For aeons now, clothing and fashion have been one of the most popular tools to express oneself. Thanks to the intervention of capitalism and colonialism, clothing has also been differentiated based on gender. Despite the arbitrariness of these categorisations, we have a variety of clothing options for myriad occasions like casual, formal, cocktail, weddings, semi-formal, and so on. And also because it’s Pride and a massive opportunity for the fashion industry to make more profit, we also have the rise of a new set of clothing that caters to the concept of gender neutrality.
Recently, we have seen quite a few celebrities asking the world to stop misgendering them, like Elliot Page who came out as a trans man, and Demi Lovato who came out as non-binary. It seems like more and more people are feeling confident in using their platform to break out of the gender binary. There are also several trans models who are making a name for themselves in the fashion industry, like Geena Rocero – a Filipino-born American model and trans rights advocate who will be releasing her memoir, Open The Light, soon. Loiza Lamers is a trans model from the Netherlands who won Holland’s Next Top Model Season 8, and is the first trans model to win in the history of Top Model. Alex-Mariah Peter also recently won Germany’s Next Top Model Season 16 and is the first trans model in Germany to win this award.
Looking for people closer to home, we also have a few trans models in South Asia who are making a name for themselves. Kami Sid is Pakistan’s first trans model and a very vocal advocate for trans rights. Anjali Lama is another trans model from Nepal working under the fashion agency Feat.Artists. She also won the Fashion Excellence of the Year Award (2020) in an award show hosted by Dream Search Agency.
Jin Xing, a trans model from China will be collaborating with Dior on their new fragrance campaign. A ballet dancer and an army colonel, she was the first person to proudly talk about her gender-affirming surgery in China. Nana Youngrong Kim, a gay man from South Korea is making a name for himself as a drag queen despite the negative reactions from the conservative society.
Despite these amazing models doing amazing work in the field of fashion, to me, it seems like gender neutrality is the latest trend for clothing and fashion – a capitalist move instead of being genuinely inclusive and progressive. Honestly, what on Earth does “gender-neutral clothing” even mean? Clothes do not have a gender. They are meant to cover our bodies and protect us from the weather. And in the process of finding beauty in something so utilitarian, we converted it into a market, and we called it art and made specific clothes for specific genders to make more money. I am not a fashion enthusiast, but from what I see, gender-neutral clothing is just regular T-Shirts and pants and skirts but looser, flowy, has more fabric and comes in boring neutral colours. Maybe because loose clothes hide your physical body, and so they hide what sex you are, it is somehow classified to be beyond the binary.
Ground Y, for example, is a Japanese brand by Yohji Yamamoto. The concept is to create “genderless and ageless” styles and it’s mostly monochromatic clothes in white or black. The clothes are oversized, flowy and have an asymmetrical cut. But it’s interesting that although the description says “genderless and ageless”, there are still categories of “men” and “women” one can filter through while shopping on their website.
Stella McCartney, Gucci, Adidas and so many other popular brands are releasing their own gender-neutral clothing line, and although they are more colourful and bright, I think they’re only looking for a new demographic to sell their products.
Designer Angus Chang, Ogilvy (an advertising agency) and Conde Nast Taiwan joined to create gender-neutral uniforms for Banqiao High School in Taiwan, which is basically just really loose clothing, and the boys get to wear skirts. Their agenda for this move was to promote gender equality. Equal pay for all the faculty members regardless of gender, a comprehensive sex education syllabus, allowing the use of the student’s desired name and gender on school documents, and so on are probably much better, feasible steps to gaining gender equality within the campus, but maybe that’s just me.
All these mainstream brands use words like “genderless” and “beyond the gender binary” and “self-expression” to promote their clothes, but all it does is reinforce the idea that the only difference between men’s, women’s and gender-neutral clothing is the manipulation of language for corporate gain, and the arbitrary assignment of labels. These mainstream brands that are capitalising on gender neutral clothing are also the very same brands who perpetuate toxic beauty and body standards for people, especially women. The models employed are also mostly straight people and not non-binary, genderqueer or trans folx. These companies also look at non-binary as a fixed identity, not as a fluid and dynamic label that is used to express identities beyond the binary. It’s problematic that people understand “trans” or “non-binary” to be fixed and universal experiences for queer people.
Gender-neutral clothing also has a lot of layers, textures, and fabric which can be overstimulating to neurodivergent people. Studies also show that a significant chunk of neurodivergent people experience non-typical gender and sexual identities. So at the end of the day, gender-neutral clothing isn’t actually beneficial for enbies who are neurodivergent and this also makes it ableist.
What I find ironic is that when women wear suits, they are often called powerful or boss women, but if men wear skirts, they are either labelled gay, or called the epitome of positive masculinity. But this is restricted to white men or celebrities like Ranveer Singh, Karan Johar and Harry Styles. But my dad wearing his dhoti or lungi around the house is considered to be a part of South Indian tradition, or Scottish men wearing traditional kilts are not Instagram worthy fashion icons. Men wearing skirts or what is traditionally feminine clothing, are said to be participating in cross-dressing or in drag, but the same isn’t said for women who wear traditionally masculine clothes. If skirts are for women and pants are for men, then kurta and leggings shouldn’t be my college dress code and my mother shouldn’t be allowed to wear her comfy churidars. Because the classification of men and women is so rigid, gender-neutral clothing is the new attempt at being “woke” by the fashion industry.
Western clothing markets have a double standard for clothing and fashion, and popular fashion brands are up and centre for fighting for equality, authentic self-expression, and breaking the normative gender binary only as long as they have monetary profit in it for themselves. I’ve also noticed news articles about these new trends concentrated only around Pride month and not sometime random, like February. Where is my gender-neutral winter wear that apparently is an accurate expression of the fluidity and the complexities of my gender? Since these brands claim to really care about the LGBTQ+ community, I would like to see receipts for all those massive donations they surely must have made in secret to the various organisations and NGOs working for the equality and rights of the queer community, especially considering the heightened violence the trans community in America has experienced over the last few months.
Cishet patriarchy dictates that there must be a clear and rigid classification of the genders, and capitalism decided to monetise it. Gender-neutral clothing still dictates and reinforces the gender binary and others anyone who doesn’t identify as a cis man or woman. It’s not really blurring the lines of the gender binary if the fashion industry is making separate sets of clothing for separate genders. They’re simply creating a market for a new trend. It’s another way for cis people to control the gender identities of other people.