Are you curious about what exactly unisex clothing is and where to buy it? This article has the answers you’re looking for!
Unisex…gender neutral…androgynous. These three terms can be applied to much of today’s clothing.
The definitions are somewhat ambiguous and may be used interchangeably by some. Perhaps it is all semantics, yet the terminology differences reflect the times in which they were coined.
I’m going to admit two things that may influence my perspective about unisex clothing: first, I’m female, and second, most of my wardrobe was either purchased in men’s departments or could be considered unisex.
This is not to say that I identify as anything other than female, or attempt to dress androgynously, it’s just that today’s society favors unisex designs: T-shirts and turtlenecks, button shirts, jeans, khakis and blazers are all part of unisex styles.
The unisex movement may have made women’s clothing more masculine, without becoming unfeminine. In fact, part of the appeal of unisex fashion is the contrast between the wearer and the clothes.
This can actually call attention to the body wearing the clothes. A close-fitting sweater accentuates the wearers’ physique.
That begs the question: What is the difference between unisex, androgynous and gender neutral?
The term gender was first used in 1955 to describe social and cultural aspects of whether a person was male or female, regardless of their biological sex. Next, the term unisex was coined in the 1960s in reference to garments that were intended to be worn by either sex.
Most unisex clothing was, and is, based on male styles. Fit may be adjusted, some new fabrics may be introduced, but it is still basically men’s clothing adjusted to include women wearing it.
Everything Old is New Again
The term androgynous was first used in England in the 17th century, but the term became fashionable again in the 1970s in reference to the glam rock scene.
It refers to someone whose appearance is neither clearly feminine nor masculine – having an ambiguous sexual identity with both masculine and feminine characteristics.
Androgynous clothes are meant to blur the line between blatant male or female characteristics. David Bowie, as Ziggy Stardust, is one of the first, and clearest, examples of androgynous dressing.
He embraced make-up, styled and colored hair, and wore clothing that, unlike most pedestrian clothing, made you wonder whether it was intended for men or women.
People who embrace androgyny want to look neither male nor female to avoid gender stereotypes. The clothing is more fluid and loose, favors dark colors and often has boxy structures.
Gender neutral is a more modern term that is similar to unisex. Its original purpose was to be gender-inclusive for those in the LGBTQ community, as well as those outside it.
It’s a reaction to limited off-the-rack options of standard sizing that doesn’t really fit or flatter the body of either males or females. It’s meant to be non-judgmental – considering both men and women equally in the design process.
This is especially important with the increased visibility of the LGBTQ+ community and the emphasis on political correctness and inclusion today.
A deep look into fashion and its history shows that while many think that unsex dressing is a new trend, its latest incarnation started 70 years ago.
Whether you use the term unisex, androgynous or gender-neutral, everyone from couture designers to affordable mass-market retailers are embracing it.
Modern Origins of Unisex Clothing
I believe the origin of modern unisex clothing is actually World War II when women had to join the workforce in positions where pants were necessary.
With the advent of peace and in an attempt to return to idyllic days, previous gender stereotypes were reinforced and people reverted back to separate rigid dress codes for men and women.
Most people consider the 1950’s, with Marlon Brando and James Dean popularizing jeans and t-shirts, as the advent of the modern unisex clothing trend. This served as a democratization of clothing by defying the suit generation.
What used to be just for the working class was now popular for everyone. It is hard to believe that in an era of fast everything, especially fashion, these two pieces of clothing are as popular today as they were 70 years ago.
The next major movement occurred in 1968 when runways featured fashions inspired by the space race and futurism.
That year the Paris runways of Pierre Cardin, Andre Courreges, and Paco Rabanne all featured egalitarian “Space Age” fashions that highlighted simple, sleek silhouettes, graphic patterns and new, synthetic fabrics.
The inspiration was future societies that didn’t differentiate between men and women – style wise. While it was short-lived, this trend had lasting implications. The 1970’s Disco era was a prime example of synthetic fabrics with similar patterns and designs for both men and women.
The tuxedo became a unisex garment in the 1960’s when Yves Saint Laurent introduced his Le Smoking line. The fashion house has continued to include versions of tuxedos and men’s suits designed for women through the 2019 lines.
