Breaking the Binary: Fashion’s Next Frontier


Over the last century, milestones in equity and inclusion led by
figures in the queer liberation and feminist movements have advanced
the understanding that gender is a spectrum rather than a rigid
binary. Now, fluidity is one of the defining characteristics of the
current age, with a growing number of people identifying as
non-binary, trans, and gender noncomforming. It is important to note
that while gender-inclusive discourse is now gaining mainstream
acceptance, gender nonconforming individuals were widely recognized
and revered by cultures across the globe for millenia, and
contemporary Western society is just catching up.

About

Fashion Snoops is a global trend
forecasting agency helping leading consumer-facing brands around the
world unlock innovation and propel growth. This report on
gender-inclusive apparel was written by Danny
Goldstein
, Womenswear Strategist at FS and Nico
Gavino
, FS’ s Culture and Consumer Insights Analyst. More about
Fashion Snoops here.

For today’s generation, social media platforms, such as TikTok, play
an instrumental role in providing a safe space for genderqueer people
to find community and carve new paths in a world historically designed
for neatly boxed identities. Key fashion figure, acclaimed writer, and
public speaker ALOK, who created the #DeGenderFashion movement, has
utilized digital platforms to build community through belonging. In
response to efforts made by these influential figures, the fashion
industry is developing product lines designed and marketed as
“gender-inclusive,” “gender neutral”, “genderless,” and “gender
fluid.” While many of these collections have often resorted to
oversized and shapeless silhouettes in neutral colorways that
primarily favor masculine styles, embracing a fluidity that blends
gender expressions is vital to the advancement of this movement.

Here, we delve into the present day shifts and innovations that are
driving the future of gender-inclusive apparel and further solidifying
it as a new industry standard with clear impacts across runway,
retail, design, accessibility, and sustainability.

The Runway Gates Are Open

In recent years, traditional runway strategies have begun to shift
from a gatekeeping, exclusive experience to more of a gate-opening,
all-inclusive one. This contemporary approach is in-part due to social
media’s impact on the greater cultural zeitgeist, as live-streamed
shows and runway looks posted in real-time have now become the norm.
This has democratized the consumption of fashion and resulted in new
perspectives that have infiltrated the traditional runway–namely, that
gender is a vast expanse.

In 2020, the British Fashion Council announced that London Fashion
Week would officially transition to a gender-inclusive platform–an
approach that combines physical shows with digital presentations, and
presents womenswear collections alongside menswear. Now, more than
ever, luxury houses and emerging brands alike feature transgender and
non-binary models, as well as bodies of all shapes and sizes,
alongside cisgendered models on the runway. This brings proper
representation of marginalized communities to the fore and further
represents our diverse reality.

Collina Strada FW22/23 | IMAXtree.com

During the most recent Fall/Winter 22/23 Women’s runway season, Black,
Antiguan-American model, disabled person, and trans woman Aaron Rose
Philip modeled for Collina Strada, a brand founded on the values of
elevating social issues and awareness. ‘Euphoria’ star and trans woman
Hunter Schafer closed out Prada’s show, wearing an extra-ordinary
white tank top, juxtaposed with a delicate and embroidered sheer midi
skirt. The white tank top’s presence across multiple runways this
season points to the reinterpretation of a traditionally
menswear-associated item by women–with clear nods to the queer
community. Another example is Coperni’s mini dress made completely of
upcycled suit ties. This progressive design further demonstrates how
womenswear designers are creating new narratives by repurposing
male-favored items through fresh and modern twists. With gender fluid
high designer Harris Reed gracing the April 2022 cover of Harper’s
Bazaar UK, the bright glimmers of an industry reboot is well underway.

Prada FW 22/23 | IMAXtree.com

Retail: Shop Safe in Shared Space

Brick-and-mortar retail layouts have long been defined by the binary
of female and male sections. From the product assortments available to
how they’re merchandised and styled on mannequins, there’s a clear
delineation of what is for who–an almost invisible line that can’t be
crossed–until now. Physical retail layouts and digital shopping
environments are being upgraded to surpass gendered-merchandising
strategies in order to create a safe shopping environment for all
identities and forms of expression.

Gucci FW 22/23 | IMAXtree.com

Among the early adopters of gender-inclusive retail concepts,
London-based retailer, Selfridges launched an in-store genderless
experience titled «Agender» in 2015 that organized product by color,
item, fit, and style instead of gender–a merchandising tactic that
still serves as a guiding principle today. In 2020, Adidas launched a
new store in London that reinvented their classic retail model with
products organized by the sport they were designed for instead of
gender. Kering-owned fashion house, Gucci, launched Gucci Mx in 2020,
an all-gender shopping section on their e-commerce site that features
a curated selection of fluid pieces styled on models of all identities
and gender expressions.

