Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Gender neutral clothing - is this a step backwards?

I recently saw an article about a well known clothing brand releasing their new line of ‘genderless’ clothing. Whilst my first impressions was that I was pleased the company had chose to support people who didn’t necessarily fit into the default ‘male' or 'female’ categories, I was soon concerned that what they had actually done was the opposite.

As a transgender man, I often found it nerve racking to shop for clothing. Most high street shops didn’t only label their clothing as MALE or FEMALE, but also went as far as to separate them completely – often on different floors of a building! Walking through the men’s section was daunting, but being told I had to take the men’s clothing downstairs to the women’s changing rooms was even worse, and the continuous reply of ‘they’re men’s jeans, you want the women’s section downstairs’ was humiliating and rude.
So why is the genderless clothing a bad thing, you ask? Surely that helps your situation? Well, actually no. The problem is not with the clothing at all. Men’s jeans fit me and many other feminine figures just fine, that was never the problem. In fact, many people who identify as women choose to wear more masculine clothing that is marketed at men – maybe they prefer the colours, the fit, the way they feel (why is clothing aimed at men so much more comfortable?) or maybe just because it just suits them. What the real problem here was; the marketing. The men’s clothing was never really accessible to me, because I didn’t fit their idea of a ‘man’.

The problem selling ‘genderless’ clothing is that clothing is ALREADY genderless. T-shirts don’t have genitals (surprise!) and shoes don’t identify as anything but shoes. The gender is an added tag that the companies use for selling their products to the their idea of the perfect customer. It’s been the norm for so long now that it’s accepted everyday without the staff or the shoppers questioning it. The high street store who released the genderless clothing line didn’t realise that they didn’t have to create a brand new clothing line to label as a third option, they just need to let people buy the clothing that they already have.
“But how will we find the clothing we want without these labels?" Labelling clothing as they actually are, instead of who you think would suit them, is still a good enough label. ‘Women’s High Heels’ are simply high heels marketed towards women. Sorry if this comes as a shock to you - but men can wear high heels too!   
As a clothing designer for Offend My Eyes, I didn’t ever want to label my garments as ‘male’ or ‘female’. Everything we make can be worn by anybody. In fact, it’s the whole ethos of our brand – be yourself, and wear whatever the hell you want. Even when we created more snug, fitted T-shirts that would usually be labelled ‘women’s tees’ we purposely labelled them as ‘fitted unisex.’ Because, after all, if a man wants to wear a fitted top, then it is a man’s top. I still find it bizarre when people like a garment, but won’t wear it because it is labelled as women’s. It’s why we model our clothing on lots of different people – including male, female, trans and gender fluid models who aren’t shy about expressing themselves.

So what would be my ideal situation? Well I think in the UK especially we are becoming more accepting and understanding with regards to gender anyway. While we still have a long way to go, I am noticing more and more people are familiar with terms and what they mean, and this only means that soon businesses will follow to keep up to date with trends and current times. The first step would be for shops to label something to make it easier to find, but do away with the restricting, sexist, outdated (and rather useless) gender labelling on clothing. Clothing shouldn't need to be changed - just our attitude to marketing it.
What do you think? Is gender-neutral clothing a good idea? Let us know in the comments below.

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