Equal Opportunity: Revolution or Trend?

Boyfriends everywhere have long been perplexed by their girlfriends who insist on cavorting in their oversized shirts, which are then never seen again. Fashion has never been afraid to experiment with gender, and borrowing from the boys in a bid for androgyny is nothing revolutionary. But this season, clothing takes a ground-breaking stance to gender, with the introduction of the gender-neutral wardrobe.

With models lining up in all-black outfits and silver masks, the setting of Rad Hourani’s show fits seamlessly into the couture schedule. However, the masks are not just a unique aesthetic experiment; they are intended to remove any gender differences between the models. Several other designers are joining the movement, with Miuccia Prada declaring backstage, “I think to people, not to gender.”

Similar to Hourani, she snubbed the traditional approach to showing menswear and womenswear on separate catwalks, and fused the two on one runway saying, “I think the combination is more real.” JW Anderson, Vivienne Westwood, and Givenchy have all jumped on the bandwagon, leading Laura Weir, writer for Vogue, to say, “Fashion is moving beyond the straightforward notion of borrowing from the boys towards a freewheeling, fabulously grey area where clothes are gender-neutral.”

So is that it? Are men and women now living parallel lives requiring clothes that reflect this equality? It is no secret that trends dominating Fashion Week in the past have not always translated to real wardrobes. Remember the explosion of yellow-diamond grills a fews years back? Yeah, just like braces, except less effective and entirely impractical for errands down Cornmarket. Who’s to say that the unisex wardrobe will ever become a reality? Well, Selfridges say. The department store is putting into action the dissemination of this idea in the form of a pop-up retail project and three floors of unisex fashion. To reflect the genderless nature of the clothing, traditional mannequins have also been scrapped. Judd Crane stated, “We want to take our customers on a journey where they can shop and dress without limitations or stereotypes, enabling fashion to exist as a purer expression of self.”

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Here, unisex brands such as Hood by Air, KTZ and 69 (thinly veiled pun there) will be stocked.

But is this a revolution or just a passing trend elevated to a phenomenon in response to the recent media spotlight on the discussion of gender? Jonathan Anderson takes a particularly cynical view. “For me, putting men and women on the same catwalk at the same time is probably a reaction to the idea of condensed seasons. It is easier to show menswer at the same time because the production schedule for both collections are similar.” So the unisex wardrobe is a not a movement towards equality but rather towards practicality – fab! A more likely explanation is that it’s more about garments for garments’ sake. T-shirts, jeans, duffel coats, biker jackets – it all means the same thing, no matter if it’s a man or woman wearing it. They are a neutral zone.

The trend appears to be just that, a trend, and not grounded in gender neutrality at all. It is the logical furtherance of the ‘boyfriendfit’, the antithesis to the ‘shapely silhouette’. Loose pieces cut away from the body that happen not to betray shape and resultantly are appropriate for unisex production. ‘Gender neutrality’ is the product of the trend rather than its motivating force. As far as pragmatic application goes, however flexible our perceptions of gender and fashion become, our bodies will always be different and there will always be both customers who enjoy androgyny and those who love to exude, respectively, masculin- and femininity