When shop owners stock clothing designed by Bobby Bonaparte, they’re not always sure where to put it. Some include it in the menswear section, others in women’s. Bonaparte says his pieces don’t belong in either.
Or maybe they belong in both.
Bonaparte’s line, Olderbrother, features gender-neutral clothing. The minimalistic sweaters, shirts and pants are equally at home on people with large hips and ample chests and those with broad shoulders and long legs.
Bonaparte, a 28-year-old designer living in Portland, thinks shoppers are ready for androgynous clothing, even if stores aren’t.
“It’s a challenge for them,” he said. “Where do they put the clothes, how do we pioneer this? You want to invite everybody to the table. Right now everything feels kind of cloistered.”
But gender norms are blurring in pop culture and on the fashion runway, and gender-neutral clothing is becoming more widely accepted in the retail world, too.
London-based department store chain Selfridges earlier this year debuted its Agender concept pop-up, which showcased unisex clothing lines and did away with gendered mannequins. On the runway, androgynous model Andreja Pejić has walked both men’s and women’s shows.
Gender-neutral clothing is nothing new: Men and women in ancient Rome wore similar robes, and Japanese men and women both wore kimonos until the late 19thcentury.
American fashion, though, has long been defined by gender-specific clothing, and all major retailers in the United States have separate sections — frequently separate floors — for men’s and women’s clothing.
That could soon change.
Wildfang’s co-founders, Julia Parsley, left, and Emma McIlroy in their Chinatown office in 2013.
Emma McIlroy, co-founder ofWildfang, a self-described tomboy shop in Southeast Portland, thinks the idea of splitting a store in half by gender is strange. She sees her store as a place where women can come to find menswear, but also a place for unisex clothing and women’s brands.
“The definition of gender has changed a lot, and so have expectations,” she said.
Ten years from now, McIlroy predicts that traditional gender binaries will have disappeared from stores.
“They’re not going to be merchandized by mens and womens,” she said.
At Machus, a menswear shop on East Burnside, owner and designer Justin Machus sells his long tunics and leggings to women and men alike. The loose-fitting, ultra-soft materials appeal to young shoppers in search of something comfortable — a break from rigid denim, he says.
And although Machus identifies itself a menswear store, co-owner Juline Machus said she can’t imagine her husband making a piece of clothing she couldn’t wear.
“It is so unisex,” she said. “I wear everything in here, so it’s not something I even think about.”
While women wearing menswear is not new — Diane Keaton’s iconic tomboy look in Woody Allen’s 1977 film “Annie Hall” encouraged many women to don button-up shirts and ties — men borrowing from women’s fashion has not been nearly as widespread.
“If I can wear a boyfriend jean, he can wear a silk blouse,” Juline Machus said. “We’ve been taking from menswear for years. Why can’t they take from us?”
They’re starting to.
At New York’s first-ever men’s fashion week, which ended Thursday, a few models wore long button-up tunics and crocheted tops. Other recent runway shows have seen male models wearing silk blouses, knee-high stockings and sheer, see-through shirts.
Celebrities are embracing the womenswear look, too. Rapper Kanye West, actor Jaden Smith and designer Marc Jacobs have all worn skirts or long, dress-like shirts in public in recent years.
“Guys are getting gutsier and gutsier,” Justin Machus said. “It’s basically tweaks on womenswear in a lot of ways.”
Sometimes his customers will look at the long tunics and form-fitting leggings and ask, “Who buys this stuff?” The answer, he says, are those who are thinking about fashion internationally. And right now, the international fashion world isn’t working with gender binaries as much as it used to.
“They don’t have to think like that anymore,” Juline Machus added, “because women shouldn’t be threatening to them. I don’t think they need to wear some burly outfit to be a man, and a woman doesn’t have to wear a silky dress to be a female.”
While there’s still a sense that gender-neutral clothing is avant-garde in fashion — H&M doesn’t have a unisex floor, after all — the Machuses and Bonaparte think it’s only a matter of time before it catches on with the mainstream. If only because the clothes are so comfy.
Roominess and drapey layers are somewhat of a requirement for gender-neutral clothing, which by definition are not very fitted or tailored.
“Bigger shapes, more voluminous shapes have come into fashion,” Bonaparte said. “And this allows more room for designers to play. If you make that shirt big, it can fit basically anybody.”
And oversize clothes allow the wearers to accessorize and adjust, whether it means rolling up sleeves, adding a belt or layering.
Historically, the clothing many Americans wore was shaped by their occupation as much as anything else. Foresters wore different clothes than police officers, who wore different clothes than nurses.
But now, an increasing percentage of American jobs involve sitting in front of a computer. That doesn’t require any protective clothing, and Bonaparte thinks the modern desk job enables clothing to evolve further.
“Now that we’re in front of our computer screens all day, I think we have more room to wear clothes that are more fashionable and have less functionality,” he said.
If so, shoppers might be open to more avant-garde clothes, including drapey gender-neutral designs.
Though Bonaparte doubts there will be a time when all clothing is androgynous, he appreciates the current cultural openness to blurring — or erasing altogether — the lines that have so long defined what is appropriate for a man or a woman to wear, do or be.
“I just hope people can wear whatever makes them happy,” he said.
[“source – oregonlive.com”]