The Evolution of Gender Fluid Fashion
We are living in the era of gender-fluid fashion. In the past decade, the fashion industry has made strides toward creating clothes that don’t ascribe to gender roles or assumed gender identity. And even more recently, we’ve seen a movement toward a full embrace of gender fluidity in fashion. With a cultural shift toward gender inclusivity, an awareness of the gender binary and the spectrum of sexual orientation, respecting gender pronouns, and social media platforms that give way to people of all gender identities sharing what outfits make them feel most themselves--the days of thinking dresses are for women and suits are for men are passe. We’re wearing it all and we look good doing it.
Prior to the 19th century, men and women historically wore similar clothes. Notably, skirts were worn by men through the 17th century. It wasn’t until the dawn of the industrial revolution in Western Civilization did we see a seismic shift in the way men and women dressed. Gender roles became defined by the difference in work carried out by men and women. The expectations of labor defined how we dressed and how we presented our gender identity.
While gender fluid and gender nonconforming fashion may feel like a permanent fixture of the 21st Century, the industry made many attempts in the latter half of the 1900s to move towards more gender inclusivity and transgress the strict gender stereotyping of the 1950s. What we call “gender neutral,” “gender fluid,” and “gender nonconforming” now was referred to as “unisex” in the 1960s, the decade which gave way to the unisex movement in the fashion industry. In 1968, clothing without association with the gender binary began to hit the runways in Paris. These styles were dubbed “Space Age,” made from synthetic fabrics, the looks were sleek and minimal. However, the clothing’s uniformity harkened to a military uniformity and leaned toward the more masculine side of the gender spectrum. Around the same time, women were adopting feminism and disregarding cultural norms and gendered representations of femininity, including how they dressed. Clothing stores and catalogs made space for “unisex” sections and in an attempt to capitalize on the trend, “his-n-hers” clothing was made widely available to shoppers by popular brands. In retrospect, while the intention of “his-n-hers” was to neutralize gender in fashion, it perpetuated the gender binary and highlighted contrasts in gender identity.
Gender neutral fashion continued into the 1970s, but the styles weren’t necessarily challenging gender norms or striving for a gender inclusive movement. The boundaries of gendered fashion were pushed further as the rock and roll culture of the 60s and 70s worked its way into the fabric of the zeitgeist. Popular artists like David Bowie, Little Richard, Prince, and Grace Jones defied gender identity in their fashion choices. They donned flamboyant costumes that blended masculine and feminine touchstones, inspiring their fans to embrace gender fluidity and play with gender expression.
By the 1980s the fickleness of the fashion industry showed its hand, “unisex” was out and hyper gendered clothing was back in vogue. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the industry and culture began to flirt with blurring gender lines again. Again, the styles worn by popular musicians at the time gave way to the trends of the time. Grunge and Riot Grrrl music encouraged women to rock combat boots, flannel shirts, and baggy fitting pants as a form of gender expression. Kurt Cobain became infamous for wearing dresses while performing on stage at sold out concerts. During this decade, resisting the gender binary via clothing had an edge.