Partager l'article

Is fashion moving away from the notion of gender?

Fashion is reflecting an era that is increasingly freeing itself from gender norms: after the unisex wardrobe, it is now time for “gender fluid” fashion, which consists of freely navigating from a man’s to a woman’s wardrobe to play with sexual identities and use every possible means to define one’s style. 

In December 2020, for the first time in history, American Vogue featured a single man on the cover of the magazine. This man, posing in a woman’s outfit, in this case a custom-made Gucci dress, is the singer Harry Styles, who claims to want to break traditional fashion codes by manifesting his desire to create a fluid approach between the male and female genders. Speaking in the pages of Vogue about the traditional distinction between masculinity and femininity, Harry Styles believes that boundaries must disappear to open a new era: “What’s really exciting is that all of these lines are just kind of crumbling away. When you take away ‘There’s clothes for men and there’s clothes for women,’ once you remove any barriers, obviously you open up the arena in which you can play.” Gender diktats in clothing represent mental boundaries beyond dress codes that need to be crossed, as he explains: “I’ll go in shops sometimes, and I just find myself looking at the women’s clothes thinking they’re amazing. It’s like anything—anytime you’re putting barriers up in your own life, you’re just limiting yourself. There’s so much joy to be had in playing with clothes.”


Harry Styles is not the only one to claim such an approach. Today, many influencers and stars are breaking gender norms and promoting a new fluidity between the masculine and feminine on social networks, in the media or elsewhere. Like Billy Porter who came to the Oscars in 2019 wearing a Christian Siriano dress, Bilal Hassani who regularly wears make-up and often wears long wigs, or Sam Smith who declares himself “non-binary.” In fashion, designer Marc Jacobs appears in his daily life on social networks in dresses, wedge heels, and painted nails, and models like Rain Dove, playing on the ambiguity of their physique, parade for the men’s and women’s collections. In an interview for the Fashion Network media, the latter believes she has no time to be hampered by inequalities and believes that “the next big step is to simply abandon the male and female labels.”

However, these personalities are not the first to take a stand on the question of gender: pioneers, such as singers Kurt Cobain, Prince or David Bowie, whose androgynous outfits remain in all memories, had already paved the way. In fashion, the fluidity of gender in terms of clothing style has also been widespread for a long time, mediatized by the creations of the great couturiers, such as Yves Saint Laurent, who transposed the tuxedo into the women’s wardrobe in 1966 after the pea jacket in 1962 or, before him, Gabrielle Chanel, who appropriated pieces and materials from the men’s wardrobe to dress women, without forgetting designers like Jean-Paul Gaultier who have played, more recently, with the codes related to gender. However, the appearance of gender fluid fashion is a new step in the evolution of cultural classification between male and female that goes beyond the adaptation of clothing from one gender to the other. It is to be distinguished from the unisex fashion which one saw appearing from the 1970s and which consists in conceiving “neutral” clothes, i.e., whose style allows them to be worn indifferently by women or men. The novelty of non-genre fashion? To free itself even more from the standards related to the gender in clothing: it is no longer a question of proposing “neutral” clothing, but of refusing to belong exclusively to a kind and to wear indifferently typically female or male clothing. Unlike previous periods, when gender transgression could be motivated by demands, for the new generation that grew up with gay marriage, sexual identity is no longer a cursor or a problem. It is no longer a question of defining oneself as a man or a woman: what matters now is style, no matter what one wears. More than a claim, the no gender is the reflection of a youth (millennials and generation Z) that has dissociated clothing from sexuality and now identifies with other values.

The Vogue cover featuring Harry Styles is emblematic of this new generation’s approach. Young people between the ages of 13 and 35 are freeing themselves from the binary representation of the sexes and do not believe in the need to belong exclusively to a sexual identity, as shown in a study conducted in 2017 by the American association GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). More than 12% of the American millennials surveyed do not relate to gender or do not conform to the notion of gender, and a majority of them believe that gender goes beyond the binary dichotomy man/woman. For 59% of Gen Z Americans, administrative forms should include options other than “male” and “female,” such as “non-binary” or “gender fluid.” In France, according to a #MOIJEUNE survey conducted by OpinionWay for 20 Minutes in 2018, 13% of young people between the ages of 18 and 30 did not identify exclusively as a man or a woman. Of these, 36% consider themselves “non-binary” and do not use feminine or masculine pronouns, preferring the neutral, inclusive pronoun “iel”; and 11% say they are gender fluid and do not put themselves in an exclusive “box,” indicating that they switch from masculine to feminine or “non-binary” and use pronouns adapted accordingly. Reflecting this societal change, the United Kingdom recently announced that, for the first time, it will include gender in its next population census, scheduled for 2022.

In terms of style, this new era is fully illustrated on social network platforms, such as TikTok or Instagram: more and more young men are wearing make-up, heels, dresses, and skirts, and more and more young women are dressing in large T-shirts, suits, or Bermuda shorts: a new aesthetic is emerging and spreading on digital media.


Faithful to its ability to capture the zeitgeist and promote the language of an era, fashion is no stranger to this movement, carried by designers such as Alessandro Michele at Gucci, Andrew Glass and his brand Non Gender Specific, the black queer American designer Telfar Clemens or Calvin Klein. Reflecting the questioning of traditional classifications, clothing reflects a new state of mind: being able to break free of gender boundaries, blurring the lines by dressing in women’s clothes for a man, or in men’s clothes for a woman, without losing any of her virility or femininity, defines the new aesthetics of “cool.”


Its dress codes, freed from their attachment to a gender, constitute a new market place that consumer brands were quick to invest in, such as H&M, which collaborated with Eytys to launch a capsule “no gender” collection.

Is the disappearance of the boundaries between men and women the future of fashion? The London Fashion Week of June 2020, which rethought its organization to claim to be non-generic, or the Pitti Immagine Uomo, which opened in 2015 with a space dedicated to collections that transcend masculine and feminine concepts, could indicate this. If no gender fashion aims to allow each person to create his or her own style, and to be completely free to compose a wardrobe in his or her own image beyond gender considerations, beyond style, it is also about the place of men and women through this evolution of the concept: it is also about promoting, through clothing, a truly egalitarian society, less “gendered,” where men and women would be equal for real, and to broaden the field of possibilities for all, both in terms of style and other aspirations.