In the last couple of years, we’ve been seeing gender neutral fashion taking the racks of global fashion giants by a storm! Androgynous styles, unisex clothing and binary collections, blurring the lines between men’s and women’s wear! We’ve seen large fashion brands take to it… like Zara and their ‘ungendered’ collection, H&M and even the likes of Gucci and Louis Vuitton.
Globally, gender neutrality in fashion is a celebrated thing at the moment!
And according to me, it’s also the need of the hour!
We all talk about women empowerment, gender equality, etc… so yes, ungendered fashion makes a lot of sense!
But why fashion?!
A lot of people feel that the whole unisex clothing, androgynous and gender-neutral fashion is all too absurd! They say that to truly achieve gender equality, you need to change people’s thinking and mindset, make them equal in the head… and not in the way they look physically, not their way of dressing! And while I completely agree that a change needs to happen in the mindset, I also believe that this is one of the means to get to it!
You see, whenever a major change in behavior needs to be brought about, drastic measures are required! Why are chain smokers asked to quit ‘cold-turkey’ and not take a step-by-step approach?! Because when the habit is so engrained in your system, a step-by-step approach doesn’t work!
Same with gender equality! People might find being ‘gender neutral’ absurd, but according to me, that’s the drastic step required to really change people’s mindset and achieve a balance! In my mind, gender neutrality is frankly, not equal to gender equality! However, till real equality is achieved in the ‘mind’, physical symbols of neutrality will play a very important role! And fashion being so in-your-face… and something that everyone relates to, what better place to begin with these physical symbols! It’s visual and has the power to go mass and become a phenomenon!
However, let’s look at what gender neutrality in fashion is! It’s basically men and women both dress, behave in a manner that is neutral… or unisex!
And yet we primarily only see women dressed in clothes that are typically supposed to be for men! Why? Because no matter how much we talk about being broad minded, we’re still in our heads a hypocritical race! Even within ‘gender neutral’ fashion, it’s more acceptable and natural for women to be dressed in loose shirts and ties, than for men to be wearing skirts!
A women’s wear collection is okay to look masculine, but a men’s wear collection with feminine elements is called ‘gimmicky’!
I mean seriously, how many men in India do we see, confidently adopt clothing that’s typically supposed to be women’s?! Except maybe Ranveer Singh, hardly anyone! (and we all know how much people scoff at his fashion sense – especially the men!).
This itself shows that we as a society have a long way to go! Women I believe, in general, are more confident about who they are, about their femininity! They’re bold and empowered (at least a section of them) … to be able to dawn any role, any attire – man’s or woman’s and do it without losing their core femininity!
However, most Indian men, still need to come to terms with the idea of gender neutral fashion… & for that, they first have to be a 100% confident of themselves! They have to let go of the fear of being branded and stereotyped… and which is, in all honesty, a very valid fear in our society! And it will happen to any man who as much as even thinks of trying out something from the women’s wear rack! But we as a society need to go through it, to get past it and reach a stage where stereotyping doesn’t happen anymore!
Come to think of it, women don’t feel awkward wearing suits and ties, men do if they have to wear a skirt! So, the question is… who really needs to be liberated here?! While popular belief is that gender neutrality is a feminist agenda, I really think that it’s the men who it’ll actually liberate!
And this in fact, is something that I realized when we shot for this piece!
I along with Josh Zachariah, in association with designer Fahd Khatri, created two looks in support of gender neutrality (& frankly, Josh is one of the very few guys I’ve met who has no qualms in dawning clothes ‘typically’ meant for women in front of such a huge audience, without giving a damn about what people might think of him! And honestly, that deserves an applause!)
We created one look from Fahd’s menswear collection and one from his women’s wear collection! And more than being just a shoot for a clothing brand, this ended up being a social experiment, almost ratifying everything I spoke about above!
This look was created from Fahd Khatri’s menswear collection… we decided to team his festive blazers with a simple white shirt, a tie and off-set it with casual ripped jeans and sneakers!
Now while this look was supposed to be about ‘me’ dressed in menswear collection, when we walked out onto the streets in the same attire, we did turn heads! But they were just curious glances with people who wanted to see a photoshoot and then they turned away! To them, neither of us looked out of place… to us, neither of us looked out of place! Contrary to what I thought, when I looked at myself in the mirror, I didn’t think I was dressed in a men’s jacket or a men’s shirt! I almost felt like it was kind of made for me!
This look on the other hand was put together from Fahd’s women’s wear collection! The uniqueness of this is that it’s really not women’s wear only… it’s quite ‘binary’, because it’s conducive to styling in multiple ways!
The same ‘skirt’ that Josh is seen wearing here, I wore with a high-slit… and can also be worn as harem pants, as a top and as a poncho! A man can easily wear it to suit his needs but like Fahd mentioned, not many men, think about doing that… just because it’s called the womenswear collection!
I honestly thought, Josh looked great and carried it off damn well! But this time, when we walked out onto the street, the looks we got were only meant for him! And more from men than from women!
He says, “I felt awkward having people stare at me the way they did! And while I’m always confident in what I do and am not really bothered by attention, this time, I was definitely aware of people looking at me and probably thinking that I was a weirdo! But I didn’t let that affect me and hopefully, people can take something from that!” (read what he has to say here)
Which brings me to my last point. To the essence of this post!
I urge you to look beyond the pictures and think! This series is not just about the pictures… it’s about the essence of something much larger!
It’s not about being a man or a woman… it’s about being a person… agnostic of gender, beyond biases and stereotypes …!
It’s about being aware of who you are, so that you can embrace the opposite, and break away from the boxes of gender that society places you in… and truly be liberated!
Hope you enjoyed reading this post as much as we enjoyed working on it and resonate with the thought behind it! Do leave us a comment if you liked it.
Loads of Love
PS: All photographs are courtesy of Sonalee Das