Unisex clothing has been a fashion niche for years. Challenging the traditional perception and stereotypes of gender, this kind of clothing and design is becoming increasingly popular and accepted by the majority. Considering this, several questions may be asked: Where does unisex fashion originate? What are the social concerns behind this fashion in regards to gender? What is the relationship between this fashion andgender equality?
Let us first take a look at the history of unisex fashion. The very first official and systematic questions regarding gender were proposed by Sigmund Freud in the 20th century, during which time many established norms, including gender norms, were being dismantled. Unisex clothing is considered to be first conceptually worn fashion at that time by fighters in this culture war. In the 1950s, the term “gender” was used to describe the social and cultural aspects of biological sex, under which circumstance the previously established concepts regarding gender, mostly stereotypical, were being closely examined. Shortly after the Second World War, people became skeptical of the roles imposed on men and women, both socially and domestically; this skepticism led to the birth of unisex clothing. Following that, in the 1960s and ‘70s, unisex garments were made on a large scale with a desire to blur gender lines. However, in the 1980s, this new fashion that flirted with the concept of gender developed into a “uniformity with a masculine tilt,” objectively eliminating the more clearly-gendered clothing for children and female. The popularity of unisex clothing had aroused a fashion movement that unconsciously objectively resulted in women’s clothes becoming more masculine, instead of becoming unfeminine. For example, a woman could wear a suit like a man, but her feminine clothes, such as a dress, could not be worn by a man in most cases. Fortunately, in the 1990s, unisex fashion further developed on the right track with respect for both genders. Blurring the gender lines once again, 90s unisex fashion avoided being partial to one side. The idea of unisex clothing became widely practiced and accepted than ever before. As a New York Magazine story illustrated, “women donned flannel lumberjack shirts and combat boots while Kurt Cobain posed in ballgowns and housedresses.” More importantly, women are allowed to dress in a more masculine way in their daily life, which marks the huge progress in gender equality movement.
The social concerns behind this new wave of fashion also experienced several changes. Initially, unisex clothing derived from questioning gender stereotypes, and was considered as an embodiment of feminism during the 20th century. However, despite the fact that the original intention of unisex clothing is to minimize gender differences, before the 1990s it usually had the exact opposite effect on gender equality. As Jo Paoletti, a professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland and the author of the book Sex and Unisex: Fashion, Feminism, and the Sexual Revolution, stated, “part of the appeal of adult unisex fashion was the sexy contrast between the wearer and the clothes, which actually called attention to the male or female body.” Unisex clothing did not maintain this ideal since mainly women were purchasing unisex garments, not men. This situation dramatically change after the 1990s when men began to wear non-masculine, or even feminine, fashion.
Recently, designers have been pushing borders between men and women harder than ever before, and this effort has received significant approval from various industries. In 2016, the rapper Young Thug featured impressive cover art on his album No, My Name is Jeffery, picturing himself wearing a dress that challenges the traditional and stereotypical concept of gender. Men and women, increasingly, start to wear in the same way, implicitly pushing forward the development of gender equality.
On May 2nd, 2017, La Pietra Dialogues will have the honor of hosting the dialogue TransForming Fashion organized by NYU Florence student Jordan Smith, in which the the topics of fashion, gender, and their interaction and engagement will be further discussed. We will have four speakers who work in fashion industry to share their opinions on fashion and gender, including the designer Alessandro Trincone, designer and co-CEO Saam Emme of the brand Vejas, celebrity stylist Christina Pacelli, and a lecturer Silvia Tolaro from the Polimoda International Institute of Fashion Design and Marketing. All students are highly encouraged to join us!