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The Rise of Gender Neutral Clothing

The long term fashion trend is shifting into the mainstream.

11th Sep 2017

Source: Vogue

Runway fashion often finds a way of making it into high street chains. After all, the runway represents the styles that those who are most fashionable are supposed to aspire towards.

Earlier this week, UK department store John Lewis announced its first gender neutral clothing line for children. Clearly inspired by a gender fluid movement which has long been a trend in the fashion world, the controversial move represents a wider social trend towards gender fluidity.

Its own brand garments range from new-born to age 14, with dinosaur print dresses. The fashion department has replaced the traditionally separate gender ranges with a new section, under the unified 'For Boys and Girls’ label. This progressive advancement has made a bold statement in modern gender politics. The pro-choice movement is aimed at rejecting gender stereotypes, as Caroline Bettis, Head of Children's wear, clarifies: "we do not want to reinforce gender stereotypes within our John Lewis collections and instead want to provide greater choice and variety to our customers, so then the parent or child can choose what they want to wear."

However, reactions to the movement have been divisive. Chris McGovern, chairman of the campaign for real education, made a negative assessment of the situation stating that: "in isolation, one retailer introducing unisex clothing and labels would not be an issue, but by following their fashion to go genderless, I fear they are supporting a wider movement which risks confusing children and foists adult worries on to young people."

Tory MP Andrew Bidgen said: " I have no idea what would possess John Lewis to do this. Boys and girls’ labels and signs are informative. I think removing them could be very confusing for the customer". Despite this backlash, John Lewis has decided to keep its gender-neutral clothing. John Lewis has made clear that the movement is not about harnessing a trend but reflecting a cultural shift towards the breakdown of gender stereotypes. This gender fluidity resonates worldwide as can be seen through the rise in unisex fashion over the past decade. British fashion houses such as JW Anderson and Craig Green are using female models to showcase menswear and vice versa, subsequently destabilising gender constructs when it comes to the way we dress.

The acceptance of a diverse fashion platform is entering a new era. Jaden Smith's iconic appearance in the Louis Vuitton SS16 womenswear campaign pushed against fashion boundaries, as he modelled a skirt under the artistic direction of Nicolas Ghesquière. High praise was given to Ghesquière for his ability to sense the social change and to give it form. This June witnessed the rebellion of dozens of schoolboys at the Isca Academy in Exeter, as the hottest June day since 1976 led to a bare-legged revolution at the secondary school. Temperatures soared past 30c, with student donning skirts instead of their forbidden shorts in protest.

As gender neutrality develops as a subject, the success of experiments such as John Lewis’ new line will be indicative of critical and popular opinion on the topic. It will be interesting to observe the success of the line and whether this encourages or discourages their competition from following suit.

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