Gender-neutral clothing is no longer an obscure corner of the fashion world, but as interest in such designs grows, some of the lines have been criticized as too baggy and lacking in imagination.
In some designers’ quest to fit every adult body, they sometimes ended up not pleasing anyone.
Today, small companies are trying to reconfigure everything from cuts to closures in an effort to deliver gender-neutral fashion with silhouettes and style. Their secret weapons? Redesigned zippers, stretch fabrics and size charts.
“When people are gender neutral, they tend to do baggy, oversized things, and I don’t know if everyone wants to dress like that,” said Rob Smith, chief executive and founder of the project. Phluid, which sells gender-neutral pieces online and in department stores, including Nordstrom Inc.
Since launching Project Phluid in 2018, Smith has learned a few things about gender-neutral design: a raglan sleeve, like those sewn into baseball t-shirts, suits most body types; thicker straps on tops and dresses are preferred over thinner alternatives because they can hide the chest straps worn by some people with boobs; and knitted fabrics are key to avoiding bag-like designs.
Most fashion items continue to be designed for either men or women, and sales data is very rarely disaggregated to include a gender-neutral category. Brands including Gap Inc.
Banana Republic, Inditex HER
Zara and H&M of Hennes & Mauritz AB have moved into gender-neutral lines in recent years, but have not made them a permanent product category.
Other companies are testing a move away from the binary between menswear and womenswear, including Pacific Sunwear of California LLC and Kering HER
Gucci. The idea is to meet the needs of people who identify as gender non-binary – a group estimated at 1.2 million Americans, according to a recent University of California Los Angeles study—as well as customers who are simply not interested in gendered clothing. Fashion-focused search and shopping platform Lyst said searches including keywords such as ‘unisex’, ‘gender neutral’ and ‘gender neutral’ increased by 33% between January and June.
Some observers argue that a truly inclusive collection would feature traditionally masculine and feminine pieces to suit all body types. Some large companies offer their androgynous and gender-neutral collections in a full range of sizes; select clothing at Abercrombie & Fitch Co.
The gender-neutral line, for example, runs from XXS to XXXL, with six sizes in between. But many small businesses producing seasonal collections cannot afford to produce one-size-fits-all, especially when it comes to body-cut garments.
For Aries Arise Ltd., a streetwear brand that sells a gender-neutral line, the solution is to fit sizes for the smallest and tallest shoppers possible, and to space the handful of sizes further apart than usual. Drawcords on the waistbands and hems allow wearers to adjust the fit.
Gender-neutral outerwear brand Early Majority Inc., which plans to open its website to pre-orders in January, will allow wearers to refine their silhouettes and fits with the modular design of its jackets and coats.
Two zippers sewn into the front of Early Majority’s shell jacket can be pulled to remove the center panel and zipped up to create a tighter waist, said Hanna ter Meulen, the company’s co-founder and chief product officer. Side zippers can open to create a looser fit at the hips, and detachable hoods come in multiple sizes to accommodate different hairstyles.
Even the zippers themselves were designed for gender neutrality. The front zippers of the Early Majority jackets include both a usual “masculine” design, with the insert pin on the wearer’s right side, and another that connects to the opposite, “feminine” way. a holdover from the days when some women had (usually right-handed) servants to dress them.
“It’s kind of crazy how our bodies and minds are programmed and so attuned to these kinds of very subtle gender-consistent cues,” Ms ter Meulen said. “I just wanted to eliminate that.”
Every garment on gender-neutral fashion brand One DNA’s website is photographed on models of different shapes and heights, and online and in-store customer service assistants are trained on how a garment can be styled on different people, said its co-founder. Travis Weaver. One style of pants sold by the company, for example, is designed to fit tall people when buttoned up at the hips, and short people when worn at the waist.
Meanwhile, Project Phluid worked last month with mannequin maker Fusion Specialties Inc. to design three gender-nonconforming mannequins, with the aim of better showing how clothing could cling to trans and non-binary bodies.
“It’s the little touches that you maybe, maybe not notice,” said Project Phluid CEO Mr. Smith, referring to details like slightly larger hands on the trans-woman model and slightly wider hips on the trans-man. model. “We serve people who don’t always see themselves on a mannequin.”
Write to Katie Deighton at [email protected]
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