Further, online shopping provides customers with the space to freely
pursue items that feel most natural to them–without fear of external
judgment. SSENSE, the high-end, multi-brand online retailer,
strategically merchandises menswear in their womenswear section and
vice versa, with the aim of appealing to all customer gender
identities. In 2021, they launched SSENSE KIDS, a new department of
gender-inclusive apparel, accessories, and footwear for children, as
well as capsule collections designed in partnership with brands
including Collina Strada, the Museum of Peace & Quiet, and Acne
Studios.

Design: Revise & Reconstruct

Fashion design’s current methodology is largely limited to gendered
notions of apparel, making it burdensome for gender nonconforming
people to find clothing that affirms their identity, which can further
fuel body and gender dysphoria. This demonstrates how our present and
prevailing mode of design is not yet accessible to all.

A number of LGBTQ+ and women-owned brands have pioneered the
gender-inclusive design space for years. Since 2013, the brand TomboyX
has designed intimates, apparel, and activewear for all sizes and
identities. Their adaptive clothing made for trans and gender
nonconforming customers also offers extensive sizing options that run
up to 6X. The next generation of design students as well as emerging
brands are increasingly looking to reframe the future of design in
order to address all wearers–regardless of gender. LA-based brand, No
Sesso, which is Italian for “no sex/no gender”, has inclusivity built
into the bones and DNA of their design process. Their mission is to
empower people of all colors, shapes, and identities by creating
wearable pieces for everyone. In 2019, founder and lead designer
Pierre Davis showed her first No Sesso collection at New York Fashion
Week, and was the first Black and trans designer on the official CFDA
calendar. Finnish designer, Ella Boucht creates tailored garments
centering non-binary, trans, and gender fluid people. Ever since Ella
was a student, they had been challenging gender binaries by combining
both womenswear and menswear pattern-making methods.

No Sesso FW 22/23 | IMAXtree.com

The traditional binary thinking has informed centuries of design,
inhibiting not only inclusivity, but the potential for innovation and
novelty that designers and brands can continue to offer. By designing
outside of these binaries, brands can integrate the specific fit
nuances required, and further provide garments with the flexibility
that trans and gender-various people need.

A Sustainable Solution

In addition to the identity-affirming role that gender-inclusive
clothing can play for consumers, it’s also a potential solution for
building a more sustainable fashion industry. In a broad sense,
gender-inclusive apparel lines give brands the ability to produce less
and serve a larger market of consumers, thus ultimately reducing
waste.

As mentioned, finding the right size and fit continues to be a key
obstacle for consumers looking to shop outside of gendered
departments, and ill-fitting items account for a significant
percentage of clothing returns. In designing more adjustable garments
and size-inclusive lines for all identities, brands can reduce returns
and, in turn, lower their carbon footprint. Gender-inclusive lines
also have the potential to promote a sharing economy in which garments
are handed down between wearers of different gender identities,
facilitating re-use, and further extending the life cycle of garments.
A great example of this is peer-to-peer marketplace and mobile
shopping app, Depop–a closed-loop system and community that offers a
diverse set of thrifted sellers and buyers to converse and support
each other. The app’s search tool makes it seamless for the LGBTQ+
community to find items outside their gendered categories.

Ludovic de Saint Sernin FW 22/23 | IMAXtree.com

Direct-to-consumer brands, such as Big Bud Press and Older Brother,
also combine an ethos of sustainability with gender-inclusivity in
their apparel. French designer, Ludovic de Saint Sernin, brings
gender-inclusive design to the menswear runway while consistently
maintaining his sustainable design principles. The designer, who
received a Woolmark Prize for garment traceability, challenges the
dominance of workwear in the sustainable fashion space with a sexy and
minimalist aesthetic.

From designers on the runway, to retail and direct-to-consumer
e-commerce brands, there is great potential for the evolution of
gender-inclusive apparel in creating a sustainable and equitable
future for all–beyond global Pride celebrations. As the fashion
industry continues to face issues of economic hardship, lack of
resources, as well as a too-fast calendar that results in
overproduction, gender-inclusive apparel can contribute to a solution
the industry needs by taking a slow-focus approach and leading with
compassion, community, and inclusion.

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