Created for Women and Visual Media Studies taught by Dr. Cobb
Creator’s Letter This zine is a continuation both of a project I’ve worked on before and a question that has been compounding since I was a kid. the project... I am co-Editor in Chief of FORM Magazine, a travel, art, and style publication on campus. When brainstorming with the team on what we wanted our magazine to be, we took into consideration the political and social climate we currently live in. We reflected on the binary nature of conversations regarding important issues. The echo chamber of similar thought most people live in, and the dangers that come with that, became apparent to us. We wanted FORM to provoke discussion and elevate conversations beyond the duality that usually exists. For our style section, we did a shoot regarding gender’s role in fashion. In the spread, we styled our models without the restricting filter that comes with the clothings assigned gender. This allowed us to get unique looks and most accurately reflect the personality of the model. I wanted this zine to push on this idea even more. the question... As a kid, I remember constantly fighting my parents to not wear a dress. Whenever there was a holiday, family event, or school performance, a dress was always the uniform. To me, a dress meant restriction. It meant sitting a certain way and limited play. I challenged them, asking why they felt a dress was necessary to show an event was special, the response “it’s ladylike”. Instantly I became interested in what was and was not ladylike and what “ladylike” entailed. This is a thought that remains today. With each VMS and Gender Studies course I take, the more answers I have which only lead to more questions.
This zine is an exploration of thought on what gender means when it comes to fashion. It navigates through how clothing can be a vehicle for personal expression while also being limited within the binary. To narrow this idea down further, I decided to discuss unisex fashion as an escape from the limitations of gender-based clothing. My definition of unisex is varying and I understand there is more complexity to it than fully addressed in the following pages. Bear with me through this as I try to learn. In this zine, I see unisex clothing as a fashion that appeals to both genders but also supersedes gender-based labels. It doesnâ€™t lose the diversity of styles that have been designed for men and women, but removes their prescription and becomes for everybody. Enjoy, Gianna
Humans are creatures of judgment. Since our primal days, weâ€™ve always evaluated people and situations by their most obvious outwards presentations. While this was necessary in ensuring primal survival, it has been a devastating tactic in modern times.
Quick judgments lead to immediate othering and separate people along racial, national, and political lines. Though fashion is usually written off as a superficial topic, clothes are what people immediatly evaluate and thus are essential for survival.
Clothes have immediate, yet often incorrect connotations. A two-piece suit implies its wearer is a professional and demands respectability. A hoodie and baggy pants hint at possible danger from the wearer. A lot of these assumptions are race-based, perilously coded by images we see in the media. While there is conversation on conciously decoding racial dress-based assumptions, this needs to encompass gender assignment as well. Just as fast as someone will correlate sagging pants with a gang member, they will couple a skirt with a woman.
Clothes are often seen as one of the best avenues for personal expression. Having agency in clothing choices allows you to shape how others see you and control the narrative people build around you. However, if the narrative youâ€™re trying to control relates to your gender presentation, this agency is taken from you. An inanimate object such as clothing as been ascribed a biological identifier. When choosing clothing consumers are forced into the binary of identifying as male or female. Whether they fully identify with one end of the spectrum, the other, or neither they are forced to make a decision when they walk in a store. Left or right?
In gendering clothing, we further perpetuate the gender binary and the limiting stereotypes that come with it. There is no issue with people who desire to accentuate and celebrate their gender with the clothes they wear. This expression, however, should be an option, not a requirement.
It doesnâ€™t f*****g matter
Photo Courtesy of Louis Vuitton
Unisex fashion is a movement. Itâ€™s a movement where clothes arenâ€™t made catering to one predetermined gender demographic, but to the wants, desires, and trends of all people. It breaks the chains that bind clothing to gender. Unisex fashion decouples dress from girl and suit from boy. It finally allows fashion to do the job many people employ it for, agency, empowerment, and expression.
.... and neither should you, but congress does.
