Gender neutral fashion: should retailers abandon labels?

As liquid fashion continues to become more popular, we are talking to retailers and experts about why it is more than a trend.
Harry Styles wears Gucci women’s clothing for British Vogue.

Back in 2020 Harry Styles broke the internet when he appeared on the cover of Vogue in a Gucci dress, since then the pop sensation has become a poster child of gender neutral fashion, regularly wearing women’s pieces on stage and in music videos for millions to see.

And he’s not the only one. Actor and singer Billy Porter has been regularly appearing on the red carpets in ball gowns for years, while only last week at the Met Gala, professional basketball player Russell Westbrook rocked a pleated skirt.

Gone are the days when pink was for girls and blue for boys. Gender norms have turned upside down in recent years with an increase in non-binary pronouns that are impossible to ignore.

However, it is not just about gender identity – but about personal taste. Men are increasingly rejecting traditional ideas about masculinity by the way they dress, while many women are turning to more relaxed, masculine silhouettes.

Retailers reject labels

As more celebrities and social media stars continue to bend society’s idea of ​​gender-based clothing, retailers are increasingly rejecting male and female labels and offering gender-neutral collections.

From left to right: Russell Westbrook and Billy Porter.

While H&M and Zara have dealt with gender-neutral collections in the past, the Asos Collusion range, which is a champion of unisex design and inclusive size, has been a permanent range since 2018 and is now among the top 10 brands on its website.

Asos is not alone. Gilly Hicks, owned by Abercrombie & Fitch, revealed last year that she will become gender-inclusive while in luxury Fear of GodThe entire range is marked as unisex.

But why is it such a big focus for retailers? “It’s simple, because it’s becoming more and more important to them,” said a spokesman for Asos.

“We listen to our 20-year-olds and want to stand up for the things they care about – there are many ways we want to support that, including through offering a diverse and flexible product offering.”

Katie Devlin, a fashion researcher at the trend intelligence experts referred to by Stylus Research from the UniDays student discount site who found that 79% of Generation Z customers often buy clothes attributed to the opposite sex with which they identify.

It is clear that young consumers are already embracing gender-neutral fashion, even if many retailers have not yet caught up.

Devlin says this shows that Generation Z customers are making an extra effort to review parts and sizes that aren’t necessarily “for them” to find the pieces and styles they want. She says that illustrates that there is “a huge opportunity to make the shopping experience easier and more enjoyable for this demographics.”

“Too often, fashion has tried to dictate to people what to wear and how to wear it.”

However, it is important that gender neutral fashion is correct.

“When it comes to Generation Z, inclusiveness is paramount, but so is authenticity,” Devlin said.

Many gender-neutral collections in the past have contained clothing that was simply neutral, “not reflecting the experimental and expressive aesthetics of the target market,” Devlin says.

“If retailers need to be truly inclusive when embracing gender-neutral fashion, it must not only include size, but also reflect the style and interests of Generation Z. Otherwise, there is a risk of being performative and alienating the consumer.”

When Asos reviews its product range, it does not look at products by gender, but by availability, efficiency, customer attractiveness and market position.

And it’s not limited to fashion. You’ll also see most of the same skincare offerings on Asos face and body products pages for men’s and women’s clothing.

It adds: “We also want to ensure that our clients feel represented by the people we represent on our content and channels, and that we want to show realistic, not idealistic, versions of 20-year-olds.”

Asos models carry a unisex range of the brand.

TikTok trend for everyone

We now live in a world where trends on social media, especially on TikTok, have a staggering amount of impact on a company’s business.

To what extent have fluid fashion trends in the application played a role in the rise of the gender neutral phenomenon?

Charlie Oxley, co-founder of gender-fluid fashion retailer Vintage Threads, says TikTok was powerful because it provided a platform for people to embrace trends regardless of gender or the clothes they wear.

“The platform is not to take yourself too seriously, which is very positive in changing people’s perceptions of what you can and can’t wear.”

Devlin adds that social networks like TikTok have opened global communication channels for young people in an unprecedented way, so that “naturally large conversations about culture have become accelerated very quickly.”

“It allows Generation Z demographers living outside of big cities or more conservative areas to engage with fashion trends and experiment with their own self-expression, while feeling connected to a community of like-minded young people.”

Fashion trends come and go, but gender-fluid fashion has longevity because, as Asos says, it “drives much more than style trends – it reflects changing attitudes, interests and customer needs, and it’s important for brands to adapt. ”.

Oxley’s Vintage Thread co-founder Freddie Rose adds that fashion has too often tried to dictate to people what they should wear and how they should wear it.

But now, “it’s really refreshing that we’re in an era where fluid fashion is not only accepted, but advocated and celebrated.”

He is convinced that he is there to stay not only because fashion has to adapt, but also society as a whole.

How will retail adjust?

The British Fashion Council revealed in 2020 that London Fashion Week will become gender-inclusive, merging its women’s and men’s clothing shows.

But will major brands follow their example and reject gender labels?

Brands that think ahead, such as Asos, have already jumped in, but retailers have yet to mass-adopt gender-neutral ones.

However, they could soon be forced because customers are already voting with their feet.

“It’s about being able to think and accept the way people are already buying,” Devlin explains.

“If young consumers continue to ignore gender divisions and categorization while shopping, then there comes a time when we need to ask ourselves what purpose it serves and whether there is a more efficient way to do things.”

But what will happen to what will look like fashion stores that are separate from men’s and women’s clothing?

Vintage Threads store located in Seven Dials has adopted a “very gender-fluid approach” to the schedule, according to Rose, who says shoppers who enter the store often ask where the women’s department is.

Vintage Threads
Vintage Threads in Seven Dials is a gender neutral store

“Some people wonder if we are just a salesman for men, and when we explain that we are unisex clothes, in return we often get a questioning look,” he explains.

However, Rose believes the abolition of the gender department could be a step too far for major retailers.

“It’s important not to polarize those who have always bought in certain ways, especially when there are undoubtedly items that are much more liked by the gender in question,” he adds.

However, some large retailers have abolished gender schedules. Schuh’s TwentyTwenty format store on Oxford Street organizes products by brand, not by gender, following feedback from its 16- to 24-year-old customers, while Superdry has also started showcasing products based on consumer segments rather than gender.

Asos customers can filter products by male, female and unisex models, but they can also filter by style and size, “so whatever they are looking for and whatever their style, customers can find a fashion that gives them the confidence to be who they are. I want to be. “

The fashion giant says its unisex ranges are “always popular” and although it does not currently plan to stop filtering on women’s and men’s clothing – as it knows many of its customers like to look for products this way – ensuring its inclusive range remains high its agenda.

As the world around us increasingly embraces gender fluidity, it makes sense for clothing retailers to adapt and adapt to fit the world of their customers.

Click here to sign up for the free daily Retail Gazette

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.