Have you ever been in a shop, either physically or online, while browsing for clothes and realized that every item of clothing is divided by gender? When did the fashion industry start putting such huge emphasis on segregating their items, from colors, patterns and textures? Should unisex clothing be the norm? In this article this is exactly what I’ll explore, delving into the history of gendered clothing and my opinion.
In the Western region of the world, up until the 17th-century clothing was pretty much unisex. Women and menswear both featured a tunic garment created by professional tailors. Clothes were not separated by gender, but rather by social status. The French were the first western nation to divide their clothes based on gender, with seamstresses organizing themselves separately from tailors and only producing women’s clothing. That was the beginning of the sharp divide between men’s and women’s clothing. The divide only became more apparent as the patriarchal culture became more common in all western cultures. Women wore ‘feminine’, dainty and elegant dresses/skirts to imply they were passive and looked pleasant. While men could look clean-cut and professional, the more serious of the two.
Unisex clothing, on the other hand, is produced without a specific gender in mind. This trend began in the early 1800s, with some communities allowing their women to wear trousers like men. After World War II all progressive moves were undone, and the strict gender stereotypes and roles were back in full motion. After the war, the movements began again, with the term ‘unisex’ included in the New York Times in 1968. After this, fashion brands began to accept genderless clothing and offer pieces. There was a rise in more androgynous fashion in the 70s with celebrities like David Bowie and Prince celebrating their unique fashion sense and their desire to wear makeup.
So, the question is raised, why do we still gender clothes? It seems like an outdated notion to separate clothes based solely on gender, as gender has never been seen as binary. All the fashion industry is doing by dividing the two is excluding people who do not conform to gender norms. The stereotype of not dressing according to your gender, dressing androgynously, is labelled as ‘cross-dressing’ when this should not be the case, as they are just clothes. Wearing a certain style of clothing does not dictate your gender identity or expression, it only expresses your taste in fashion.
We’ve seen huge importance placed on gendered clothes for children, especially in the last few decades. With baby girls sporting tutus and huge bows, and boys rocking blue football jerseys. Only buying clothes for your child based on the color, because you believe you will be judged if your son is wearing ‘girls’ clothes is a ridiculous notion. Why are we placing such strong gender roles on children at such a young age? Why can’t children simply wear clothes, without them having to mean anything? This negative presumption that your child cannot wear an item of clothing because it’s not made for them, just because they are a boy, or a girl could potentially be damaging. This can be especially damaging for individuals questioning their gender identity, whether or not they fit anywhere on the spectrum. This can result in serious gender dysphoria, from years of being told they are dressing too feminine or masculine.
Clothing should be an expression of creativity, personal fashion taste and culture, not gender. We shouldn’t limit ourselves because of society’s gender expectations. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to. But unfortunately, while there has been a rise in the number of brands offering gender-neutral clothing, it is not inclusive enough. The fashion industry needs to understand that not all people who want to wear a dress have a bust, for example. Offering unisex clothing that is not size inclusive is completely pointless. While the clothes should not be created with a gender in mind, there should be different body types involved., keeping in mind not everyone wants the same body parts on display in the same garment. Even with the popularity of unisex clothing increasing, it is not size or budget inclusive.
Companies offering clothes for everyone, just based on the style of the garment rather than the gender of who is wearing it, removes the restrictions that have been in place for decades. People can truly express themselves, wearing whatever they wish. I think the mainstream introduction of unisex clothing could be beneficial to so many communities. Removing the stigma around fashion will remove the shame individuals may feel by being judged for purchasing and wearing clothes that ‘are not made for them’. The de-gendering of clothes may have a long history, but it has a long way to go. It all starts with the gender roles that are forced on us from the time we can point at t-shirts. Breaking the cycle of pushing these stereotypes on us is essential in unisex clothes becoming mainstream and readily available. It is for this reason that my business only sells unisex clothing. I believe strongly that you should be able to wear a garment and not have to worry about being judged for shopping in the ‘wrong’ section. You should be able to express yourself freely, without judgement and feel comfortable and confident in the clothes you wear. I do everything I can as a business owner to ensure my products are inclusive, and that I cater to as many individuals as I possibly can. Not everyone will agree with me, and that is fine. At the end of the day, I know I am doing my part to ensure my customers can shop with ease, not being triggered by the words “Men’s/Women’s section” because we can wear what we like. I hope by me doing this I make a difference in someone’s shopping experience.