HB2 Repeal was not enough. Learn more at equalitync.org
The term “gender” began to be used to describe the social and cultural aspects of biological sex in the 1950s—a tacit acknowledgement that one’s sex and one’s gender might not match up neatly. The unisex clothing of the 1960s and 70s aspired “to blur or cross gender lines”; ultimately, however, it delivered “uniformity with a masculine tilt,” and fashion’s brief flirtation with gender neutrality led to a “stylistic whiplash” of more obviously gendered clothing for women and children beginning in the 1980s. As far as the American fashion industry was concerned, the unisex movement came and largely went in one year: 1968. The trend began on the Paris runways, where designers like Pierre Cardin, Andre Courreges, and Paco Rabanne conjured up an egalitarian “Space Age” of sleek, simple silhouettes, graphic patterns, and new, synthetic fabrics with no historical gender associations. As women burned their bras (symbolically if not literally), U.S. department stores created special sections for unisex fashions, though most of them had closed by 1969. But their impact could be felt for a decade afterwards in “his-n-hers” clothing, promoted in cutesy ads, catalog spreads, and sewing patterns. “The difference between avant-garde unisex and the later version,” Paoletti argues, “is the distinction between boundary-defying designs, often modeled by androgynous-looking models, and a less threatening variation, worn by attractive heterosexual couples.”
Young children had worn gender-neutral clothing (and played with gender-neutral toys) for decades before “unisex” became a buzzword, but the aggressively “non-gendered” child rearing of the 1970s took neutrality to a new level; children’s books and TV shows made a point of showing boys playing with dolls and women tinkering with cars. It was only in the 1980s that the self-actualizing lessons of the seminal children’s book (and celebrity-narrated LP) Free to Be … You and Me succumbed to the Princess Industrial Complex, a trend that is just now beginning to correct itself. (A 35th anniversary edition of Free to Be … You and Me was released in 2008.) Paoletti traces the end of the unisex era to the mid-1970s. In 1974, Diane von Furstenberg introduced her wrap dress, a garment that combined femininity and functionality. With its demure length, slit skirt, and deep V-neck, it was simultaneously modest and sexy; it could go from the office to the disco. The wrap dress wooed women away from pantsuits, landing von Furstenberg on the cover of Newsweek in 1976 under the headline “Rags & Riches.” “The fashions of the 1960s and 1970s articulated many questions about sex and gender but in the end provided no final answers,” Paoletti concludes. These questions went much deeper than Freud’s “male or female?” Clearly, we are still struggling to resolve them; just ask openly gay Louisiana teen Claudetteia Love, who nearly missed her senior prom because the school wouldn’t let her wear a tuxedo. Psychologically, there’s still a vast gap between a male garment adapted for a woman’s body and a male garment. Increasingly, however, men and women are wearing the same garments, bought from the same stores, in a retail landscape as rich, varied, and occasionally baffling as gender itself.
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far left and far right photos courtsey of Maxine Helfman
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In an image and media saturated age, advertisementsâ€™ roles increasingly extend past promoting products. Commercials and billboards act as social tools that inform our understanding of the world. The danger in this lies in the fact that they are made with the intent of making money, not social impact. Through advertisements, companies are looking to meet a bottom line without weighted concern for their cultural influence. Ads typically play on stereotypes. The encoded messages within them make it easier for ads to get the most direct point across, in as little space or time as possible.
Gender stereotyping is one of the main components companies use when advertising products. This is so heavily played on that it is even used to sell items that have no gender, for example, diet soda. Statistically, women consume diet soda more than men. This proportional difference has led to the cultural feminization of diet soda and its drinkers. This gender assignment has cut off a demographic for soda companies and thus restricted their revenue. Concerned with the bottom line, companies play on gender stereotypes to prove diet soda to be a â€œmanlyâ€? drink in attempt to regain their lost demographic.
Pepsi Max is the low calorie, zero sugar version of the original cola. The black can appeals to men as subdued neutral colors are generally more masculine in comparison to vibrant ones which are associated with women.
The soda’s bold typeface is loud and firm, attributes associated with men. As a result, the soda can exudes masculinity. Commercials for Pepsi Max, in addition to playing off racial stereotypes, reinforces this masculine message assuring the customer that diet soda is enough, and even enjoyable, for a man.
