Blame athleisure, that slow-burn trend that has us wearing workout clothes outside of the gym, or maybe look to the jersey dressing championed by the likes of Alexander Wang, but much of what passes for men’s and women’s clothing these days is separated by a line that’s barely perceptible.
“The great gender blur,” Ruth La Ferla called it in the New York Times, writing about the fall collections coming out of the most recent New York Fashion Week. “That deliberate erosion on the runways of a once rigid demarcation between conventionally feminine and masculine clothes.” It was a season of girls in roomy pants and coats, guys in slit shirtdress combos, and runways populated with both male and female models walking the same show. She pointed to lines like Public School, Hood by Air, and Telfar for examples of gender-neutral styles.
The New York City-born and Liberia-raised Telfar Clemens describes his namesake line of minimalist denim, leather, and thigh-high leg warmers as “a fusion of fashion and functionality.” He’s happy to leave further analysis to the critics, though. “I feel like if something looks good on you, it’s for you to wear,” he says. “I’ve always felt this when it comes to my personal style and it’s what I want to achieve with Telfar.”
“Guys like girls’ jeans as much as men’s jeans,” says Rox Brown, a personal shopper and stylist at VFiles. “But sportswear made unisex a thing. If you think about sweats, hoodies, leggings underneath shorts—that’s a sports thing. That opened the gate.” Louis Terline, the cofounder of Oak, agrees: “It happened when the sweatpant became a fetish object for designers, when they began playing with the notion of the T-shirt.”
But gender-neutral fashion doesn’t begin and end with a futuristic take on sportswear. Look at the male and female dandies at Gucci last month. It’s not unusual to see men in women’s lines like Céline (think Kanye West at Coachella in 2011), and women have long been encouraged to dabble in men’s (Hedi Slimane-era Dior Homme, anyone?). Men’s clothes are “becoming more feminine. Culturally we’re in a phase where we’re leading towards that. It’s becoming more mainstream,” says Nik Kacy, who identifies as genderfluid and designs traditionally masculine shoes in an inclusive spectrum of sizes, in the same vein of lines like Sharpe Suitingand St. Harridan.
In fact, fashion has a fairly rich history of experimenting with, and even embracing, androgyny, from the suiting favored by Katherine Hepburn all the way up through decidedly non-girly grunge (both the original and rehabilitated versions). Over the last several years, the broader cultural shift in how we view gender has also picked up speed in the fashion industry, where they like to think they’re on the forefront of these things. Trans models like Lea T and Andreja Pejic have both broken barriers and helped spark wider discussions of gender fluidity. It’s a conversation that’s ongoing.
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