When Caitlyn Jenner in that scrumptious corset slithered onto the cover of Vanity Fair, she ignited a rousing national chorus of cheers (and of course, some dumb jeers as well). While most of America may have been stunned by Jenner’s candor, a gender fluidity, whether it reflects a deeply felt conviction or just a more playful desire to stick out your tongue at ancient sartorial conventions, had already made an impact in the fashion industry, as we question who gets to wear what, and where.
There’s no doubt that Jenner’s historic transformation came at the culmination of a year that has seen not just great leaps forward in the arena of transgender rights, but a corresponding liberation on fashion runways. High-end collections from New York to Milan, London to Paris, featured male models sneaking onto women’s runways, and vice versa. At Gucci, brand-new creative director Alessandro Michele, showing his first collection for the house, threw out the hallowed Tom Ford/Frida Giannini code, replacing sex-on-a-plate with a rather more plebeian repast meant for chiseled, androgynous escapees from the L train. At Givenchy’s menswear show, a male model sported a crimson lace shirt suitable for a bride who wore red; at Chanel’s couture gathering, the opening act featured guys in linen gardener’s ensembles watering giant flowers that opened up. (It was pretty cute–maybe you had to be there.) And over at Prada, Miuccia left a manifesto on each chair that declared, “Gender is a context and context is often gendered.” (Prada’s commitment to this brave new world is seemingly open-ended—word is that the brand’s latest perfume is bias-free. “Gender-based products are very cliché-oriented,” Daniela Andrier of Givaudan, the perfumer who worked on the scent, told Women’s Wear Daily.)
Of course, all this newfound fashion freedom doesn’t exist in a vacuum. If there is presently a desire to shake off boundaries defining who we love, and how we express that love, wouldn’t it only be natural that this would extend to what we wear? Gone are the days when outliers like Kurt Cobain in his baby-doll dress and Kanye West in the controversial leather kilt by Givenchy that he sported at the Hurricane Sandy benefit raised a collective eyebrow. It all seems so simple now! As Jared Leto explained to CNN’s Alina Cho in an interview way back in 2011, “I like wearing skirts, I like wearing kilts … I wear mostly Prada pencil skirts now. I like to do the things that make me feel good, and that make me feel happy, that don’t hurt other people.”
Plenty of the youngest, most exciting designers think it’s frankly nuts to separate their offerings by gender. Shayne Oliver, the 26-year-old genius behind Hood By Air, always presents a congenial battle-of-the-sexes on his wild, luxe-hip-hop runways—suggesting that voluminous fur coats, low-slung trousers and HBA-emblazoned pullovers suit whoever is nervy enough to don them. And isn’t it obvious that boy wonder J.W. Anderson’s homage to the humble sweatshirt, an ’80s-inspired garment featuring a photo-printed howling wolf (it elicited howls of approval at his women’s fall 2015 London catwalk) would look as good—maybe even better—on some desiccated dude who saved up his allowance for months to afford this treasure? Perhaps this fellow will find that shirt, or something else to satisfy his outré reveries, at Agender, a new department just launched by the British store Selfridges (and not just in the London flagship—but in Birmingham and Manchester!) that invites shoppers “to sweep aside the boundaries of gender in retail” and enjoy “a celebration of fashion without definition.”
But more likely, this imaginary gent will order his gender-free booty online, away from the prying eyes of sales clerks left over from a less tolerant age. After all, home alone in front of your computer at 3 a.m. with your third Scotch in your hand, you are free to indulge in a mode of shopping that not only ensures complete privacy but also encourages a level of experimentation without regard to your size, your predilections and least of all your gender. Which is good news for that 300-pound linebacker in Sheboygan who is craving a lavender tulle tutu—and pretty great news for the rest of us as well.