The time for gender-based frills over great design and functionality has come to an end, with the fashion retail industry shifting focus to gender neutrality…

The Gucci Fall 2019 show invite is a papier-mâché mask of Hermaphroditus, who in Greek mythology was said to be a two-sex child with a name compounded from his parents’ names Aphrodite and Hermes, and a symbol of androgyny. Gucci’s tryst with gender neutral clothing started in 2015 when the brand’s creative director, Alessandro Michele, single-handedly reformed the notions on gender-based demarcation at his debut show in Fall, 2015. The rest, as they say, is history

The idea of androgyny has trickled down at speed of light with many brands adapting and celebrating the power and impact of a new gender. From high fashion to high streets, clothing categories are blurring into one. Sociological observing, acceptance of individuality and recognition of the third gender spectrum has catalysed this core idea of gender neutral clothing.

The rigid compartmentalisation of what’s masculine and what’s feminine is taking a toll on our fashion industry. Heaps and heaps of trend driven fashion is discarded, contributing to mammoth textile wastage. Millions of dollars have already been invested in marketing brain washing by the concept of ‘Blue for Boys and Pink for Girls’. The time for gender underlining frills over great design and functionality has come to an end, with the fashion retail industry shifting focus to gender neutrality.

Understanding the New Gender
By emergence of the unisex category, the focus filters down to produce a perfectly designed product balancing functionality and globally appealing aesthetics, thus decluttering the unnecessary and unwanted pressure of gender conformity. This has affected global mega giants, since they save money by conducting one big show based on a big idea instead of two separate fashion weeks presentations for men and women. Today’s fashion is ensuring that men can wear women’s pieces and women can purchase what’s on a male model in real time now.

In the modern urban matrix, our wardrobes are reflection of our societal shifts; millennial pinks are seeping in men’s racks, whereas power suits are modern basics for women across the globe. It’s not just about which silhouettes are trending or the prints, patterns and materials in vogue, it’s the attitude of acceptance that is impacting a new wave fashion democracy. People are now open to the idea of letting others celebrate their individualism and their unique expression through clothing.

Clothing is the first, and immediate, blank canvas for expressionism after skin and body. People are using this power to communicate their innate desires, perspectives and gender voices. Girls are chopping their locks, guys are piercing their noses. Men are wearing skirts and women are going topless. Popular culture has somewhere accelerated this movement. The new ideals are sporting fashion which reflects their own fierce individual self.

Closer home, Bollywood actor Ranveer Singh has redefined masculine dressing in India. His flare to experiment with exaggeration has stupendously empowered the youth to be more carefree in their own wardrobe choices. Whether in full grown skirt, pastel fur jackets, wild neon florals, etc. he helped set some of the wackiest trends ever, which have hit even the smallest of stores in the remotest parts of India.

The Global Gender Neutral Movement

Social media, especially Instagram, has empowered the new generation of beauty. Imperfection is the perfection mantra in today’s aesthetics. After decades of Photoshop air brushing, diversity and inclusive beauty are emerging, and critical, trends of what is ideal in today’s world.

Anjali Lama, the long legged, transgender beauty opened doors to many hopeful aspiring trans-models to strut the runway. Hailing from a remote farming village of Nuwakot, Nepal, Lama is being featured on billboards of some of India’s leading fashion labels, couture kings as well starring on covers and editorial features of leading magazines of our country.

Globally speaking, there is an endless list of trans-model such as Munroe Bergdorfm, Dara Allen to Laith Ashley, who has broken rules and is ruling international runways for years now.

YouTube sensation James Charles was the first male ever to be the face of American beauty giant – Covergirl Cosmetics.

Entrepreneur Jeffery Starr has created an entire beauty empire out of his eccentric drag makeup fan base.

Famous Drag star Aquaria is seen in leading campaigns of Burberry, Moschino X, H&M etc.

Thanks to reality TV blockbuster Rupaul’s Drag Race, dragging or cross-dressing is being seen as a respectable and creative expression of individualism. Drag culture and iconic drag artists are dictating global beauty and fashion trends around the world.

Back home, father daughter duo Sonam and Anil Kapoor acted in a film called Ek Ladki Ko Dekha, which centered around lesbianism.

Designer brands are cashing in on this popularity by featuring transgenders in leading campaigns as well as digital media appearances to attract the power of the new millennial.

The Indian Context
From the Pages of History: India has always been gender fluid in the idea of clothing and dressing. This is keenly reflected in our sculptors, scriptures and murals across the length and breadth of India. Ours myths and mythologies, Gods and Goddess are dressed in gender neutral drapes with base torsos decked in layers of jewels. Every deity and even characters from the Vedas always have their eyeliners on fleek and they all embrace their feminine grace by sporting floral decorations. We belong to land which gave the concept of ardha- nareshwara (half Shiva-half shakti), the ultimate yin yang of cosmic energies. This history has ensured the third gender was never neglected in India; they have always been respected and represented in righteous roles in our ancient documentation.

Connecting Today: Fast forwarding to 2019. Popular culture, supported with accessible and affordable tools such as social media proliferation, is bringing about the much needed positive attitudinal change in our society at various levels. India is finally liberated from the regressive colonial law of section 377. This iconic moment decriminalised same-sex union. Many brands, across categories, supported and welcomed this change with great delight, respect and affirmation. From high street retailers to India’s premium bridal luxury players, everyone flashed the rainbow flag (Symbolic of the LBGTQ community) celebrating this monumental judgment by the highest court of our nation.

One of the first brands to join this ‘gender inclusive’ marketing was Anouk – Myntra’s ethnic brand. This quintessentially contemporary Indian ethnic brand proudly and sensitivity represented lesbians in one of their most successful digital campaigns.

India’s leading bridal trousseau brand, Tarun Tahiliani, recently posted images of a same-sex, cross-ethnic couple dressed as Indian royalty for their wedding overseas. The nation’s hot favorite bridal mega brand, Sabyasachi, also featured images of two men dressed in ethnic ensembles with obvious homoerotic undertones.

In Conclusion…
Fashion is no longer a hetero-narrative phenomenon. It has evolved and accepted the new wave of gender identity. The power of fashion has accelerated this cross pollination of ideas and has fueled positive change towards individual choices.
They say, ‘what’s on your mind is on your body’ and fashion today – in true sense – is celebrating peoples’ freedom to express their desire to dress according to their true self, instead of compartmentalising their choices to demarcations.

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