Queering Fashion: The Inevitable Genderbending of High Street Fashion
As time goes on, and as generations pass, high street fashion undergoes subtle changes. One week, men’s shorts are just that little bit shorter, but then the next, knee length cargo shorts are back in again. Sometimes thick flannel shirts are in when we browse the women’s section, and sometimes, sequined dresses and over the knee heeled boots are instead.
Fashion is changing constantly, partially because of the role that influencers play and the rapid growth of social media. Today, I want to focus on how fashion is becoming ever more gender-bent, why this is happening, and what this means for fashion in the future.
During the 2010s, fashion began playing around with the concept of gender-neutrality, creating new and exciting genderless lines, fit for people based on their body type and personal style, rather than the old-fashioned binary view that segregated people based on sex.
This slowly brought about subtle change, causing designers, models, and consumers alike, to think differently about gender, reimagining what we previously thought to be correct about bodies and gender expression. It wasn’t until the mid-late 2010s that we saw more change in the high street though, and even now, there is still a long way to go.
Prior to 2015, these changes were only seen behind the scenes, in fashion studios and on show.
They weren’t really featured in high street stores, or even independent retailers. More recently, we can find small, local businesses that are adopting the gender-neutral approach to their clothing; an interesting observation that I’ve made is that sustainability and gender-neutrality seem to go hand in hand. Take Lucy & Yak, for example, who produce environmentally friendly, gender-neutral dungarees and clothing.
But genderbending fashion on the high street is a relatively new phenomenon, and as mentioned before, it still has a long way to go, especially because of a movement away from high street branding and retail companies, towards independent stores instead. Gender-neutral fashion on the thoroughfare will become the norm one day – that is something that I truly believe.
It’s unsustainable for fast fashion to be constantly producing different garments for men and women. Producing a collection of products instead, based on different body types and styles would be much more sustainable. Many of us know the ecological and ethical issues surrounding fast fashion and cutting down on the selection of garments in this way would be a step in the right direction.
Another reason that genderless clothing will be on the rise, is because more and more young people are coming out as trans or nonbinary. This isn’t because there are more trans/nonbinary people than ever before, but because people feel safer to come out, and express who they in public.
Because of this, the demand for more inclusive fashion is inevitable, as mainstream stores don’t cater for trans or nonbinary people in mind whatsoever. Many pre-T trans men find it difficult to fit into men’s clothing, for example, and nonbinary people are stuck choosing between both the men’s and the women’s, making it harder to find the style and fit that they want.
My one gripe with most people’s concept of gender-neutrality, is the fear of everyone looking the same. Genderless clothing and aesthetics are often conflated with a dull image of everyone, regardless of identity, dressing the same. Within a cis-het patriarchy, neutrality is synonymous with masculinity, because masculinity is the “default”, it is “normal”.
Femininity is “other”. This is why femmes (of all genders) often struggle with representation and feeling seen in both queer and straight spaces. Gender-neutrality and cis-het masculinity are not the same. For some people, feeling and dressing neutrally will be more masculine, but for others, it might be more feminine, or androgynous, or none of these things.
Gender-neutrality is so subjective that it is everything and nothing at the same time, which is why letting people decide what it means to them, with the freedom to explore different clothing styles and expressions, is so important.
When I walk into a H&M store, whether I’m browsing the men’s or the women’s, I have noticed that their “basics” range for both are increasingly similar. A plain sweatshirt from the women’s is pretty much the same as a plain sweatshirt from the men’s, and whilst the store still has different sections for men and women, the clothing is often very similar.
But gender inclusive fashion won’t truly be gender inclusive fashion until it showcases at least one individual who was assigned male at birth, in a dress. T-shirts and hoodies aren’t what being queer is, and it certainly isn’t a good representation of nonbinary identity, especially those with more feminine gender expressions. This fear of femininity, especially on queer men and transfeminine people, needs to stop if we are to create more inclusive high street clothing stores that cater to all people.