Indeed, this multi-genre fashion usually present in the artistic world (for example in pop music at David Bowie, Prince ou Harry Styles to name but a few) is increasingly present in stores, at fashion shows and in the cupboards of (younger) consumers.
So, the Fashion "unisex", considered here as "degendered" fashion, including clothing that can be worn by men as well as women, or "cross-gendered" fashion where women wear clothes originally intended for men and vice versa, is becoming widespread. This growing trend among younger generations, especially generations Y (between 24 and 40 years old) and Generation Z (between 8 and 23 years old) could even define the future of the industry and even of society itself.
Gen Z consumers are generally associated with new ideas and attitudes about sex and gender. A investigation report indicates that 33% of Gen Z and 23% of Gen Y believe that gender is not a defining characteristic of an individual. In the same report, 56% of respondents say they know someone who uses non-gendered pronouns. Regarding purchasing behavior, 44% of them said they exclusively buy clothes designed for their own gender, compared to 54% among representatives of Generation Y.
A dichotomy between designers and consumers
In this context, many fashion brands have started a process of "de-gendering" their design, merchandising and communication strategies - especially with regard to clothing, perfumes et Jewelry. However, the clothing trade remains mainly bigendered (men's and women's collections). Evidenced by fashion stores traditionally separated by gender category. Moreover, despite this new trend of gender fluidity in fashion, there is little academic research regarding this mode of consumption.
My colleagues and I recently published two scientific papers on this topic. For our first article, published in 2020, we had recruited 263 participants whom we asked to observe a series of photos. On each shot were represented a man and a woman wearing the same dress, in other words, unisex fashion photos.
These 263 participants were divided into two groups: the first group observed these photos without having any precision from the experimenter; on the second, it was specified that these photos represented unisex clothing. Our results showed that neither the "unisex" label nor the masculinity/femininity of the garment mattered in consumers' purchase intention, only aesthetics and clothing style mattered.
For this article, we also asked a group of designers to imagine, using the technique of design thinking, a unisex garment. Our results showed that designers focused on social context, masculinity/femininity of clothing, and consumer sexual orientation rather than style and aesthetics. This first article therefore shows the dichotomy of the approach to unisex clothing by consumers and designers.
In our second article on this topic published in 2022, we tried to understand the factors involved in buying fashion products from the opposite sex. After a series of individual interviews with thirteen cisgender women (who identify as the same gender as declared at birth) from generations Y and Z, we explored and mapped the motivation and the buying experience. consumers for fashion in the men's department.
The results made it possible to define a model of purchasing behavior: before the purchase, a motivation of non-compliance. Here, our participants told us that they wanted to go beyond (and not necessarily go against) these overly feminized and stereotyped norms of women. Then, our participants insisted on the time invested during the purchase. They all – described a faster and less complex way to buy in the men's department. Finally, after the purchase, consumers insisted on the satisfaction of having found a clothing style that corresponded to their own identity, and not to an identity that society and/or the industry imposed on them.
In summary, this research therefore reveals the existence of two gaps: first, between designers who focus on a social context and consumers who focus on aesthetics; then between the younger generations who play with the fluidity of genres and the less young generations who are used to evolving in a society and a bi-gendered fashion industry.
Recent events indicate that this last gap, which is particularly deep, goes far beyond the field of fashion. Last April, singer Bilal Hassani, a claimed standard-bearer for the LGBT community, received death threats and was forced to cancel a concert in Metz under pressure from Catholic movements. Conversely, a few months earlier, a British philosophy professor resigned from office after the revolt of his students who accused him of transphobia for having organized a debate on sexual gender.
Only listening, respect and discussion today seem to make it possible to reconcile the two camps. Because, as the American activist wrote Maya Angelou, beauty and strength are found in diversity.
Image credit: Shutterstock/ Guillefdez_9