Zara’s launch of an ‘un-gendered’ collection has created debate about androgynous fashion. Androgyny refers to gender ambiguity and thus incorporates both male and female characteristics. Since Zara’s quiet release, people have been reacting to societal perceptions of androgyny in both high street and luxury fashion. While the overall views towards Zara have been negative from activists, I find myself conflicted and drawn to the other end of the spectrum.
Zara is one the worlds largest retailers, selling high-street fast fashion. Activists have said that while their attempts at androgynous fashion are appreciated, it is a form of appropriation because aren’t doing anything to challenge gender binaries. I wonder whether it is their job, as a retailer, to do anything more than sell clothing? Zara cannot control the perceptions and identities that people already have and attach to clothing. I don’t believe it is appropriation- it is to me, in some ways, revolutionary. It is creating a collection (which may have longevity) and the only reason for categorising it as such is because that is how people shop. Visit a store, and it is dived into a mens and women section. You’ll find the same online. I don’t believe thats how it should be and so to me, Zara is taking great strides in breaking down those barriers.
It has been pointed out that Zara is presenting a collection that focuses on masculine characteristics only. This is generally true- when we think about androgyny, we tend to think about a masculine version of it, as opposed to viewing men in skirts makeup as androgynous. However, in Zara’s case, the ‘un-gendered’ collection comprises of T-shirts, pants and hoodies, paying homage to the ever-fashionable sports luxe trend. It is modelled by men and women and the clothes could fit either body. This is therefore androgynous and somewhat of an unfair comment. While there is more to aspire towards in terms of including more feminine characteristics, it is an important start nonetheless. As a large retailer, it is also important to remember that Zara is also profit driven and need to create collections that appeal to the masses and that will ultimately sell. To me, Zara’s take on androgyny refers to the inclusion of both sexes as models, clothing that can be worn by anyone and includes both feminine and masculine characteristics in terms of the fit (not conforming to the Western ideals of fitting the body).
High-end fashion has been applauded for taking great strides in challenging gender binaries, and rightfully so. However, we need to remember that it is also in an environment that allows for this to happen. It is a creative space that is based on conceptuality, as opposed to commerciality. Luxury fashion brand Louis Vuitton’s 2016 S/S collection, “The Heroine”, for example, features Jaden Smith as one of the models for the womenswear collection. This is revolutionary for gender activism and will make a lasting social impact on society. Louis Vuitton says that Jaden “represents a generation that has assimilated the codes of true freedom … wearing a skirt comes as naturally to him as it does to a woman.” This is therefore a more inclusive of what it means to be androgynous and explores gender bending, whilst crating debate that will challenge societal binaries.
Fashion is the one industry is that continues to push gender politics. I would like to see other industries follow suit. It has also come a long way thus far. A few years ago, men wearing pink would have garnered ridicule from society, whereas now it has become the norm. The rise of the metrosexual man, as opposed to the overtly macho-man is another example of this. Fashion has and continues to play an important role of gender-related issues and so I believe that when retailers such as Zara attempt to break these boundaries, we need to celebrate them and encourage others to do the same.
Strides are being taken in the fashion industry to combat gender binaries in society. Zara is the latest retailer to do this in a way that I believe is significant. While there will always be more that needs to be done, this is an exciting start.
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