Understanding Unisex Fashion: An Overview for Every Gender

Unisex fashion. Gender neutral. Or, even gender fluid. If you’re someone who’s rejected the binary – either through fashion or your own gender expression – clothing that caters to both, frankly, seems like a relief.

Yet, unisex fashion still has a few kinks to get out. What seems adventurous often boils down to masculine-leaning streetwear in feminine colors. And, then, sizing’s an issue. Before diving head-first into unisex style, only to be disappointed, consider these factors:

Unisex Fashion, in a Modern Context

Credit: Smithsonian Magazine

Credit: Smithsonian Magazine

Unisex clothing has existed in some form for centuries. However, the current ideation goes back to the 1960s. During this decade, second-wave feminism started to question the idea of gender being strictly binary. In response, unisex style – adult and children’s clothing meant for both sexes, in addition to hairstyles – grew out of this belief. By 1968, Life magazine officially coined the term “unisex.”

In hindsight, the adoption felt forced – and almost space-age-y. Yet, while this concept faded out at the end of the 1960s, the ‘70s gave rise to more androgynous – and frankly, more fashionable – clothing. At the time, androgynous fashion – seen on stars like David Bowie and in Yves Saint Laurent’s collection – pulled from both hard masculine and strong feminine elements to create something that, at the time, felt completely new – at least on a mainstream level. And, unlike unisex clothing advertisements that featured heterosexual couples in matching clothing, androgynous fashion seemed adventurous, sophisticated, and reserved for a select few.

Silhouette wise, these ‘70s looks broke down design barriers. Yves Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking Tuxedo slimmed down the traditional suit – and even elongated it in parts – without it feeling overtly frilly. As well, general period fashion styles like the Ultrasuede dress shirt, tunics, blazers, turtlenecks, and Nehru jackets blended a masculine form with a belted or fitted cut.

Unisex - YSL.jpg

Although this fad, too, died out, the next couple of decades experienced their own versions of androgyny: New Romantic and New Wave fashion throughout the ‘80s, and by the ‘90s, Grunge’s ripped jeans and flannel shirts became a uniform for both sexes.

By the 2000s – and more specifically, post-2010 – unisex fashion and androgyny have separated off into two distinct branches. The latter – more prominent in menswear, at least for the moment – goes the old-school route, by embellishing traditional men’s silhouettes with more feminine materials and embellishments. Unisex fashion, by contrast, is meant to appeal to both sides of the dichotomy. However, that execution has ranged from Rad Hourani’s flowy designs to agender streetwear pieces sold at fast-fashion retailers.

Common Misconceptions and Progression

For this latter point, unisex fashion looks like a welcome respite for those wanting to avoid womenswear’s fitted cuts and menswear’s often-boxy fits. Yet, what gets defined as “unisex fashion” often isn’t clear cut.

Roughly 10 years ago, reviewers placed Rick Owens and Raf Simons under this label, purely for the fact that a flowy, dress-like silhouette characterized both designers’ collections. Gucci, under Alessandro Michele, has been pulled in, purely for the fact that the brand’s runway presentations display some fluidity between both men’s and women’s collections – for instance, embroidery, bows, and brightly colored silks.  

As another misguided example, Vogue’s 2017 article focusing on gender fluidity – one the featuring Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik going through each other’s closets – got torn apart on social media. 40 years ago, the concept might have seemed progressive – if not actually in style – but by 2010, seeing men and women switch their clothes isn’t a novel idea – and, in fact, reinforces the gender binary.

So, through a modern lens, what has become of unisex fashion? As one growing concept, stores like Zara, Selfridges, and Opening Ceremony have created agender areas – a spot often with no mannequins and no gendered merchandise. As an offshoot of this, designers who’s stuck with one gendered collection – for instance, Ami for men and Isabel Marant for women – noticed demand for certain styles by all consumers and thus adjusted their lines, branching out without compromising or changing their aesthetic.

As another leap forward, the CFDA announced in 2018 their plans to include a unisex/non-binary category at New York Fashion Week.

Figuring Out Sizing

So, the question, then, isn’t, “Should I wear unisex fashion?” but rather, “How does it fit?” The answer, however, isn’t so clear cut.

Or, it is, to some extent: Simply check out the size chart. As another alternative, which we’ve touched on here, bespoke tailoring eliminates much of the guessing.

As a primer, unisex cuts lean more toward menswear – although they’re not quite cut the same. A shirt, for instance, may be slightly slimmer – but it won’t have the shaped seams and waist a traditional women’s piece will. At the same time, you won’t find something extremely fitted – that’s really saved for the runway. Instead, boxier cuts meant to fit around both male and female torsos hit that sweet spot.

Sizing, however, depends on brand. As we’ve seen with some unisex shoes, you’ll come across separate men’s and women’s size charts. Apparel isn’t exempt. Just make sure you’re looking at the correct chart, or better yet, measure your shoulders, waist, hips, and inseam before shopping around.

On the other hand, a new type of sizing chart is emerging. These unisex charts cover a broad range that’s meant to accommodate both men and women. Sizes on the lower end – for instance, XXS to Medium – tend to fit female bodies better, while sizes from a Small up to an XXL and higher are geared toward male consumers.

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Interested in unisex styles but don’t know where to start? Begin with the right fit and step away from any compromises with Kipper Clothiers. Make a 15-minute appointment with a stylist today to explore your options.