By Parag Goswami, Assistant Professor – Fashion Styling & Image Design
The world of fashion, and society as a whole, has witnessed a growing acceptance of non-binary and gender-fluid self-expression. As Gen Zers and millennials challenge society’s-imposed boundaries, the rigid binary division of gender into man and woman is gradually loosening its grip. It is only fitting to acknowledge that gender fluidity in fashion design is not only in full swing but is gaining momentum, emerging from the shadows to democratise across the entire gender spectrum.
The concept of non-binary and fluid gender expressions is not new; it has been supported for ages by cultural legacies. Different civilizations have acknowledged and welcomed gender diversity in various forms throughout history. The long-standing cultural recognition of “kathoey” or “ladyboys” in Thailand demonstrates the persistence of acceptance of gender-fluid identities. The hijra group, a recognised third gender with historical roots, is deeply ingrained in India’s cultural legacy. In the historical context of Native American cultures, Two-Spirit individuals embodying both masculine and feminine characteristics were held in high esteem. The Netherlands, Sweden, and Japan, while modern in their approaches, draw on a cultural heritage that has long recognised gender diversity.
In cultures such as the Bugis people in Indonesia, the terms “kalabai,” “kalalai,” and “bissu” are deeply embedded in their traditional beliefs as an expression of gender diversity. These examples make it clear that the acceptance of gender diversity is not a modern trend but a timeless aspect deeply rooted in various cultures around the world.
What is Fluidity in Fashion Design?
The fashion and beauty industry, known for innovation and originality, has been at the forefront of challenging conventions and igniting thoughtful discourse. These sectors have served as instruments for identity expression, playing a pivotal role in revealing individuals’ gender to the outside world. As more people comfortably come out as transgender or non-binary, they seek ways to express their identities through their appearance.
Gender-fluid collections or fashion styling, which avoids categorising items into one gender or another, are gaining popularity. These collections are not intended for any specific gender and defy traditional distinctions in terms of colours, prints, patterns, fabrics, and more. Blue is no longer solely for boys, and pink is no longer confined to being a girl’s favourite colour.
Brands and designers globally are recognising the interest in adult clothing that moves away from gender binary divisions, and this shift is becoming more mainstream. In 2022, the British Fashion Council announced that London Fashion Weeks would no longer separate menswear from womenswear. Influential figures like Lil Nas X and Jonathan Van Ness are pushing the boundaries of menswear, while designers like Gaurav Gupta are creating genderless collections modelled by transgender individuals.
Moving into Mainstream
The acceptance of gender fluidity is steadily spreading, presenting challenges for an older generation that might view it as a step backward. Embracing gender fluidity requires rethinking what it means to be male or female, and rejecting outdated stereotypes dictating how one should act or look. This shift is particularly noticeable in the beauty and fashion industries, where individuals are increasingly embracing styles traditionally associated with the opposite gender.
The ascent of social media enables people to share their unique fashion styles with a larger audience, contributing to the normalisation of non-traditional gender expressions. Adapting to gender fluidity is feasible in the age of social media and OTT content, where stories and real-life experiences are shared authentically. Fashion bloggers and YouTube stars, driven by their desire to push the bounds of gender expression, have gained popularity and respect.
Androgynous styles are gaining popularity, allowing individuals to express themselves authentically despite societal expectations. This style not only makes a fashion statement but also serves as a political act, challenging the gender binary system imposed by society. Androgynous fashion allows individuals to reject the notion of only two genders, fostering support for the LGBTQ+ community and their fight for recognition and gender equality.
Advantages of Fluidity in Fashion Design
- Versatility: Gender-fluid fashion incorporates elements from both masculine and feminine clothing, offering a wide range of outfit choices.
- Comfort and Practicality: Emphasising comfort, gender-fluid fashion allows for free movement without the constraints of restrictive clothing.
- Ecological Responsibility: Androgynous fashion promotes a more ecologically responsible approach to fashion by encouraging the idea of clothing as a unisex item, reducing the need for distinct clothing lines for men and women.
As society becomes more accepting of diverse gender expressions, we can anticipate even more diversity in fashion and beauty. This positive trend contributes to dismantling restrictive gender roles, allowing everyone to express themselves authentically.