When 30-year-old interior designer Andrew Loren hit the wedding circuit this summer, he was faced with the inevitable dilemma of what to wear. Though a standard suit would seemingly fit the bill, Loren, who identifies as a cis gay male, didn’t feel as though society’s expected attire of dress was going to cut it. “I wore a tux to one [wedding] and my skin was crawling, I felt so uncomfortable,” he recalls. “It was just not me and so then I’m faced with this choice: Am I going to sacrifice my comfort for everyone else’s or am I going to make sure I’m comfortable in my own skin?” The answer was clear: Loren picked the latter and for the rest of the season a long, sleeveless Rick Owens dress became his wedding go-to.
While borrowing fashion from the opposite sex is hardly a new premise — Owens, for one, has used inventive draping and tailoring to create an androgynous, genderless tribe since 2002 — it’s a concept that’s really taken hold in recent seasons. “[Owens] was the godfather,” says veteran casting director James Scully. “There are plenty of times when you couldn’t tell on his runway whether you’re looking at a man or a woman.”
In the early-aughts, Owens’s genderless runway was groundbreaking. “I don’t understand why this generation thinks they invented gender fluidity,” Owens deadpans. “They did it harder stronger and louder in the ‘70s......and 16th century Japan.” Today, his casting direction has been adopted by brands like Burberry and Gucci. During men’s fashion week in Paris in June, former Yves Saint Laurent and Ermenegildo Zegna Couture designer Stefano Pilati unveiled an all-black, 17-piece genderless and seasonless collection dubbed “Random Identities” on his personal Instagram account. Pilati offered well-tailored long sleeve dresses, as well as fishnet tights worn underneath a pair of trouser pants with a blazer sans blouse modeled by his close friends, both men and women alike. Days prior, Thom Browne showed pleated miniskirts, midi-skirts, maxi-skirts paired back to cropped blazers, oversized shirts, athletic socks, and heels on his male models. Perhaps the most exciting ensemble of his collection, though was a half tuxedo/half bridal gown look that closed his spring 2018 menswear show.
Fashion has always been a way of communicating one’s mood, personality, hell, life to the world at large. Thankfully, designers and brands inevitably create a much-needed sanctuary for those people who have otherwise been excluded — thus, the old rules of conformity have to be continuously challenged both from an acceptance and commercial point of view.
“This new generation is going to wear what they want,” says Scully. “Even the peacocks at Gucci make it more acceptable for a man to wear his girlfriend’s floral bomber jacket or blouse.” A prime example of this shift in attitudes is Jaden Smith, who posed in a leather jacket and an embellished skirt in a women’s Louis Vuitton advertising campaign last year. When asked for an explanation for his style, he told Nylon, “The world is going to keep bashing me for whatever I do, and I’m going to keep not caring. I’m going to keep doing the same things — I’m going to keep doing more things…in five years when a kid goes to school wearing a skirt, he won’t get beat up and kids won’t get mad at him. It just doesn’t matter. I’m taking the brunt of it so that later on, my kids and the next generations of kids will all think that certain things are normal that weren’t expected before my time.”
“I think there’s definitely a breakdown of who wears what,” says Scully. “These kids had no voice and now they have a voice, a style they can openly share. It’s touched a nerve and I don’t think that’s going away.” Fear of God designer Jerry Lorenzo, who recently began offering his men’s clothing line in women’s sizes, agrees, “I think people are looking to define themselves beyond the opinion that clothing has been made in advance for them.”
Even stores like Zara, Selfridges, and Opening Ceremony have begun offering remixed gender fluid clothing in their stores. “There has certainly been a rise in the number of genderless collections, both in high-end fashion and among more mainstream retailers like H&M—which launched its first unisex collection earlier this year,” says Neil Saunders, Managing Director and Retail Analyst at GlobalData Retail. But sometimes, only to a point. “In mainstream fashion, the collections aren't so much genderless as toned-down versions of male clothing. H&M's collection, for example, looked distinctly masculine; there were plenty of trousers for women, but no skirts for men,” Saunders continues.
Today, 1.4 million adults or 0.6% of the total United States population do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, according to a June 2016 study conducted by the Williams Institute. Add the current state of our administration (President Donald Trump attempted to reinstate a ban on transgender individuals from serving in the U.S. armed forces just last week) and it makes sense that fashion is hitting back with a strong gender-fluid showing.
Vogue clearly aware of the changing times saw this as an opportunity when real-life couple Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik covered their August Issue with the accompanying headline: “Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik Are Part of a New Generation Embracing Gender Fluidity.” Though Vogue ended up apologizing for failing to understand what that terminology truly meant — Hadid and Malik’s interview revolved more about the shapes of clothes than gender fluidity — it was clear the major magazine was trying to bring this idea from the fringes to the mainstream.
“It was completely publicity,” says Loren. “But you do have to be grateful for that publicity. Just putting gender fluidity or anything gender related on the cover of any magazine is going to push the envelope. 20-year-old social media star Parker Kit Hill agrees, “I wish they could’ve done something a little bit more; these are powerful people with a huge influence. I would have loved to see Zayn in a gown. Putting them both in suits—that’s been done before.”
Loren, for his part, hopes that fashion’s recent interest in these issues sparks larger conversations nationwide. “I think it’s kind of amazing that I’m dictated from the second I enter this world just because of my genitalia,” he says. “It’s like, ‘Oh, there’s a penis. This is what you have to wear.’ I still won’t get into a bar in Brooklyn, even when I’m wearing a Stella McCartney dress, because I’m not wearing a blazer. It is a bit weird.”
Transfeminine male Bradley Miller, who worked with Tinder on introducing 37 new gender options to the dating app and uses the hashtag #boyscanlooklikethistoo on social media, thinks the industry’s embrace of gender neutrality is more necessary than ever, especially as we continue to face divisive issues like Trump’s transgender military ban. “Inclusivity is the new norm and fashion has to be a part of that.” he says. “To this day, people ask me questions like, ‘Are you a boy or a girl? How do you identify? Are you transitioning?’ all because of what I’m wearing. But the truth is that the generations that are coming up now, the ones who are going to be in charge, care less and less. They just want you to be you.”