Similar retail shifts are happening world-wide, as the fashion industry adjusts to customers who are challenging the gender binary. “Around 2015…gender identity [became] part of the national conversation,” said Ayako Homma, a consultant at market-research provider Euromonitor International. That same year Caitlyn Jenner came out as transgender in the media; Target removed gender labels on kids’ clothing and toys; and a survey by Fusion Media Group found that half of millennials viewed gender as a spectrum. “These scripted ideas of what a man and woman should do are breaking down, and therefore what they’re wearing no longer has to follow those rigid lines either,” said Justin Berkowitz, men’s fashion director of Bloomingdale’s.
Officine Générale Hooded Jacket, $710, mrporter.com, White Shirt, $420, barneys.com, Pants, $290, 212-249-4053, Jacket, $630, Belted Pants, $325, Black Shirt, $320, officinegenerale.com; Socks, $10, gap.com; Shoes, $335, grenson.com; Bracelets throughout, $11,400, sidneygarber.com; Rolex Gold Watch throughout, $34,850, Rolex White Gold Watch throughout, $37,550, Tourneau Time Machine, 212-758-7300. Photo: Cesar Love Alexandre for The Wall Street Journal
From left: Blazer, $4,800, Purple Top, $980, Pants, $1,700, White Hat, $980, Red Hat, $2,290, Gucci, 212-826-2600; Raf Simons Green Coat, $3,350, machine-a.com, Blue Coat, $5,258, Machine-A, +44-020-7734-4334. Photo: Cesar Love Alexandre for The Wall Street Journal
Also in 2015, with the appointment of creative director Alessandro Michele, Gucci began thumbing its nose at gender norms, mingling its collections and dressing men in pussy-bow blouses and women in ’70s pantsuits. Parisian brand Celine described all the clothing in its recent men’s show as unisex, and labels like Dior and Balenciaga have started marketing handbags as genderless.
Not everything can successfully be sold as unisex. As Ms. Homma noted, “We don’t see a lot of dresses or skirts in gender-neutral.” Cashmere brands the Elder Statesman and Naadam market their clothes as unisex, but most look like traditional men’s knits sized down for women.
More daring? Younger, millennial-led brands that have been ungendered since their inception. Earlier this month at New York Fashion Week, bicoastal label Eckhaus Latta showed dramatic balloon-sleeved jackets on men and boxy blazers on women. Los Angeles designers including 69, Smock and Olderbrother make flowy, loosefitting clothing that does not check any gendered boxes, a welcome option for the increasing number of people who don’t either.
We are still in the early days of a gender-questioning revolution, but fashion, for everyone, has become a lot more fluid.
What Unisex Style Means for Menswear
Cropped Blazer, $2,600, Black Pants, $2,200, White Shirt, $570, Striped Blazer, $2,500, Pants, $940, Striped Shirt, $580, Ties, $195, celine.com. Photo: Cesar Love Alexandre for The Wall Street Journal
THE ENTIRE CONCEPT of what it means to dress like a man has morphed tremendously in the past decade. Damien Paul, head of menswear for English retailer MatchesFashion.com, pointed to entertainers and athletes as the catalysts behind this shift, including rapper A$AP Rocky who is “open to [experimenting] with different brands that maybe are womenswear.” Rocky has worn pearls and a fluid pink suit yet somehow avoids looking like he got lost on the way to the men’s department. Other influential stars who have moved the needle include Pharrell Williams, with his penchant for wearing Chanel cardigans, and actor Ezra Miller, who’s sported leopard-print coats.
Shapes and styles once arbitrarily designated as womenswear have bled into menswear. This season, Dior is selling a range of frilly lace shirts, while everything from Nike sneakers to Paul Smith suits comes in pink. “What we are seeing is men being unafraid to take a risk or wear something that’s a little bit bolder and that maybe historically has been more…seen in womenswear,” said Bloomingdale’s’s Justin Berkowitz. In a way, this is throwback style: During the Renaissance, lace shirts were a staple for male dandies, and pink was a masculine color in the 1920s well before Barbie took it over.
Marco Martinez, 25, a research analyst in Los Angeles, is part of a younger generation of men that’s rediscovering the power of permeability. He has begun to gravitate toward lively leopard prints and wider, women’s-inspired silhouettes. “That’s made the experience of dressing up much more rewarding for me,” said Mr. Martinez. “I’m not much of a loud talker. I let my own actions speak for themselves and by extension it’s nice to have clothes that speak when you enter the room.”
