In September 2015, Young Thug—who’d been mocked for wearing dresses onstage and, infamously, on the cover of Dazed Magazine—explained why 90 percent of his wardrobe is women’s clothing: “Because women’s clothes are [slimmer] than men’s clothes. The jeans I got on right now, they’re women’s jeans. But they fit how they’re supposed to fit. Like a rock star. The only thing I probably have in men’s is, like, briefs. T-shirts,” he told GQ, adding that he started wearing women’s garments when he was just 12 years old.
Young Thug isn’t the only one on the give-a-f*ck-about-your-gender-norms wave. Jaden Smith has worn dresses and buys "girl’s clothes, I mean, clothes." He also starred in Louis Vuitton's Spring / Summer 2016 women's campaign and, this month, appeared in a Vogue Korea spread wearing women’s clothing and nail polish.
Vuitton isn't the only one playing with gender norms on a large scale. Acne founder Jonny Johansson’s 11-year-old son modeled women’s clothing in the brand’s Fall/Winter 2015 campaign; the Spring/Summer 2016 collection included men’s pieces that read “RADICAL FEMINIST” and “GENDER EQUALITY,” presented alongside androgynous silhouettes. Labels like Hood by Air, Nicola Formichetti’s Nicopanda, J.W. Anderson, and Gucci also sent men’s designs down the runway that incorporated details or silhouettes often associated with womenswear, including lace, floral, and chiffon blouses. Seeing men and women’s clothing presented together during Fashion Week is increasingly common, as women have recently walked in shows for Gucci, Saint Laurent, and Givenchy that were ostensibly meant to showcase men’s collections.
Genderless clothing and dressing isn’t new: 1960s and 1970s rock royalty, like Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie, wore sequins and kimonos; Kurt Cobain wore eyeliner and baby-doll dresses; women in the public eye—all the way from Katharine Hepburn to Rihanna—have been rocking men’s clothing for decades. Back in 2013, your favorite rappers, like Kanye West and A$AP Rocky, wore skirts—and so did some peacocking menswear dudes.
But this trend is dominating the conversation again, and this time it’s grabbing the attention of everyday people outside of just an adventurous few on the cutting edge of style.
Designer Chris Stamp of LA-based label Stampd is soon launching a women’s collection, primarily because he’s noticed girls already wearing his men’s line, a sentiment echoed by like-minded brands like Kith, Norse Projects, and Aimé Leon Dore. “Since we started in accessories, we already developed somewhat of a women’s clientele,” Stamp told Complex during an interview for a forthcoming piece. “And just looking at our direct consumer numbers, we were noticing that a lot of girls were purchasing some of the stuff—apparel pieces in smaller sizes, a lot hats, and things like that.”
According to Siki Im—whose boundary-pushing clothing from his billowing, genre-defying spring collection is among the selection pictured here—gender lines in fashion are no longer barriers because of a shift in society. “Human rights—gay, transgender, religion, race, women—have been more in the spotlight and are more accepted, finally. More men wear womenswear, and women are confident [enough] to wear men’s clothes,” he explained to us, adding that the ‘90s-inspired normcore movement, which is both minimal and asexual, also played a role in moving the trend forward.
“Five years ago we weren’t ready for this,” Opening Ceremony co-founder Humberto Leon told The Wall Street Journal. “The difference today is that this trend has a label. And it’s gained acceptance by a mass audience.”
According to market researcher NPD Group, millennials are true proponents of the blurring of gender lines in fashion. “Millennials are the most tolerant U.S. generation to date: half of the age group believes gender exists on a spectrum and shouldn’t be limited to male and female,” they found in a study on the topic. Their report also shows that certain brands—like Marc Jacobs, rag & bone, and Giorgio Armani—and retailers are moving toward less-gendered clothing, and some are creating or marketing unisex clothing altogether. As a result, NPD Group suggests that retailers and manufacturers who want to appeal to the “most valued of consumer demographics” need to think of their customers as complex beings.
Not all retailers have dumped their men’s and women’s departments in favor of a unisex or “everyone” section, but there are a few pioneers who’ve moved toward a more genderless shopping experience. In March 2015, Selfridges opened a unisex concept shop called Agender, which has genderless clothes from more than 40 designers. According to Details, Agender has been successful enough that Selfridges is considering making it a stand-alone store.
Other retailers, like Luisa Via Roma, are buying more genderless clothing. “Probably around 30 percent of the total menswear buy is genderless. J.W. Anderson, Rick Owens, Saint Laurent…It has already changed the way we style products,” Monica Pascarella, chief menswear buyer at Luisa Via Roma, told Business of Fashion. “It definitely changes the concept of ‘department’ stores. For us, as a concept store, it has less impact, but I think it will be more noticeable as we move forward.”
Tom Kalenderian, Barneys New York's general merchandise manager, told The Wall Street Journal that the less-rigid collections by J.W. Anderson represent one of the retailer's strongest-selling designer buys. “It’s the future. The lines will continue to blur and there will continue to be less difference between collections,” Luisa Via Roma’s Pascarella told Business of Fashion.
Siki Im agrees. The designer, who would prefer his eponymous line to be viewed as unisex and genderless, says he labeled his brand as menswear, but has shot plenty of women’s editorials and offers pieces in XS to appeal to a female consumer. “For us, it is very important that gender does not have much significance,” he says. “Isn’t it funny that tattoos, piercings, a black President, same sex holding hands, Rick Owens, tits hanging out, [and] broken anti-heroes are not shocking anymore?”