Unisex fashion is no new concept. It has been a source of intrigue and experimentation for centuries: Ancient Greek art depicts Amazons in battle, bearing shields and wearing trousers. In the early 20th century, too, women took up trousers for their practicality in wartime, often altering their husband’s clothes to wear to their new jobs. Coco Chanel brought the suit to womenswear in 1923; by the 1930s, trousers had become leisure wear, made fashionable by the likes of Katharine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich, who were frequently photographed in them. Fifties rock and roll made jeans a staple for men and women alike, and by the ’70s and ’80s, thanks to Bowie et al, unisex dress had been fully transformed, from a utilitarian uniform into flamboyant androgyny.
Yet it has been a long time now since unisex connoted exuberant transgression: an everyday ease has replaced it, in which the stylish of any sex can meet on gender-neutral ground. We spoke to four young labels who, for SS14, are taking the next steps in unisex fashion.
For Paula Gerbase of 1205, unisex is “a word that is very overused nowadays”. In developing her disciplined aesthetic, she prefers a subtler approach: “I perceive masculinity as precision, cut, construction, and femininity as texture, generosity of volume and playfulness – by contrasting those ideas, 1205 aims to redefine notions of gender.” Peir Wu also rebels against established categories, exploring “ideas that transcend gender and styles” through her stripped-down, hyper-modern collections. And, ever the minimalist, Matthew Miller designs with “equality in mind rather than the ideals of unisex”, claiming that “gender is absolute”.
Fascinated by the uniform as an escape from gender specificity, sisters Faye and Erica Toogood pay homage to British manufacturing, industry and tradesmen. “Workwear has been an interesting starting point for us, but we’re certainly not suggesting that men and women should look the same. We do, however, strongly feel that we can all wear the same apparel if we choose to.” Moscow-born Gosha Rubchinskiy has a feeling for uniform too. His seasonless sweatshirts, shorts and jerseys are synonymous with youth culture. Rubchinskiy designs for his friends, capturing their underground tribal spirit.
These designers seem far removed from old ideas of unisex yet, like those who came before them, they make clothes with a rebellious streak. Unisex has always challenged tradition, and this new breed are doing exactly that. §