From left: Dries Van Noten Jacket, $1,560, Opening Ceremony, 212-219-2688, Shirt, $670, barneys.com, Blue Crop Top, $1,105, Bergdorf Goodman, 212-753-7300, Trousers, $680, barneys.com, Sweater, $545, jeffreynewyork.com, Printed Jeans, $665, Nordstrom, 818-884-7900; Shoes, $80, adidas.com; Camel Sweaters, $75, naadam.co; Shirts, $238, Pants, $258, mohawkgeneralstore.com; Shoes, $90, nike.com; Sunglasses, $220, illesteva.com. Photo: Cesar Love Alexandre for The Wall Street Journal
Today, a man like Mr. Martinez could satisfy his leopard craving with a woolly cardigan from Stella McCartney or a black-and-white fleece jacket by Los Angeles upstart Noon Goons. Citing the latter, Mr. Paul of Matches noted that a masc-leaning fleece that channels Jackie-O. leopard style can be “worn in quite a dressed-down way.” An open-minded attitude about prints doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice the functionality and comfort of the menswear you’ve grown up with.
Another effect of the unisex shift: The menswear palette has broadened beyond navy blue. Mr. Paul said that pink and yellow are among Matches’s fastest-growing colors for men’s clothing. Dior Men’s latest collection includes suits in pink, though it’s a muted blush that perhaps crosses gender lines more easily than fuchsia.
Ms. Damiette of NSTO noted that designers are gender-blurring menswear with delicate details and accessories that formerly would have only been available in women’s clothing departments. See: Belgian Dries Van Noten, who stitches ornamental embroidery onto his overcoats and button-up men’s shirts. She also pointed to Camiel Fortgens, a young Dutch designer who makes pearl necklaces in addition to masculine checkered overcoats and wide-legged jeans.
About the Photographers
The photographers of these images, Isabelle Chaput and Nelson Tiberghien, aka Cesar Love Alexandre, are a French couple that chronicle their matching outfits on the entertaining Instagram account @young_emperors.
Silhouettes, too, are becoming less gender-specific. When Max Kingery and Bobby Bonaparte started Olderbrother, a Los Angeles-based unisex brand, they decided to adopt a sizing system that works for both sexes. The brand is still “masculine-leaning” and revolves around men’s staples like jeans, blazers and work jackets. But like other innovative brands such as Balenciaga and Jil Sander, Olderbrother’s clothes have a loose, oversize silhouette that doesn’t feel designed to flatter either gender specifically.
You may already be familiar with the concept of unisex clothing through the ubiquity of the athletic wear that both men and women sport everywhere from the gym to the coffee shop. And the 10 best-selling sneakers of 2018, including the Nike Air Force One and Converse All Stars, were all targeted at both men and women. “Men wearing oversize sweatshirts, women wearing oversize sweatshirts…that kind of idea, we’re seeing that in a big way,” said Bloomingdales’s Mr. Berkowitz. Which explains why you and the women in your life may lust after the same Ralph Lauren tie-dyed hoodie. One upside? Shared wardrobes.
Ami Sweaters, $580, amiparis.com. Photo: Cesar Love Alexandre for The Wall Street Journal
What Unisex Style Means for Womenswear
Most days you can find Sarah Best, 30, founder of Toronto-based supper club Dirt, in a T-shirt, blazer and her favorite jeans, a pair worn in to perfection that she happened to steal from her boyfriend’s father. Looking at Ms. Best, with her mane of wavy blond hair, you’d never guess she’s wearing the jeans of a 60-something-year-old man. “It’s not really about looking androgynous,” she said of her penchant for wearing men’s and unisex clothing. “It’s dressing to be a bit more relaxed and chill, and at the same time functional and sharp.”
In the past, a woman wearing non-feminine clothing usually meant something: a symbol of resistance during the French Revolution; a challenge to the patriarchy for early-20th-century suffragettes; a bid for workplace inclusion in the 1970s and ’80s. Today, as gender lines continue to blur, more and more women, like Ms. Best, are dressing androgynously not with an agenda but with more of a shrug.
“It doesn’t feel like a big deal to us that these are unisex styles,” said Matthew Scanlan, founder of direct-to-consumer cashmere line Naadam, which offers identical styles for men and women. “It just felt normal, like of course it should be unisex. It’s almost things we take for granted as obvious. Yes, of course, men and women are equal…So why wouldn’t a girl wear a guy’s sweater and vice versa?”
