Finding Clothes, and Identity, Outside Men’s and Women’s Wear

Finding Clothes, and Identity, Outside Men’s and Women’s Wear

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“I would like to see anybody wearing my clothes, and I do mean anybody.”

— Claire Fleury, a fashion designer who creates clothing for all genders

When a friend of mine was shopping for her wedding look several years back, she wanted a sharp, tailored suit. She went to a famous men’s clothier in New York’s Financial District, whose staff ultimately laughed her out of the store, a humiliation she still carries with her.

Today, her options would be plentiful by comparison as more mainstream clothing companies swiftly rise to meet the demands of a changing cliental — offering gender-bending, gender-fluid and gender-neutral garments. As Ken Downing, the fashion director of Neiman Marcus, once told The Times: “What we’re seeing now is a seismic shift in fashion, a widening acceptance of a style with no boundaries — one that reflects the way young people dress.”

Market research supports that shift, showing changes in points of view on gender among Gen Z consumers. Some 38 percent of this group, born in 1995 and after, said they “strongly agree” that “gender doesn’t define a person as much as it used to,” as my colleague Ruth La Ferla reported last week.

[READ MORE: Beyond ‘Queer’ Fashion]

Also, the Council of Fashion Designers of America, a trade group of about 500 leading American designers, last year added the first unisex and nonbinary category to the New York Fashion Week calendar.

Of course, unisex (and androgenous, for that matter) are not new terms when it comes to fashion. Women, particularly those with taller and slimmer builds, have long been able to shop for men’s clothes. But for curvaceous women (like my friend), men who want to escape rigid masculine aesthetics and transgender people who may be adapting to a changing body, choices have been all but nonexistent.

Not to mention how winding through the men’s and women’s sections in traditional stores can be an exercise in anxiety and awkwardness for L.G.B.T.Q. people. Even Uniqlo and Muji, known to offer more gender-free looks, and H&M and Zara, which have presented gender-neutral items, continue to divide garments into men’s, women’s, boys’ and girls’.

The Phluid Project, an outpost of gender-neutral fashion in Lower Manhattan, and shops like it have no gender-based sections. “The style is all about identity and unfettered self-expression,” said Rob Smith, its founder.

The movement has also grown to offer parents more options to dress their children — standing in contrast to the recent phenomenon of “gender reveal parties.” In November, for example, the singer Celine Dion, who has three kids, unveiled a line of gender-neutral children’s clothing. “The message I’m trying to get across is, you raise your children the way you want to raise your children,” Dion said.

But those kids’ clothes don’t come cheap (hoodies can cost $80 or more) and neither do their adult counterparts. A gender-neutral item from Phluid Project, Chromat, Wildfang, Official Rebrand, Hirsuit Swim and Radimo, among others, can easily cost $80 or more.

One reason: These brands are often bootstrapped endeavors, MI Leggett, the owner of Official Rebrand, told Mashable last year. “As L.G.B.T.Q. designers, we need to learn how to value ourselves,” Leggett said. “We don't have big companies helping us; we just have to advocate for ourselves.”

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ICYMI: ‘She was an original boss.’

Last week in Chicago, city leaders, dignitaries, activists and residents gathered to celebrate the renaming of Congress Parkway as Ida B. Wells Drive, making it the city’s first major street to bear the name of a black woman.

“She spoke truth to power and changed the landscape of Chicago and the world,” Alderman Sophia King told The Chicago Tribune of Wells, one of the nation’s most influential investigative reporters. “It’s bittersweet that it’s has taken so long. But we are here.”

“Pantsuits may be today’s fashion fad, but tomorrow they will be a permanent part of a woman’s wardrobe” was the opening sentence in a 1966 Times article titled “The Pants Suit People State Their Case Ubiquitously,” and the prediction certainly holds up.

I’m not just talking about Hillary Clinton, either. Last week at the Grammys, Miley Cyrus rocked a black pantsuit, one of many stars to don the look recently. But back in 1966, women commandeering traditionally masculine apparel pushed plenty of boundaries.

“I wear them shopping, on planes, in restaurants, in bars — everywhere,” one woman said. “I’d even wear them to church if I could.”

“Eventually women will wear them as they do suits; it will become classic,” said another.

The irony: In the article, these women were identified only by their husband’s names, Mrs. Malcolm Warner and Mrs. Edward Kaufman, an artist and the woman in the photo above.

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