Variations of the tuxedo have come full circle: originally a male garment, it was embraced by women with pants or skirts. Today, men’s tuxedos can also feature skirts.
Comparing Saint Laurent’s tuxedo with Billy Porter’s 2019 Oscar tuxedo by Christian Siriano is a great example of how style and gender, and what is appropriate for either, have evolved.
The 1990’s saw a continuation of androgynous dressing – even its expansion. This is especially true for runway shows and the entertainment industry. Prince and the Revolution had men and women both wearing lace, ruffles and make-up.
The Grunge scene of the 1990s is the next major milestone in unisex dressing. Kurt Cobain was photographed for the cover of Face magazine in 1993 wearing a dress, yet the typical grunge “uniform” was jeans, flannel shirts, combat boots and knit caps for both men and women.
Grunge made the tomboy aesthetic acceptable for women.
Most recently, designers have been blurring the lines of gender-specific fashion – using silhouettes, fabrics and trims (embroidery and pearls), that were once associated with female fashion and applying it to men’s fashion.
In 2015 Gucci embraced red lace shirts, chiffon pussy bow button-ups and high ruffled collars. That same year Yves Saint Laurent used heels with tight skinny jeans and Givenchy layered skirts over pants.
Louis Vuitton’s 2016 show featured Jaden Smith in gender-defying clothing. The brand added fluorescent pink and ruffles on many of its tailored pieces.
Unisex Clothing Brands
Unisex and androgynous clothing has always found a home on the runway. Most unisex fashion is still extremely high end and inaccessible to the masses, both by price and by sizing (they are designed and sized for slender people).
It is much easier for haute couture to show radical pieces that aren’t meant for the average person.
Jo Paoletti, the author of several books on fashion and gender says:
The difference between avant-garde unisex and the later version is the distinction between boundary-defying designs, often modeled by androgynous-looking models, and a less threatening variation, worn by attractive heterosexual couples.
Never fear, there are a number of accessible choices available for those who want to expand their clothing options to include unisex items.
First, many men don’t limit themselves to shopping in men’s departments. Since so much of the women’s market is based on unisex styles, slender men who need a different cut, or who prefer more color and pattern, added trims such as ruffles, or different silhouettes shop in women’s stores.
Secondly, many mass marketers have embraced selling unisex clothing. In fact, The Gap, one of the first gender-inclusive stores, was founded in 1969.
While they are not overt in advertising themselves as a unisex store, they offer a basic range of simple unisex separates that include t-shirts, trousers, jeans, sweaters and jackets that are affordable, accessible, and have the capacity to transcend age, gender, and trends.
The British department store Selfridges, has devoted three floors of their London flagship store exclusively to gender-neutral clothing.
Fast fashion giants H&M and Zara have also introduced unisex lines.
Below is a listing of brands that are devoted to offering unisex options. Most are accessible to the average person, and all are noteworthy.
They offer comfortable, if boxy, oversized and deconstructed unisex clothing by appointment or online.
Some of their pieces are more cutting-edge and have a 90’s street-smart aesthetic. They use high-quality denim and are purposefully mono-gender. To add to their sense of genderless fashion, their founder and designer has remained anonymous.
Toogood is a London-based firm founded by two sisters with interests in sculpture and architecture. This has informed their design process.
They produce strong silhouettes and structural shapes in neutral colors.
They believe that “society is ready for the gender-neutral and unisex line of clothing. If it is cut for a man or a woman, it doesn’t matter anymore. Gender-specific clothing has lost its meaning in today’s society.”
In addition to men’s and women’s clothing, they offer a line of home furnishings.
Not Equal offers 10 different collections that truly celebrate the “genderless form and individuality”.
Most are in neutral colors, with the occasional pop of color, bold lines and patterns suitable for everyone.
Their goal is to “push boundaries while offering rational fashion”. The line features large wrap skirts, open dresses and large shirts.
The company was founded by Fabio Costa of Project Runway fame.