Gender reinforcement is everywhere we look and appears in things, like soda, that doesn’t even have a biological sex. In playing into societal expectations, clothing for women are often prideful of how they can “enhance” certain assets of a womans body while hiding others parts. Lee Jeans Company is just one of many companies that advertise their clothes to enhance what is considered a desirable female figure. Instead of being prideful over the quality of the product itself, the ad focuses on the wearer’s figure. Using the societal expectation of a female body, Lee tells its consumer that she can reach this through their product.
Unisex fashion can be an outlet a w a y from gendered specified (and dangerous) advertisements.
As its demographic is not gender specific unisex ads can not play into nor perpetuate stereotypical tropes or expectations. Instead, unisex clothing adverts focus on the product quality or its trend relevance which is what should always be used to sell clothes.
Radimo is a gender-fluid clothing marketplace challenging traditional binary fashion. Clothing is inherently genderless; weâ€™re just waiting for someone to show it to us in that way.
Photos Courtesy of Radimo
What fashion needs to understand about being gender neutral (excerpts) Jaimie Wylie 31 May 2018
Over the course of the last year, conversations surrounding gender expression have gained considerable momentum, as the line between the traditional male and female binaries grow increasingly blurred and the cultural landscape begins to shift. These conversations haven’t been lost on the fashion industry. Identifying as gender-neutral myself, I’ve been flooded with excitement to see more and more designers choosing to create gender neutral lines. But though the topic is now, at least, on the table, what’s actually happening on a practical level is a far cry from where things need to be. I recently went shopping with a female-identifying friend. Upon entering the store (which has more of a progressive reputation than most) a row of models physically separated menswear from womenswear – when she went left, I went right. Gone was our shared shopping experience. Given a positive slant, fashion’s burgeoning acceptance of gender fluidity does show promise. But for the most part, the conversation lacks depth and nuance when it comes to tilting the binary. Over the last few years, a number of high-end and high street brands have entered into the market seeking to cater for gender neutral customers, and the 2018 nominees were credited for “treading a unisex line” according to WWD.
Where the likes of Charles Jeffrey, 69US, and Eckhaus Latta show a natural propensity toward gender neutrality within their collections, others joining the movement show less consideration as to what a move like that actually means. H&M and Zara, for example, have both presented ‘gender neutral’ offerings of hoodies, sweatshirts and t-shirts designed for both men and women. But while their intentions may have been positive, each collection was merchandised either within the menswear or womenswear section of both stores, meaning gender neutral customers still had to make a decision as to which to head for. For the most part, my rejection of the male-female fashion dichotomy means heading straight to the menswear section, and all the old signposts still mark my decision. Despite brands’ efforts, I’m not able to make purchases without physically (or digitally) placing myself within one category or the other. As with the history of medicine, signposts, and even language, it’s that which is male which is seen as ‘neutral’. Past that first hurdle, comes a second obstacle: from the selection of styles on offer, I face choices that may fit my gender presentation, but won’t fit my body. I was born female, identify as gender neutral, and wear menswear. Is it really that revolutionary for me to wear trousers and muted colours? Why does the fashion industry assume I’m breaking convention rather that choosing a desired ambivalence? And while I don’t want to downplay the merits of clothing lines that advocate for girls who don’t want to wear pink, on the other end of the spectrum, there is little done to acknowledge those born male who do not wish to only wear menswear.
Gender neutral does not mean ‘without any traditional female signifiers’, as most retailers seem to believe. Girls clothes appear exclusively for girls, but boys clothes are for everyone: the silent but apparent contradiction that undermines fashion fluidity becomes obvious under minor scrutiny. Why can’t dresses and skirts be gender neutral too? For the most part, brands are not pushing current definitions of gender expression. Instead, we see traditional men’s styles presented as a blanket statement which capitalise on existing social movements and the political consciousness of consumers. By attempting to sell gender neutral fashion, the industry fails to promote diversity in a way that invites productive conversation about gender expression. We need to hold fashion brands accountable for their role in the contemporary curation of gender.
A zine created for the Women and Visual Studies VMS course taught by Dr. Cobb