On a sunny Friday in June, CASS Art Stores played host to a gender neutral fashion workshop showcasing some of the most dynamic, up-and-coming designers currently studying at Glasgow Caledonian University. Eye-catching artwork covered the walls, the most exciting of which came from Laura, a collaborator at Studio Pop (Remaking The City). Laura uses heat to fuse together plastic bags and reused plastics into striking pieces of art, and other accessories like shopping bags and purses. The scene was set for innovative and subversive creativity.
Richard Simpson, stylist for the likes of iD magazine, opened with a few words on the progressive and culturally important nature of the workshop – and introduced some of the students’ gender neutral designs using models from the audience. If you were lucky enough to lay your hands on the first print issue of NinetyFour Magazine, you will have read about the group of high street brands that are leading the way in gender neutral design, with companies like John Lewis, Zara and River Island initiating unisex collections for both their child and adult audiences. Looks without labels.
I had the chance to speak to Elaine Ritch, university lecturer and organiser of the event, to find out more about where the idea for gender neutral workshops came from – and why it’s so important in today’s society. “Conversations around the fluidity of gender have been around for a while, focusing on gendered commodities such as toys and how gender stereotyping is socially constructed in such a way that restricts genders to specific roles.”, says Elaine. As an expert in the business of fashion and marketing, Elaine is quick to point out the creative potential of gender neutral styling: “Imagine fashion that could be worn by either gender that isn’t bland, but includes colour, shape, and creativity that does not represent restrictive socially constructed perceptions of what gender ought to be.”
If you follow the latest fashion trends, runway shows or look at current advertising, more and more brands are choosing to create clothes inspired by androgyny or styles overtly associated with the opposite sex. Boyfriend jeans, for example, have become ubiquitous on our high street. And Levi’s Line 8 collection are designed for everyone in every size. The fashion industry is slowly becoming more open to gender neutral styling, and important step forward in our fight for gender equality in general.
Elaine is vocal on the politics of fashion: “Research has shown that gendered stereotypes lead to gendered assumptions of what is acceptable, in terms of behaviours and appearance – and this might be why women underachieve in certain domains. For example, there is a story in the news today that girls are less physically active than boys, perhaps because they are socially conditioned to be so. But gender neutral fashion and the discourse behind it also progresses the acceptance of gender fluidity. We like to label people, it is a way of understanding them, but there is no reason why people and their preferences for fashion, activities and lifestyle cannot be fluid. This follows the growing acceptance of the LGBTQ community, particularly though younger generations.” Genderless design is opening debates in wider society about tolerance, acceptance and perception – and the role of style in these discussions.
Richard Simpson challenged the assumption that gender neutral style existed in a negative space of neutral colour and shapeless design. It is fashion. It has shape, style, colour and fabric. The students’ designs were unique, made to break the rules and provide an newfound identity to their wearers. My favourite item on show was a slim blazer, half black half gold, with beautiful embroidery and a striking asymmetric look (pictured below, far left). Fanni, the Hungarian-born designer of this piece, told me that her inspiration for the jacket was the artist Gustav Klimt, and that the flower detail on the shoulders were inspired by a particular painting of his. She said, “his style is very distant from me so it was good to try something out of my comfort zone. The jackets is half men’s jacket, half a hand-sewn net piece. The two halves are balanced to symbolise men and women.”
If I had to style this jacket, I would wear it with burgundy high heels, blue slim jeans and a white boyfriend style shirt. Voilá, who is ready to hit the next big fashion event with me?
– Dora Pongracz
Instagram – @dorapongracz
Facebook – @dorasfashionblog
Edited by Ella Thorold