When two become one
Hot off the international catwalks, unisex, or genderless, clothing is fashion’s next big thing.
‘‘We still make men’s and women’s pieces – they cross over – it’s interchangeable rather than trying to design for one body shape.’’
Rob Rigutto Co-founder of Level streetwear
Last week on social media, a meme did the rounds in which New York copywriter Chris Mendez asked why women all over the city appeared to be dressing like the Sacha Baron Cohen character Ali G.
While Mendez’s example was extreme – Ali G, a parody of the ‘‘white guy’’ appropriation of hiphop culture, usually wore a yellow parachute tracksuit and trainers – he wasn’t far from the truth.
What Mendez was observing, at a broader level, was the spread of baggy, oversized clothing – inspired by 1990s culture – and the blurring of gender lines in the fashion world and more widely. ‘‘There’s a global change, the world and politics are all in alignment. It happens once in a generation and becomes the norm,’’ says Rob Rigutto, cofounder of streetwear brand Level.
While Rigutto and his business partners were dreaming up a truly unisex clothing brand two years ago, well before #metoo and the election of Donald Trump, he can’t help draw parallels between the demand for diversity and inclusiveness in fashion and the success of unisex, or genderless, brands.
‘‘There were a lot of girls wearing boy things – the boyfriend jacket, the jean – there’s something about sweats that is inherently unisex,’’ Rigutto says.
Since the late noughties, fashion has also become more casual – you only have to look at the obsession with ‘‘athleisure’’ – another fact that plays into the hands of unisex brands.
On the runway, everyone from Gucci to Tom Ford has shown men’s and women’s clothing together.
Last year, Swedish fast-fashion chain H&M dispensed with gender specific marketing of its denim lines, while Bonds has released a unisex range for tweens. Before you ask, it includes pinks and blues.
One of the common misconceptions around unisex clothing, says Rigutto, is that it’s inherently ‘‘greige’’, or unflattering. When he was starting Level, he wanted to create pieces that could fit ‘‘everyone from a ballerina to a footballer’’.
‘‘We wanted to tailor our sweats, they’re not big and boxy – they’re not shapeless bags you throw over,’’ he says.
Stylist Kate Gaskin says a strong shift to looser silhouettes could tempt more consumers to purchase clothes initially made for the opposite sex.
‘‘Baggy and oversized is something the Australian consumer will embrace, we love a casual look, it suits out lifestyle,’’ says Gaskin, who regularly buys from the men’s section at retailers.
‘‘Women shopping in the men’s department has been a thing for a long time but I don’t know about the men [buying women’s clothes] mainly because of sizing but there’s definitely a market for it.’’
Courtney Holm, of A.BCH, has made a considered effort to remove gender from her brand identity. Her website has no dedicated men’s or women’s sections. And although she designs her pieces with a gender in mind, she doesn’t care who buys them.
‘‘[Unisex] doesn’t have to mean a drop crotch. If a guy likes the dress, he can wear the dress. We try to let people just feel free to buy whatever they want,’’ she says.
Holm, 32, began her career in menswear and launched A.BCH to be something classic and not trend driven, which suits the unisex philosophy.
‘‘We still make men’s and women’s pieces – they cross over – it’s interchangeable rather than trying to design for one body shape.’’ Rigutto says it’s important that brands in the gender-agnostic space make good clothes that anyone can wear, then get out of the way.
‘‘There’s a lot of inclusiveness in the product we do. It’s also a bit class-agnostic.
‘‘We leave it to the customer to decide how they want to wear it. We don’t preach.’’
– Sydney Morning Herald
Here at home, Wellington designer Bron Eichbaum creates slouchy, comfortable garments with a playful androgyny.