The unisex fashion style has been around for a long time and has had its ups and downs for the last century. Lately it has seen a rise in popularity after large flying under the radar of pop and fashion culture. It wasn’t until 2015 when Jaden Smith caused some rumblings when at the Coachella festival he rocked an outfit of gender blurring bravery.
Also in 2015 the department store chain Selfridges created in London a three level exhibition of multiple styles of gender neutral outfits and individual clothes from designers Haider Ackermann. The experiment was referred to as “Agender” and while it did not cause a major commotion it certainly worked from a marketing standpoint.
There was once a time where creating such an installation would not cause any attention let alone having a major department store dedicate such time and effort to create it could be seen as a sign of a new rise in interest for unisex clothing.
In the early history of the United States there has been a variety of time where gender neutral clothing was the norm. As far back as 1824 a political party by the name “New Harmony Socialist Utopian Community” allowed that both men and women were allowed to wear pants. This was actually quite a big deal for back then and was seen to be an almost ludicrous move at the time. In the late 19th century a women by the name of Amelia Bloomer campaigned to give women the right to wear pants underneath their dresses. This was eventually allowed and the name “bloomers” were given to these kind of pants.
This trend was quickly squashed as soon as world war two started and gender roles became quickly defined. At a time when men did the manly things and women did the typical homemaker roles there was very little chance that these gender roles were going to be challenged. Men at this time dresses accordingly to the very strict styles that were available and men's clothing became exceedingly masculine. Soon became Hollywood celebrities like James Dean and John Wayne which were the prime examples of masculinity for boys to idealize.
At the same time women's clothing became very feminine and it was movie stars like Elizabeth Taylor that set the example by wearing knee length dresses and high heels. The glamour behind the highlighted female features was too much to pass up and an even divide between the way men and women dressed.
With the sexual revolution causing a stir both men and women started challenging political and social norms. People were free from the previously inhibiting era and embraced this new post war age. This was the first time that the idea of gender and sex may not always align and thus sparked a new sexual revolution.
As Jennifer Park says:The 1960s were a period of extraordinary change-one in which conventional notions of age, gender, and class were completely redefined. In an environment conducive to experimentation, the era pushed designers to incorporate new definitions of youth and universality into their work. The idea of unisex, in particular, gained currency precisely for its implications of multifaceted freedom. In the obvious sense, unisex meant liberation from gender, but more importantly, its association with the future in its disavowal of traditional hierarchies and old-fashioned attitudes made it a major driving force for fashion.
The revolution enjoyed a brief time in the sun for unisex clothing. In Paris the fashion designers started putting models in simple unisex themes and used fabrics and other materials not associated with a particular gender. This was the first time that the word “Unisex” was used. The New York Times had mentioned that a pair of shoes were “unisex” and later that year (1968) the term was used several more times. This was the spark that led to department stores and clothing manufactures to start dedicating space and time in developing new unisex products.
This time was however short lived as in 1969 the various department stores stopped stocking unisex clothing. The movement slowly petered out of the next few years up until the mid-1970’s.
It wasn’t until the early 90’s that the concept of unisex clothing started to come back. In part due to the “grunge” movement both genders started wearing a variety of loose fitting jeans and flannel shirts along with heavy combat boots. This kind of esthetic was more similar to a tomboy style however it is still considered to be unisex.
With the various gender roles of the 1940’s gone and the resurgence of unisex across the last century would indicate that the style is not going away anytime soon. The questions being raised during the 1960’s gave a time for men and women to both question what gender and fashion really mean and given today's freedoms both genders can dress how they like to a style that is fitting to their personalities.
Guest Post by: John Hawthorne
This article was written by John Hawthorne who’s is a writer from Canada. John always enjoys writing about new topics and currently is a major contributor to tradlands.com. John Hawthorne is a former sports blogger who is making his way into the mainstream. John is keen or writing on a variety of topics and especially likes to be publish on new platforms.