Clockwise from top left: Dark Blue Jacket, $90, Dark Jeans, $168, Light Blue Jacket, $90, Light Jeans, $60, levi.com; Yellow Sweaters, $75, naadam.co; Boots, $335, grenson.com; Double-Breasted Jacket, $4,900, Pants, $2,300, Shoes, $940, Oblique Jacket, $4,700, Dior Men, 212-931-2951; Shirt, Pants, Jacket, Skirt, price upon request, Jil Sander, 212-838-6100; Red Loafers, $395, Carmina, 212-687-0222; Black Loafers, $750, carminashoemaker.us. Photo: Cesar Love Alexandre for The Wall Street Journal
Kris Kim, founder of the New York City shop and e-boutique La Garçonne, which mainly sells to women, echoes the sentiment. “When I go on buying appointments now, I don’t even ask if something is men’s or women’s,” she said. “It just comes down to a sensibility thing.” Ms. Kim notes that in the past women typically shopped the men’s department in search of an oversize fit or a traditionally masculine look. But as menswear traffics less in stereotypical codes of manhood, and as women increasingly prioritize comfort over sex appeal, the distinction between menswear and womenswear has become, to many shoppers, irrelevant.
Both Naadam and La Garçonne sell a tightly edited selection of high-quality basics in a streamlined, minimalist setting. This business model is striking a chord with a growing number of women recently evangelized by Japanese organizational wizard Marie Kondo. Ms. Kondo holds that one should keep only items that “spark joy” and get rid of everything else. That ethos doesn’t square particularly well with traditional womenswear, which encourages different clothes for different occasions, a steady rotation of ever-changing accessories, seasonal updates and a general glut of clothing items. Having less means each item must do more: Women want clothes that are useful, comfortable and feel appropriate in a variety of settings, from the workplace to a dinner out—qualities that menswear has traditionally excelled at.
“I can’t be at my job without a pocket,” said Ms. Best, who often wears carpenter pants when she’s preparing for an event. “I need somewhere to put my tape!” Heels and body-conscious dresses and skirts are out, too: “I just don’t feel comfortable in them, I don’t feel like myself.”
Dressing Alike is Nothing New
These notable couples—romantic and otherwise—donned identical outfits in different eras
Sonny Bono and Cher in Hamburg, Germany in 1966.
The minimalist aesthetic has bled into design on both sides: “I think everything is getting cleaner and more simplified,” said Ms. Kim. Women who are drawn to this aesthetic might choose to buy a pair of men’s Issey Miyake Pleats Please accordion pants, which are baggier and more forgiving than the women’s version by the same brand.
Naadam’s Prince Street store may just be the ultimate expression of this new KonMari consumerism: The entire shop carries a single item, a $75 unisex cashmere crew neck sweater in a variety of colors, from camel to cement. Sized down, it plays a classic role in a woman’s wardrobe, when paired with vintage Levi’s or simple slacks. Sized up, and paired with a voluminous parka and wide-legged pants, it makes a fashion-forward oversize statement.
Ultimately, for women, it comes down to choice. “It’s not about being masculine or being androgynous,” said Ms. Kim. “We are who we are. We’re not ‘borrowing’ from the boys. This is part of our wardrobe. We’re just wearing what we like.”
Photographs by Cesar Love Alexandre for The Wall Street Journal, Hair by Yasu Nakamura, Makeup by Kento Utsubo, Models: Varsha Gopalakrishna/Supreme and Max Fieschi/Wilhelmina, Fashion Editor: Rebecca Malinsky
10 Sci-Fi Films that Predicted Unisex Fashion
‘Star Trek’ Photo: Everett Collection
IN 1979’S “Alien,” Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) stares down the film’s namesake intruder while wearing a shapeless, slate-gray jumpsuit. The movie predicted a future full of gender-nonspecific clothes, a recurring theme in many great sci-fi films. From the muddy drab workwear of the poor Panemeans in “Hunger Games” to the primary-colored, collarless tops on the “Star Trek” crew, men and women in sci-fi films and TV shows have long plucked their clothes from the same rack. This unisex garb would be almost utopian, if the poor souls on screen weren’t so busy battling aliens, asteroids or each other.
Here, a list of 10 as-it-turns-out visionary entertainment in which getting dressed, for better or worse, has little to do with gender.
1. ‘The Hunger Games’ (2012)
2. ‘Annihilation’ (2018)
3. ‘Alien Covenant’ (2017)
4. ‘Sunshine’ (2007)
5. ‘Maniac’ (2018)
6. ‘Stargate SG-1’ (1997)
7. ‘Alien’ (1979)
8. ‘Star Trek’ (1966 to now)
9. ‘Avatar’ (2009)
10. ‘Tron’ (1982)
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