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What are gendered clothes? A look into gender non-conformity in the fashion industry.

Updated: Jun 28, 2021

Tom Issac with blue streaks in his hair, posed wearing fishnet tights with gold chain necklaces around his neck.
Image of Tom Issac by Lily Elsbrock

As designers and the general public become more open to mixed fashion, why haven’t we seen the fashion industry move towards a more gender-neutral presentation of clothing both in shops and on the runways of fashion week? What attitudes are holding us back?

Designers like Charles Jeffrey, Alexander McQueen and Leigh Bowery have impacted fashion with their androgynous designs for a long time now, and interest in androgyny has only been growing in the last decade. It was only last month that designer Francis Libiran released his new collection ‘androgyny’ further celebrating gender fluidity. “Androgyny was created for people who are brave enough to make a statement without conforming to societal standards,” says Libiran, “that’s how fashion should be in the first place — free-flowing, fluid and boundless.” His collection features bold earthy tones, sheer fabrics and oversized fits. The models hair done in two plaits with a black latex hat on their heads – similar to a swim cap, all unisex and genderless.

Androgyny is not always about picking an item that’s marketed towards the ‘opposite’ gender, it is about the ambiguous mix of both masculine and feminine characteristics. It can be used to refer to gender expression or identity and intersex people (who are born with sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit the binary of male and female). As the term has been used closely with gender and LGBTQ+ issues, it has become widely associated with queerness, but Tom Issac, an androgynous musician from London thinks the two should, and will eventually be, separated.

“Androgyny is often associated with being gay and I don’t think that’s necessarily true…” he begins, trailing off into thought. Issac has long curly black hair with two blue streaks framing the sides of his face, his makeup is done simple, with two dots in a vertical line between his eyebrows, and his eyes outlined with black winged eyeliner. He wears a tank top with a long black and white chequered skirt, fishnets and boots under a long Adidas hoodie. “There is an overlap between queerness and androgyny” he continues “I find people who are queer are more likely to experiment with androgynous styles… if I were to sum it up quickly, androgyny can be viewed as the aesthetic side of not adhering to gender norms - but with that said, non-binary people don’t owe you androgyny, and I don’t wear what I wear to make a statement, I wear this at home, it brings me joy”

The way we stereotype and view gender conformity is likely to change as Millennials and Gen Z take over. A study done at the beginning of 2019 says that the new generations are “moving toward adulthood with a liberal set of attitudes and an openness to emerging social trends.” The study shows that upwards of 60% of Millennials and Gen Z think that increased diversity is beneficial to society, and about half say that society is not accepting enough of people who identify as non-binary. Another study done in 2016 by The Innovation Group shows that only 44 percent of Gen Z say they stick to clothes designed for their own gender.

Euphoria is a show that was praised for its use of aesthetics and androgyny, as well as its depiction of Gen Z. Its inclusive cast and characters explore gender and self-expression today with fluid fashion and beauty choices. The main character Rue, played by Zendaya, frequently dresses in an androgynous, gender neutral style, imitating the confidence and unapologetic self-expression of the younger generation as can be seen on TikTok – which was a main source of style inspiration for the show. “We have style icons like Kurt Cobain, Young Thug, Andre 3000… they’ve all experimented with women’s clothing.” Issac continues, his serious expression morphed into a snicker “women’s clothes” he said while gesturing quote marks with his hands “I find it ridiculous we even gender a piece of fabric.”

When asked about why androgyny is ridiculed by some, Issac spoke about toxic masculinity and internal homophobia as being one of the main causes. “- I know a lot of men, myself included, who have gone through a phase of internal homophobia that’s caused by toxic masculinity, but I think as people become more educated on these topics that’s going to become less of a problem in the future.”

Jo Andronico, a creative from Norwich has another theory on what causes the hatred around androgyny, “femininity is always ridiculed by the patriarchy” they say. Their eyes lined with black liner and long curly brown hair resting on their shoulders. They wear a very eye-catching oversized rainbow sweater, and sit with their chin propped up on their hands. “When someone that society defines as ‘masculine’ plays with non-conformity, what often gets ridiculed is the perceived femininity – even though it’s just non-conformity” they continue, “androgyny has nothing to do with femininity or masculinity but, in my opinion, the patriarchy always seeks to undermine femininity and queerness.”

“I think the western world, especially in the last 100 years through imperialism and colonialism, has really pushed the binary idea of what men and women should not only be but also look like within a society” Andronico says sadly, “change is happening however slow… androgyny gives me a lot of euphoria, and I think a lot of peoples dysphoria is caused by external expectations of gender which become internalised.” Dysphoria is defined as a state of unease or dissatisfaction - Andronico speaks about gender dysphoria, the state of unease or dissatisfaction in relation to gender, which is experienced by many non-binary and trans individuals.

Both Issac and Andronico spoke about how they feel safer to express themselves in London, and that there are many spaces where they aren’t worried about being harassed. With more young people using TikTok as a platform to try out new styles and connect through shared interests, as well as the fashion industry putting diversity at the forefront, androgyny and mainstream ideas of gender and expression are very likely to change. And through analysing how far we have come – and how the attitudes have shifted from generation to generation, we can see that change is already upon us, whether we accept it or not.


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