One of the biggest roles fashion plays in society is cultivating a broader social change, and that holds true for gender-fluid fashion. The social-construct breaking movement, which started off as a corrective to the rigid gender stereotyping that peaked in the ’50s, has time and time again mirrored a larger conversation about gender norms themselves. And whether it’s Jaden Smith donning an embroidered skirt for Louis Vuitton, or Gaurav Gupta showcasing gender fluidity at ICW 2020, there’s no denying that gender-fluid fashion has made its way back to the mainstream. These changes didn’t just appear out of thin air though; they have been years in the making. Scroll on below to see a brief history on how gender-fluid fashion made its way back to the mainstream.
The year was 1966, and wearing pants for women was looked down upon. Enter: Yves Saint Laurent, and the iconic Le Smoking suit, which debuted at the Fall/Winter 1966/1967 in Paris. The suit made waves for being the first suit for women ever to be designed by a man, and with numerous renditions through the years, it has made its way into the fashion hall of fame.
A more recent rendition of the now-infamous Le Smoking suit by YSL.
Designer Pierre Cardin, in 1968, also conjured up an egalitarian ‘Space Age’ of sleek, simple silhouettes, graphic patterns, and new, synthetic fabrics with no historical gender associations. The designer has also famously been quoted as saying, “For me, it was especially important that my creations, regardless of gender, require the body to adapt.”
A still from the Pierre Cardin exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, featuring gender-blurring silhouettes.
The late ’60s – early ’70s also saw the lines of gender blurred by the music industry. This may seem like a case of singers making personal choices, but let’s not forget – this was a choice that millions of fans and followers across the globe took to, and from then on, androgynous fashion became widely adopted by celebrities and fans from all over the world. Case in point – singer Jimi Hendrix’s iconic silk, peasant blouses and high heels, along with David Bowie’s outfits, especially his Ziggy Stardust persona which was a reflection of his sexual ambiguity.
Another influential designer who contributed to the gender-fluid fashion movement was Rudi Gernreich. The costume designer for 1975-77 television series Space: 1999, he not only created gender-neutral spacesuits but has also been credited to creating the male thong and the monokini, a piece of swimwear for both men and women.
While the end of the unisex era can be traced back to the mid-1970s with Diane von Furstenberg’s wrap dress with its demure length, slit skirt, and deep V-neck, which made it perfect for the office or a party, the gender lines in fashion once again were blurred in the 1990s. With the rise of grunge, the period saw women donning flannel lumberjack shirts and combat boots while Kurt Cobain posed in ballgowns and housedresses.
More recently though, androgynous and gender-fluid fashion has come back with a vengeance. Picking up in 2015 when Rad Hourani showcased a unisex haute couture collection for NYFW Spring/Summer 2015, the social-construct breaking fashion movement has once again become mainstream. From Gucci’s collection at Milan Men’s Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2016 which showcased male models donning pussy bows and traditionally feminine silhouettes to Billie Porter wearing a Christian Siriano ballgown at the 2019 Oscars, the gender fluidity displayed is palpable once more.
Closer to home too, designers have joined the movement. Designers such as Gaurav Gupta and Shantanu & Nikhil have emphasised the fluidity their ensembles carry, starting with Gupta’s Name Is Love collection which featured gender-fluid silhouettes and transgender models at the India Couture Week 2020, along with S&N by Shantanu and Nikhil’s The Declaration 2034, which featured a sartorial military aesthetic with futuristic, gender-fluid silhouettes, at LMIFW SS’21.
The bottom line is – regardless of which gender you identify with (or don’t), wear what you want. Own it.