Will Unisex Clothing Become Mainstream?

Anonymous Sweat Shirt

Will Unisex Clothing Become Mainstream?

When Kristi Paras launches an e-commerce site for her West Village shop Personne of New York, product categories will include Menswear, Womenswear, Accessories and Everyone. “Everyone” meaning unisex, or pieces that can, and are worn by men and women.

At her physical store, Paras stocks the Los Angeles based line 69 which includes trousers and dresses designed to appeal to both sexes. (Guys might like to call those dresses tunics.) She also carries New Zealand-based brand Kowtow, which includes men’s and women’s pieces made out of 100 percent organic fair trade cotton, as well as a few looks that are gender neutral. (Including the windowpane-check Anonymous sweatshirt.

Most of these pieces are cut so far away from the body that one really can’t discern whether or not they were designed for specific anatomy. “It’s a part of the whole movement towards easier dressing,” Paras says. “An awful lot of stuff in our store comes in one size.”

Although Paras is quick to declare that unisex clothes are “not a trend,” one can’t ignore that gender roles are being questioned more than ever in fashion. Particularly via the runway, where Rick Owens, Thom Browne and more recently, J.W. Anderson, regularly put men in skirts. And there are others. British designer Richard Nicoll created a capsule collection of unisex pieces, called S/he, in collaboration with the artist Linder Sterling.

And when Rad Hourani began showing couture, he designed the collection as unisex, which has become his signature. The Canadian-born, Paris-based designer spent a full year studying male and female anatomy before launching his unisex ready-to-wear line in 2007. “Who decided that a man should dress in one way and a woman in another? Or that different ages should dress differently? Who imposed these codes?” Hourani says. “It doesn’t make sense to me to limit things. I’m not trying to dress a man like a woman or the opposite. I’m creating a new way of dress that makes people look modern without any limits.”

Miuccia Prada, too, is thinking about genderless fashion. “More and more, it feels instinctively right to translate the same idea for both genders,” she told Style.com at the Prada menswear show this past July.

And it’s not just for consumers of ready-to-wear. Unisex ideas are permeating far beyond the rarefied end of things. In contemporary fashion, there’s Rick Owens’s Dark Shadows, as well as the aforementioned Kowtow and 69. And at the mass level, American Apparel has made unisex sexy, dressing a guy and girl in the same plaid shirt. (Guess whose is unbuttoned and showing more than a little cleavage in the ad?)

While it’s virtually impossible to measure the market for unisex clothes, there’s also no denying that a market exists. Women, however, seem to make up most of that market. “Women are more inclined to step into that gender-neutral role,” says Johnny Pizzolato, owner of International Playground, a chainlet of New York stores that specializes in brands from abroad that are difficult to track down in the States. “They’re more likely to head over to the men’s section. Men don’t like to deviate.” (He carries Kowtow as well as Copenhagen-based Soulland, a menswear line that many females buy.)

Although there are exceptions. Paras says she has male customers who wear 69’s “Night Shirt” dress, which is like an elongated button down. “Mainly girls would wear it, but I do think guys are more comfortable wearing drapey stuff.” Eugene Rabkin, editor of StyleZeitgeist, a magazine and an online forum that deal heavily in menswear, agrees. “Undoubtedly, men, mostly in the culturally forward urban centres, now pay more attention to how they dress, and the rules on what is masculine are relaxing a bit,” he says. “You can particularly see this in elongating the tops to the level of mini-dresses. We can thank Rick Owens for that. He was also able to get some men into skirts for a minute.”

But can we call unisex fashion a movement? Or even a moment? Hourani’s work in particular is certainly thought-provoking, and has brought more attention to the idea of what unisex means, and what it could mean. Yet for most consumers of fashion, particularly men, it’s still a challenging category. “I don’t think it will become any more prevalent than it has been for two reasons,” says Rabkin. “First, the cultural gender norms are very firmly ingrained in our society, despite the wishful thinking of the politically correct set. Most women want to be feminine and most men want to be masculine. Second, it’s hard to get away from human anatomy.

Of course, there will always be a subset of people, let’s call them the weird and the wonderful, who will challenge and subvert gender norms, but I doubt they will make significant impact on culture at large.”

Rad Hourani

6 Responses

  1. Momodou

    Unisex fashion has always had a “market”. Gender fluidity in fashion is becoming more of a staple and I’m glad more and more sites and publications are reporting on it. Good job.

    Reply
  2. Caleb

    my question is where can you buy the unisex items? retail stores don’t have many if any unisex options. i would buy more of it if it were available to me. I very much like the ease of wear that unisex options offer.

    Reply
  3. Couns

    In my experience there are already several pieces … the problem is that many shops just put them in teh women’s section only (what declares them as “women only”.

    Reply
  4. bradsadams1 .

    are there places in the states for unisex clothing? agree with Caleb that if there were more options available, i’d buy them

    Reply
  5. Quentin MacLeod

    I disagree on the subject skirts will never be mainstream. Already there are a minor number of men who do wear skirts/kilts, then there are some who would were a skirt/kilt if more guys would were them.
    Give the unisex fashion the momentum it needs and the skirt thing will eventually follow. However whether a guy wears a “skirt” or a “kilt” it’s going to be called a kilt irreguardless because of garment identification issues.
    Non the less I have yet to see the unisex fashion come into full force. The only unisex things I’ve seen were aimed for women, not guys.
    As for tunics, that was formally a male garb before & lile any other formally male garments, women feminized it to favor women’s wants and likes.

    Reply

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