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Is the Fashion Industry Ready to Officially Defy Gender Boundaries?

Fashion blurring gender roles for fashion’s sake is nothing new, but with the latest crop of agendered styles, new phenomena are emerging—retailers are dedicating entire sections to gender-free clothing and new brands are catering to gender-bending customers.

The latest incarnation of gender neutral apparel tracks back to the Fall 2015 runway season when Gucci showed pussybow blouses and lace tops for men and Prada released a manifesto on gender at a runway presentation that combined menswear and womenswear. Gender neutral fashion has shown up on the runway many times before, but it remains unclear whether, this time, the trend will trickle down to other markets, and if so, how.

Heather Picquot, director of youth and culture at Fashion Snoops, pointed out that high fashion trends have influenced the way people dress in the past. For instance, she explained how following Hedi Slimane’s tenure at Yves St. Laurent, men’s silhouettes shrunk. Picquot said that gender neutral has already influenced the overall neutralizing of the menswear palette, which now includes pink casts and grays with violet undertones.

Celebrities like Kanye West and A$AP Rocky are also introducing dresses for men, Picquot noted. Felix Burrichter, founder of Pin-Up magazine, made a similar point at a discussion at Pratt Institute in New York titled “The New Menswear.” He said, “Women have always been able to wear masculine clothes, but men being able to wear dresses is a new phenomenon. Even if this is a superficial trend that’s fading, the dress or dress shape may remain a staple of men’s wardrobes.” He continued, “Maybe this whole process has enriched the men’s fashion staples by two pieces.”

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Others are skeptical about high fashion trends as unconventional as dresses for men reaching the mass market. The NPD Group Account Manager Joe Hasek said in a report that it seems unlikely that the gender neutral trend will go mainstream. “There’s been this phenomenon in high fashion for several years now — particularly on the runways. But we’ve yet to see a meaningful trickle-down into any of the typical apparel channels,” he said.

Hasek did, however, go on to point out that the rise of athleisure has pushed the universality of the gender neutral trend forward. This proved to be an accurate prediction when Zara, the largest fashion retailer internationally, recently released a collection called “Ungendered” that centers on sweatshirts, joggers and T-shirts. The release of the collection signifies the potential for a significant commercialization of the gender neutral trend.