Every so often, designers propose unisex clothing but the concept is often greeted more as a fleeting fad rather than welcomed with fanfare. Gender remains the last frontier waiting to be conquered by mainstream fashion. But there are signs that suggest the rigid barriers we've set around clothing to define them as specifically for male or female, are ready to come crumbling down.
As with most movements, the revolution will be lead by the young. Millennials and Generation Z have already accepted gender neutral clothing such as hoodies, sneakers, tracksuits and over-sized t-shirts. Popular fast fashion brands like Zara and H&M launched gender-less collections this year. Uber hip designer Alexander Wang's most recent collaboration with Adidas (inspired by bike messengers) was unisex. A few recently launched fashion labels like Paris-based Avoc and the New York-based, Liusal, join a growing list of young designers producing collections with a genderless identity.
At the luxury end of the market, brands like Gucci, Calvin Klein and Rick Owens (the godfather of the genderless look) have been pushing a gender neutral aesthetic. For his Calvin Klein Fall 2017 show, the influential designer behind the label, Raf Simons, sent out almost identical looks on male and female models.
This month, the Quebec-based department store, Simons, launched NV, their first unisex collection. Designed in-house, the 24-piece collection includes coats, pants, jackets, shirts and sweaters in simple and voluminous shapes with a slight 1940s vibe. The simplicity of the designs - with no defining features that would categorize it as male or female - also makes it suitable for anyone regardless of age. To wit, the campaign for NV features not only a couple of youthful models but also the legendary Canadian model Kirsten Owen, 46, who rose to fame in the 1990s with her androgynous looks, making her a favourite of designers from Calvin Klein to Karl Lagerfeld.
Last year, Simons first experimented with the unisex concept by curating a department stocked with items from a variety of International designer brands that looked gender neutral. Building on the success of that experiment lead to creating the NV collection, which is available in stores across the country and online.
They are not the only retailer who are seriously investigating, investing and experimenting with the unisex concept. The British department store John Lewis recently announced it would no longer divide their in-house brand of children's clothing by gender with tags or separate sections in the stores. A few seasons ago, Selfridges department store in London dedicated a whopping three floors to Agender, a gender neutral pop-up shop in their high-traffic Oxford street flagship.
One of the growing shopping habits retailers have noticed for the past few years was the number of women who were shopping for themselves in the men's department - whether it was for a dress shirt or jeans - they seemed to prefer the cut and fit.
The first big commercial moment for gender-neutral clothing was back in the late 1960s. French designers like Paco Rabanne, Pierre Cardin and Andre Courreges, inspired by the dawn of a Space Age era and man's flight to the moon, sent out clean, streamlined silhouettes down the Paris runways. With their sleek fabrics, simple shapes and graphic patterns, the clothing looked genderless.
The 1970s also pushed his-n-hers fashions, as seen in those home-sewing catalogs, which would often feature an attractive couple dressed up in matching denim jumpsuits or knitted ponchos or some other cringe-worthy '70s outfit. Curiously, the concept of couples dressing alike is alive and well today in South Korea. Lovestruck millennials in relationships show off their 'couple status' by dressing alike and posting numerous pictures on social media sites.
But while it might be the young embracing the idea of unisex dressing, the concept is not without appeal for Boomers. Typically the designs are pared down in simplicity which makes it devoid of trendy details and thus have wardrobe longevity. Because sizing has to be compatible for both males and females, most unisex items are cut generously which offers ease and comfort. (The NV collection comes in S-M-L.) And if you happen to share similar sizing as your significant other, obviously, certain items can be shared, making economic sense to only buy one.
Fittingly, Simons' collection is called NV, shorthand for Nova - which means a star which suddenly shines bright before returning to normal. Perhaps this time around in the spotlight, the concept of unisex will go from novel to normal.
Click through for five fabulous unisex looks...
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