender identities.
Online shopping allows customers to shop for the items that are most comfortable for them without fear of being judged by others. SSENSE, a multi-brand, high-end online retailer, strategically sells menswear in its womenswear section, and vice versa. This is to appeal to all gender identities. SSENSE KIDS was launched in 2021. It features gender-inclusive apparel, footwear, accessories, and clothing for children. Quiet and Acne Studios.
Design: Revise & Reconstruct
The current fashion design methodology is limited to gendered ideas of apparel. This makes it difficult for people who are not gender-conforming to find clothing that affirms and supports their identity. This is a clear indication of how the current and dominant mode of fashion design is not accessible to everyone.
Many LGBTQ+ and women-owned businesses have been pioneers in the gender-inclusive design sector for many years. TomboyX has been designing activewear, apparel, and intimates for women of all sizes since 2013. The brand offers a wide range of sizes, including adaptive clothing for trans and gender non-conforming customers. Emerging brands and the next generation of designers are looking to redefine design to meet all genders. LA-based brand No Sesso (Italian for “no sexuality/no gender”) has inclusiveness built into its DNA and bones. They aim to empower people of all races, colors, and identities by creating wearable pieces that can be worn by everyone. Pierre Davis, founder and lead designer, presented her No Sesso collection to New York Fashion Week in 2019. She was also the first Black and trans designer listed on the official CFDA calendar. Ella Boucht, a Finnish designer, creates tailored clothes that are inclusive of trans and non-binary people. Since Ella was a teenager, they have been challenging the gender binary by using both menswear and womenswear pattern-making techniques.
This traditional binary approach has influenced centuries of design. It has hindered inclusivity and the potential for creativity and innovation that brands and designers can offer. Brands can design outside of the traditional binary thinking framework to incorporate the exact fit nuances and provide garments that are flexible enough for trans and gender-variant people.
Gender-inclusive clothing is not only an identity-affirming tool for consumers but also offers the possibility of sustainable fashion industry. Gender-inclusive apparel lines allow brands to make fewer products and reach a wider market, thereby reducing waste.
Consumers who want to shop outside of gendered departments face a major challenge in finding the right size and fit. In fact, ill-fitting clothing accounts for a large percentage of returns. Brands can decrease returns by designing adjustable garments and size-inclusive products for all gender identities. This will help reduce their carbon footprint. Gender-inclusive designs have the potential to encourage a sharing economy where garments can be passed down among wearers with different gender identities. This will allow for re-use and extend the garment’s life cycle. Peer-to-peer shopping and the mobile app Depop are great examples of this. It is a closed-loop community and marketplace that allows buyers and sellers to exchange ideas and support one another. The app’s search feature makes it easy for LGBTQ+ people to find items that are not in their gendered category.
Big Bud Press and Older Brother are direct-to-consumer brands that combine sustainability with gender-inclusivity in apparel. Ludovic De Saint Sernin, a French designer, introduces gender-inclusive design on the menswear runway, while still adhering to his sustainable design principles. With a minimalist and sexy aesthetic, the designer won a Woolmark prize for garment traceability.
There is great potential to evolve gender-inclusive apparel beyond global Pride celebrations. Gender-inclusive apparel is a way to help the fashion industry overcome the challenges of economic hardship, lack of resources, overproduction, and a slow-focus approach that promotes compassion, community, and inclusion.