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Genderless dressing: A fashion revolution

By Jess Miller

Fashion is defined in the dictionary as a form of self-expression in the context of clothing, footwear, accessories or makeup. However, since the beginning of fashion itself, the industry has been segregated into womenswear and menswear, therefore instructing the public to choose a side. The separation of menswear and womenswear is so obvious that the two categories are often found in different areas of a shop, even on different floors or more stubbornly, they are divided into completely different buildings. This of course makes sense, no? Considering they are a juxtaposition. WRONG.

Over the years, there have been numerous icons who have paved the way for genderless fashion, gaining followers along the way. For example, Annie Lennox, Julia Roberts, and more recently Harry Styles. While the genderless revolutionaries including the incredible Mr Styles are praised and adored for their brave statements, their comrades from the past did not always receive the same appraisal. For example, the man who traversed androgyny from social taboo to the new normal; David Bowie.

Bowie had always been one to challenge traditional gender norms, and the fundamentals of this began with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men, which Bowie founded in 1964. Bowie spoke to BBC’s Tonight at the age of seventeen, reprimanding the people who would “throw” such things as “darling” and “can I carry your handbag”. Since then, the legendary singer, advocate and global icon only stepped on the gas. Bowie would perform as his alter ego Ziggy Stardust during the early 70’s in women’s clothing wearing outrageous makeup. Bright blue eye-shadow, winged eye-liner paired with tight fitting bodysuits, animal-print unbuttoned blouses, silk scarves and skintight jumpsuits in a variety of luminous colours all became part of the glam-rock look.

However, the 70’s was a risky time for this audacious behaviour. The start of the decade marked the legalisation of homosexuality in the UK, so with little time for the more prudent and conventional minds to adjust, Bowie was hit with severe backlash. Yet, while the world questioned was he-wasn't he regarding his sexuality, Bowie revealed that, in fact it was about something greater than all of us. The ethereal, and outlandish outfits were all a manifestation to shirk humanness.

Bowie once said in an interview, “I always had a repulsive need to be something more than human”. Ultimately, although Bowie did not intentionally become an advocate for genderless fashion, he was a lifeline for many and helped to make queer culture more ‘normal’ for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender outcasts of the 60’s and 70’s.

Now, it is finally becoming acceptable and less of a taboo to see men in skirts (mirts as they have now been called) or women in ties. Charles Jeffrey the Scottish fashion designer has broken gender norms with his emerging label Loverboy. The industry has classified it as ‘genderqueer’, since Jeffrey had people from all genders model the variety of kilts, skirts and dresses in his collection for the website. It becomes even more apparent that Jeffrey pays no heed to fashion segregation based on gender. On the website ‘Loverboy’, when browsing the garments, there is an option to see the item worn by a male or a female. Some items, such as trousers, are labelled Mens or Womens for obvious measurement reasons.

The revolutionary fashion designer is not the only one taking part in the movement. TheRealReal, an American online buying and selling platform for consigned clothing, refined jewellery, watches and art has a non-gendered search bar. Meaning, that when one searches for ‘Shirt’, pieces from both womenswear and menswear appear.

This may only be the beginning of the fashion revolution, with department stores set to organise their clothing in brands rather than separated by gender. The Browns East store in Shoreditch has materialised this idea, headed by Buying Director Ida Petersson who recognised that a large percentage of customers were ignoring the gender-divide and simple buying what they felt was an accurate form of self-expression. Stylist Nick Royal is subversive when dressing Olly Alexander, who performed alongside Elton John recently in the 41st celebration of the BRIT Awards, wearing a glittery, glamorous two-piece cropped halter-neck and flared trouser ensemble. Not only was this the first live performance in fourteen months due to the Corona Virus restrictions, but it was extremely important in portraying fashion designer Harris Reed’s mantra of ‘fighting for the beauty of fluidity’.

With more and more celebrities ignoring the gender norms and preconceptions of who gets to wear what, rest assured that the genderless fashion revolution is only just beginning.


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