Cilium has gone through a few name changes: TillyandWilliam and Willy & Tilly. They advertise that they sell “clothes that work upsidedown, flipped and high, low & in between.”
You can put different body parts through different holes because there is no wrong way to wear Cilium clothing.
Looking at their offerings you can understand their watchwords of transform, evolve and share. The company is “committed to creating clothing for all gender identities, all sexual orientations, and every shape, size and color of body.”
Each piece can transform itself to suit multiple uses depending on how you choose to wear it. This versatile collection is offered in 6 sizes based on waist measurements ranges starting at 23” and going up to 62”.
Unlike some unisex clothing, Cilium is size inclusive and fairly affordable.
One DNA is an affordable gender-neutral company that donates 50% of its profits to meaningful causes.
They offer a limited selection of t-shirts, sweats, underwear and shoes in mostly black, white, and beiges.
The t-shirts can be worn front-to-back and year-round. They believe that “there should be no difference in fashion regarding gender, age, shape, or race.”
Their looks are minimalist, updated basics that are well-designed and of good quality.
Sharpe Suiting is a bespoke tailor located in Los Angeles. They cater to those seeking androgynous suits – namely “butch women and trans men”.
They have a trademarked suiting process named Andropometrics™ that takes gender-queer fashion to a new level.
Another London company that makes un-gendered clothing by hand is LaneFortyFive.
They take their inspiration from work-wear garments such as wide-legged trousers and use beautiful fabrics such as corduroy and pure linen.
Gender Free World
They emphasize inclusivity, are anti-one-size-fits-all, so that every gender-neutral body, regardless of shape, will find something that fits well and makes them feel good – all for a reasonable price.
For instance, their looser cut left over right buttoned shirt features a hidden bust button to avoid gaping in the chest area.
They approach sizing a bit differently – they offer 4 shapes of bodies from which to choose named Alex, Billie, Charlie and Drew, and at least 4 sizes for each.
They offer a full range of clothing from shirts and pants, to underwear and accessories. Overall, their vibe is comfortable with a distinct style.
Muttonhead is a Toronto based company that makes casual unisex apparel for everyone at prices that aren’t extortionate.
Their motto is “classic, unisex and Canadian”.
They pay attention to the details. Their clothing is timeless, yet unique, and always on-trend. They eschew fast fashion and want their clothing to stand the test of time.
Offerings include a full range of casual and sweat clothes in sizes from XS to XXL.
Ader Error is based on “fashion and simplicity” and a contemporary sensibility. While they say their clothes are minimalistic, they are not boring.
They have bright colors, lots of textures, and fine details including embroidery.
They offer a full range of products including jackets, knitwear, pants, accessories and jewelry. They accommodate everyone, fit-wise, by offering slim and oversize silhouettes.
They maintain a masculine tint towards a female market and not vice-versa.
Big Bud Press
Big Bud Press is Los Angeles unisex company that prides itself on making clothing for all bodies, including those on the curvier end of the spectrum.
Speaking of spectrums, their clothes come in a rainbow of cotton and recycled acrylic colors.
Beefcake Swimwear creates 1920’s style swimsuits for all body types.
While they assumed that their audience would be LGBTQ+ based when they started the company, they have found that their customers include the full range of gender expressions and ages worldwide.
They print their suits in small patches on high-performance fabric that is environmentally responsible.
TomboyX’s founders (Fran & Naomi) set out to create “underwear that anybody could feel comfortable in, regardless of where they fell on the size or gender spectrum.”
They have expanded their offerings to include loungewear, sleepwear, swimwear, accessories and intimates.
Their sizing runs from XS to 5X and you can choose from 9 different underpants styles – everything from a thong to 9” boxer briefs – and several styles of bras. They use sustainable fabrics, and “obsessively fit-test on real people”.
Oscar de la Renta said that “Fashion is about dressing according to what’s fashionable. Style is more about being yourself.” This is exactly the point of unisex clothing – to find your own personal style regardless of what society dictates.
Luckily, today you no longer need to fit into a stereotype of what is male or female. Regardless of how you identify, you can shop in the men’s or women’s department, or even at one of the growing number of stores (online or brick) that offer unisex clothing.