A strange thing happens when I hear the term ‘gender-neutral clothing’. It conjures up an image of an army of monochromatic, androgynous people in clean-cut, space age-style outfits. I think that’s just because it sounds so clinical, something to do with the ‘neutral’ bit. Something else happens too: I feel a certain happiness and a certain red rage.
The rage is at people’s lack of understanding of the issue. At people saying, “why has nobody told them not to wear that?” FYI, people probably have because people are judgemental but more power to that person for continuing to wear whatever the hell they want. The happiness is because gender-neutral clothing appears to be on the rise in more mainstream avenues.
Since I left my non-uniform primary school, went to a high school with a dated and strict uniform code (girl’s had to wear skirts), this has been a subject of which I’ve cared a lot about. Even when I wasn’t sure why. I knew it had something to do with freedom of expression, I knew it had something to do with being who you wanted to be. I remember wearing jeans in my first few years of high school until the bus pulled into school. Then I’d shimmy into my horrible school skirt. Unfortunately, the strange and warped conformity of later teenage years transferred before school garb from jeans to against-school-rules hair choices. Anyway, I digress.
At eleven I was arguing with fellow pupils and the occasional teacher about the fact that I should be allowed to wear trousers if I so wish, and that equally, the boys should be allowed to don skirts. I felt it was important.
Last week, Selfridges announced it was opening gender-neutral pop-up shops across several of its major outlets and doing away with gendered mannequins. This sounds exciting. People should have all the options they want to self-express through the way they dress.
Elsewhere in internet-land, it was written that Selfridges were doing away with gendering their clothing altogether. A bold move, indeed. Perhaps it wouldn’t be as ‘un-gendered’ as it suggests though as that approach might have an alienating effect on customers if they weren’t able to find what they wanted with ease. Not the best business move, and as noble as the concept may be—Selfridges still very much wants to make money.
But it’s a good step that mainstream shops are hopping on the gender-neutral train, even if it’s just another fashion trend. It ‘normalizes’ (for lack of a better word) people dressing outside of their perceived gender stereotype. It is inching towards reducing issues faced by transgender and gender non-conforming people. For example, transwomen are up to ten times more likely to be faced with violence than gender-normative people. This is largely due to homophobic reactions from men who feel they’ve in some way been ‘deceived’ (don’t even get me started) by a person’s appearance. So homophobes get pissed off if a lady that wasn’t always a lady is looking super hot. If gender-neutral attire becomes more mainstream then it is logical that this violence may reduce. I’m sure it will also increase the violence of smaller portions of society who are adverse to such things being more mainstream, but the larger portion of the population would be more accustomed and thus, one would hope, would be more accepting.
I’m a woman who more often than not wears women’s clothes. I love men’s fashion and would be chuffed if more brands catered for a variety of shapes and dual genders. But that isn’t the point. I’d hope that people would know that this isn’t just a trend, that it’s important. The point is that people shouldn’t be made to go out of their way in pursuit of something that will make them feel pretty or handsome or simply like themselves because their back is too broad for clothes designed for women or their breasts won’t fit into a men’s shirt.
People should have the tools and options to be who they feel they are and society should respect that. Let’s hope Selfridges does this right and the trend becomes a movement and a change for the better. I dream of a world where little boys can wear skirts and a girl can go to high school without being forced into one.
Feature image courtesy of the guardian.com