Agender agenda

Fashion designers are creating gender-neutral lines - but are they affordable for the people who need them, or just another luxury trend? Words by Vic Cooper and illustration by Bethany Thompson.

Clothes can be a problem area. What assortment of fabric you have on your body has been a feminist battleground ever since bodies started existing (give or take). Size, style and price are three points of a compromise triangle already, but how do you navigate this if you don’t even fit in the men’s or women’s sections? What if you’re nonbinary? 

For those who don’t fit into the category of man or woman – people who present or identify anywhere on a broad spectrum between a lot of gender and no gender at all – we hit a brick wall at day one. Having to overlook categories, size and broader perceptions of gender can fuel the ugly inner feud between dysphoria and self-acceptance.

Lately, however, some retailers have tried to shake up this schism. Selfridges released their ‘Agender’ campaign earlier this summer, alongside a promotional video starring transgender model Hari Nef, and a diverse range of people of colour, older models and people with various body types. It was a bold and exciting declaration of difference, acceptance and individuality. “Luxury Online Boutique” The Corner now has a permanent ‘No Gender’ category on their site, a space dedicated to gender-neutral fashion. Odeur’s online shop have gone a step further by removing categories or size differences for their clothing whilst using male and female models indiscriminately.

The binary nature of fashion is more scrutinised than ever, with an increasing number of designers seeing it as redundant or outdated. H&M’s sub-brand ‘& Other Stories’ have created a range featuring transgender models Hari Nef, Valentijn De Hingh, directed by a team of transgender professionals – a clear and definite statement describing clothing as a personal expression unrestricted by body or gender.

Having to overlook categories, size and broader perceptions of gender can fuel the ugly inner feud between dysphoria and self-acceptance

It must be noted that alongside these positive developments, there is also a worrying trend. Selfridges’ range aimed for something more subtle than clichéd “gender-swap” androgyny, but when scrolling through their four-page selection on their website there is a lack of anything even vaguely feminine. Everything is straight from the shoulders or the hips, there are only a few colourful items and despite the diversity and body positivity in their campaign video, their choice of models is the same as with any other range.

Masculine is often seen as the default, with ‘feminine’ attributes shunted into the background. For a true acceptance of the fluidity of gender, any and all forms of presentation must be permissible, or there will always be an “othered” nature to the feminine. The straight-edged minimal look to agendered fashion may be my style, but it should not be prescriptive to gender-neutrality. 

Furthermore, designers behind these moves such as Ann DemeulemeesterYang LiGareth Pugh and Yohji Yamamoto are expensive. Inclusivity is the cornerstone of activism, and though a positive example may be being set, it is still an exclusive one.  

There are people designing cheaper-than-cheap binders or breast forms for those who can’t afford it, because it is a necessity for dysphoric people without much money to be able to feel comfortable. Many nonbinary people have to compromise on fit, style or comfort to present anywhere near how they would like to be seen. Gender neutrality is seen as a luxury, but we need clothing we can live with.

The fashion industry is accepting a more fluid approach to gender, but a lot of work needs to be done before the end products are truly representative and accessible to us all. 

This article was published in our Rebels issue, in November 2015.