The last decade has been one of seismic change for the fashion industry. But of the myriad reasons why (shifting consumer habits, the “retail apocalypse”, even Instagram culture), none question — and reflect — the even bigger shift in self-identity more than the genderless fashion movement.
In 2019 alone, gender identity has played a major role in cultural conversation. Transgender stars like Indya Moore of “Pose,” Hunter Schafter of “Euphoria,” and Laverne Cox of “Orange is the New Black” are pioneers in television, lawmakers in six U.S. states have introduced bills to add non-binary markers to driver’s licenses, and the Gen Z generation is less inclined to identify as cisgender than earlier generations. Earlier this month, Merriam-Webster announced that its “Word of the Year” would be the non-binary pronoun “they,” which they added to the dictionary in September.
Fashion has been eager to play mirror to this movement, and over the past decade, it has been instrumental in reflecting the gender revolution both in grand scale runway moments all the way down to the way individuals dress on a daily basis.
A quick look back at the decade reveals two major designers whose influence on gender will be remembered above all others. The first is Hedi Slimane, whose collections for Saint Laurent will undoubtedly define much of the look that we will remember from the 2010s.
From 2012 to 2016, the already well-known men’s designer was creative director for both the brand’s men’s and women’s collections. The result was Slimane’s DNA of L.A. rock star chic, and the uniform of leather jackets, skinny jeans, ankle boots (with heels for both the guys and girls) was implicitly gender neutral; the kinds of pieces a woman might borrow from her boyfriend or vice versa. Under Slimane’s tenure (and borrowing from the gender fluid tradition of founding designer Yves Saint Laurent’s “Le Smoking” tuxedos for women, the brand began to sell these core collection pieces in neutral silhouettes.
The second designer is Alessandro Michele. In 2016, Gucci promoted their accessories director to the top role, and his creations were an instant jolt to the brand. Michele’s “fashion magpie” looks were decadent and progressed to become more gender-bending with each new collection. In 2017, Michele began to show the men’s and women’s collections together; and each collection became increasingly fluid in gender.
Elsewhere throughout the decade, fashion ushered modern gender identity through its nascency. In 2011, transgender model Andreja Pejic walked the runway for Jean-Paul Gaultier and Jeremy Scott. Thom Browne had a penchant for showing his men’s collections with high heels. Lately, stars like Bella Hadid and Rihanna have been wearing looks straight off the men’s runway; the former from Dior Homme, the latter from Virgil Abloh’s Louis Vuitton.
But off the runway, there was no bigger movement than normcore to suggest genderless fashion to the mainstream. What started out to many as a reaction to the endless and newfound availability of fashion via social media and e-commerce — the desire to just be normal — also became, in a way, an aesthetic expression for the non-binary preferences of Millennial and Gen Z generations.
Patagonia fleeces, Uniqlo khakis, Levi’s denim, New Balance sneakers, Birkenstocks and Crocs were just some of the ubiquitous, universal pieces that came to define the movement, but it also extended to anything that felt pedestrian, plain, uniform or any combination of those things, especially in irony. In 2011, normcore pioneer Phoebe Philo wore a plain turtleneck, slacks and a dirty pair of Stan Smiths on the Céline runway. By early 2014, the look went mainstream. It’s no wonder that the sneaker movement followed shortly thereafter.
Normcore’s aftershocks may still be felt today, especially in the adjacent “gorpcore” outdoor-inspired fashion that has kept brands like Teva and Keen in the fashion mix. Streetwear, sneaker culture and the new definitions of “his and hers” fashion have also informed the conversation of what genderless fashion looks like. Consider the looks that Hailey and Justin Bieber wear when they’re out together.
In the coming decade, the conversation may turn to a more cross-gender approach — and maybe even just plain cross-dressing. From the drag culture that RuPaul brought to the mainstream with his hit show “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” to the highly stylized masculine or feminine looks worn by gender fluid individuals like Billy Porter, Harry Styles and Tilda Swinton, it’s clear that the possibilities of genderless fashion — like those of gender and sex themselves — truly are endless.