Gender-neutral clothing is trending. Fashion is always evolving with society. Trends that were once boundary-breaking become the norm and permanently change fashion forever. One of the surest ways to break a boundary is to break the binary of gendered clothing. This has been seen over and over again with men wearing skirts, growing out their hair, or getting piercings and painting their nails. This has also been seen in women wearing suits, cutting their hair, not wearing makeup, and not shaving their armpits or legs. These fashion moments exist due to breaking binary gender norms. However, there are also clothes that break the gender binary. Not really, rather, the clothes exist and cater to outside of the gender binary.
Gender-neutral, androgynous, or unisex clothing brands have been popping up since the early 2010s. The purpose: to create clothes that do not fit into genders stereotypes to provide comfort and euphoria for those that exist outside of gender stereotypes or gender itself. The clothes from these lines have many things in common: they are usually shapeless or boxy, and might be in a neutral gray or an earthy brown tone. Because of these commonalities, the clothing lines have been the butt of internet jokes for years with a recent TikTok user @vanguardian’s joke post gaining 275.1k views and 81.2k likes. While jokes about these brands are common, they have also found their audience and are appreciated by all walks of people on the gender spectrum. The clothes themselves are very traditionally masculine in their style, not actually neutral of any gender stereotype. This is harmful for a number of reasons.
This, nonbinary clothes being modeled after men’s clothes, is bad because it creates the idea that nonbinary people owe the world masculinity or androgyny. The majority of clothes labeled androgynous or unisex are clothes that have historically been worn by men, such as pants, buttoned shirts, and blazers. Meanwhile, clothes that have been historically viewed as more feminine such as skirts, dresses, or blouses, are still labeled as womenswear. This idea contributes to a number of chain reactions, including the erasure and ridicule of feminine-presenting nonbinary folk. Nonbinary folks who choose to dress in a more feminine style are commonly seen to be less trans or less nonbinary than those who dress more masculine or androgynous.
Aside from just articles of clothing being gendered, colors are also gendered. Pastels, like shades of pink, and darker colors, like navy, are masculine. Attempts to avoid this in gender-neutral clothes have oversaturated the market for them which has led to jokes about beiges and grays on the internet, like @vanguardian’s video.
Another reason these gender-neutral clothing brands are harmful is that they assign a body type to be nonbinary. In offering masculine styles, the ideal body type becomes masculinized: no curves, small or no chest, angular jawlines, and short hair. This, again, is an issue. It is not bad that these clothes and bodies are labeled as nonbinary when they are not, it is an issue that these are inadvertently the new standard and expectations for how nonbinary people should look and dress. These expectations tend to offer more masculine styles as being genderless and leaving out feminine styles, especially styles that are flattering on people of all body types and people of all backgrounds.
A common expression to come up when going through LGBTQ+, especially trans, discourse is that clothes do not have a gender and one should wear whatever they please or makes them happy. While this idea is very helpful to some, it is a detrimental idea to others. Gender-affirming clothing has been a powerful tool for trans people for centuries. Clothes can have no gender to some while affirming others’ genders. These ideas are not mutually exclusive and can both be true at the same time. We, as a society, have coexisted with these ideas for years. The thing is, clothes do not have a gender inherently. The communication theory symbolic interactionism is behind prescribing meaning to clothes. According to ThoughtCo, “This perspective (theory) relies on the symbolic meaning that people develop and build upon in the process of social interaction.” The clothes are assigned meaning, and further, gender, by our own experiences and what society, our culture, and time tell us. All of these factors come into play for us, as a westernized society, who have deemed certain pieces of cloth appropriate for each of the two binary genders. Now, there is also assigned meaning to unisex clothes. This can cause problems.
It is very easy for cis people to point out how gender appears to them and complements their view on society. Yet, the concept of gender conformity can be more complex for gender nonconforming or transgender individuals. Gender-neutral clothing brands are not the issue. The implications and homogenization of gender-neutrality are the issues. Some individuals feel most themselves in boxy, rust-colored, loungewear. That is completely their prerogative. This is simply a call to action that gender-neutral clothes should incorporate more individualistic designs. Designers of gender-neutral clothing lines should not be afraid to incorporate a variety of patterns, colors, and cuts of fabric. A skirt or silk top paired with heeled boots and a blazer can be a fun way to mix the gender stereotypes to create something new and fun.
Fashion trends evolve and change. In the mid-century modern classic styles of the 1900s, women wore dresses, heels, and curled their hair daily. Now, many women still do this, but it is far from the standard. Whatever is in style now will fade or grow into something more than what anyone could have previously predicted. While gender-neutral clothes now create harmful implications and lack variation, the future is wide open to this changing. After a few more trend cycles, maybe we will be able to express ourselves on the street however we would like, no matter the implications of our gender expression and identity. There is more than one way to be each gender or lack thereof. Fashion will catch up soon enough.