The concept of gender neutral clothing is an interesting one. There are a variety of reasons why fashion has moved in this direction (it has to move somewhere), but one of those reasons is not, contrary to some popular beliefs, to make men and women all look alike. And if your image of gender neutral clothing is something akin to a white sheet (no shape, detailing or embellishments that might define it as either more masculine or more feminine), then you need to get up to speed. In fact, I think it’s time we dropped the term “gender neutral” entirely because this trend is not about diluting down good design to a one-fits-all aesthetic, or about girls borrowing from the boys, or men looking risqué in skirts, it’s about clothes with unisex appeal.
Miuccia Prada once declared backstage, “I think to people, not to gender.” These days, it’s bcoming more common, too, to see both menswear and womenswear on the same runway within the same show – from Prada to Gucci on a global scale, and at home at the Brown Thomas SS17 catwalk preview this week. This is because it’s impossible now to either dictate or predict which types of clothes will appeal to women and which to men. At press launches, I’m equally drawn to both because I enjoy mixing boyish elements into my wardrobe and I find sometimes I buy better when I go directly to a menswear department rather than choosing an item from a womenswear store that’s been given a masculine hit. If menswear stores would start stocking XXS, I’d probably buy in them as often as I do in womenswear shops.
Traditional societal constructs have been sufficiently undermined as to allow for an anything-goes approach to dressing. In the forties, Katharine Hepburn defied convention to wear trousers most of the time, Marlene Dietrich toyed with people’s perceptions by wearing a tuxedo one evening, then a Lanvin gown the next – these women would not be pigeonholed. It’s this refusal to be restricted in what we wear and by default in who we are perceived to be that’s fuelling the appeal of unisex clothes. And unlike sixty or seventy years ago, when it was mostly women who wanted to break out of their sartorial boxes, today it’s men too. Celebrities such as David Beckham have experimented hugely with their own personal style – from sarongs to matching his-and-hers outfits to belted cardigans – without undermining either his masculinity or popularity. Today, there’s nothing odd about seeing a man wearing florals or dressed in pink, a woman in a pinstripe suit, while brogues are more commonly seen on women than men.
What I like most about unisex clothing is that it allows for even greater self expression because it doesn’t dictate. How does a woman wear a traditionally masculine cotton shirt and make it uniquely her own (see my 6pm shopping post on how to make shirts look sexy)? With imagination and flair. A shift dress, on the other hand, will always look like a shift dress no matter which woman is wearing it. I never thought I’d say this, but perhaps the Beckhams have set the example we should be following? Since Victoria starting infusing her wardrobe with menswear-inspired pieces, she’s never looked better – she now looks more beautiful, sexier and smarter. Who would think they were once the slightly naff Posh ‘n’ Becks?
Holding shot: Burberry Prorsum SS17