A New Direction For Elite and Commercial Fashion

On March 23rd, H&M released the retailer’s first unisex denim line. This new fashion line, “blur[s] the borders between men’s and women’s fashion by pulling inspiration for fabrics and silhouettes from both. The result is sustainable, modern clothing for everyone” (Jefferson 2017). This has been described as a groundbreaking move by the media.

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The H&M spokesperson Marybeth Schmitt stated, “It is very natural for us to launch a unisex collection as fashion is constantly evolving and intersecting. Today we see there are no boundaries in democratic style. Fashion should always be inclusive” (Jefferson 2017). In recent years, we have seen fashion evolve so that many brands now have broad appeal regardless of what was formerly perceived as mainstream race, gender and beauty standards. This new H&M line is one of the first commercial brands in popular fashion to take a step towards changing the way we think about gendered clothing.

Screen Shot 2017-04-30 at 1.25.54 PMSignificantly, the new apparel will not be evident in the H&M retail locations and will only be displayed online: http://www.hm.com/us/inspiration/ladies/8md-denim-united. This approach to marketing of the new lines demonstrates that, while various brands claim that they are becoming more inclusive, in reality, visits to the typical brick and mortar store tend to reveal nothing other than traditional images of beauty. Not surprisingly, these typical images of beauty are often out of step with the views of much of the population. H&M, and other brands wishing to demonstrate their commitment to unisex or other nontraditional modes of fashion, must demonstrate these fashion forward trends to a wider audience beyond those who rely upon the internet. In contrast to the newly emergent interest of commercial fashion in unisex clothing, high fashion began experimenting with changing norms in who we may expect to see on the runway for a number of years.

In 2014, Gucci, Proenza Schouler, and Chanel had men walk down womenswear Screen Shot 2017-04-28 at 1.01.54 PMrunways. Givenchy, Giorgio Armani, Saint Laurent, Raf Simons, and Moschino cast women in menswear shows. The creative director of Gucci, Alessandro Michele says that the choice to dress male models in womenswear was “a pure recording of something that is happening around us: a strong affirmation of freedom, beyond cataloging and labeling” (Gregory 2015).

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High fashion appears to be changing the way we think of gendered clothing and moving the focus to the individual to decide what is comfortable and feels right for their body. Proenza Schouler, cofounder of Lazaro Hernandez stated, “Nobody cares anymore. The distinction between man and woman is disappearing, aesthetically at least. . . . As a designer, you reflect the culture, and this is a big facet of our culture right now” (Gregory 2015).

Another rationale for the blurred distinction in gender norms may be that the point of a model is to show the clothing. Rather than focus upon the individual models, “the clothes take such utmost importance that models are and should be mere clothes hangers, with perfectly discreet bodies that will display the clothes but not detract from them” (Mears 2009, 35). Therefore, the body itself does not matter as long as the clothes are displayed. This could create a platform for fashion to move forward with redefining fashion gender norms.

It is important to address that “cross-dressing and androgyny are obviously not the same thing as being trans.” But, more diverse runways and commercial stores could “be seen as markers of tolerance and acceptance” (Gregory 2015). While there may be pushback in more conservative spheres, fashion has always tended to follow societies’ changing ideals and norms. Therefore, the redefining of elite and commercial fashion could help society to move away from assuming a person’s gender identity based upon their clothing or aesthetic choices.

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Similar to high fashions move away from specific clothing, H&M’s new line is important because the clothes are not gender specific; rather, the new line includes clothes that are usually designed for one gender like dresses. While Zara has done some non-gender conforming cosmetics, “Denim United is the most extensive unisex collection we’ve seen from a mass retailer. These capsules are important in that they show a recognition of the gender non-conforming consumer, but they still have ways to go in terms of pushing the convention of what that market needs, seeks, and wants to shop for” (Colon 2017). Moving forward, I am curious to see what happens as elite and commercial fashion shift towards gender ambiguous clothing and what impact that has upon societies understanding of the gender binary.

Works Cited:

Colon, Ana. “H&M’s New Denim Line Is Entirely Unisex.” Refinery29, March 29, 2017.

Fury, Alexander. “Marc Jacobs Is Doing It. So Is Stefano Pilati. Men in Womenswear Is Not Just a Runway Gimmick.” Vogue, March 20, 2016.

Gregory, Alice. “Has the Fashion Industry Reached a Transgender Turning Point?” Vogue, April 21, 2015.

Last modified March 23, 2017. Accessed April 30, 2017. http://www.hm.com/us/inspiration/ladies/8md-denim-united.  Mears, Ashley. “Size zero high-end ethnic: Cultural production and the reproduction of culture in fashion modeling.” ScienceDirect, December 9, 2009, 21-46.

Mears, Ashley. “Size zero high-end ethnic: Cultural production and the reproduction of culture in fashion modeling.” ScienceDirect, December 9, 2009, 21-46.

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2 thoughts on “A New Direction For Elite and Commercial Fashion

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  1. I couldn’t find the page, I just kept getting a 404 page, so maybe the line was taken down http://www.hm.com/us/inspiration/ladies/8md-denim-united? That said, if we’re talking about accessibility, the website breaks options up into women, men and kids, so I’m not sure where a unisex line would go (if it’s still up). The reason I looked up the line in the first place, though, is that all the H&M pictures you included are of the same two black models. I can’t really say why that’s relevant, but I feel like it is in some way. It would probably help to see the context. It’s also interesting to note that Jaden Smith, a black man, had a few minutes of fame for modeling in a skirt. Are companies trying to make unisex “cool” by appropriating otherness? Are companies anticipating a reaction to the use of white models by tokenizing otherness?

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  2. I find it interesting that androgyny is becoming a trend within fashion because I typically associate it with LGBT+ community. I wanted to unpack the quote Caroline mentioned in her original post by Mears in “Size zero high-end ethnic: Cultural production and the reproduction of culture in fashion modeling.” In this article, Mears acknowledges, “the clothes take such utmost importance that models are and should be mere clothes hangers, with perfectly discreet bodies that will display the clothes but not detract from them” (Mears 2009, 35). This comment about models being hangers, ties into the aesthetics of androgyny. Within the queer community, the most visible androgynous bodies are usually white with small frames, so where does that leave plus-size, gender non-conforming, P.O.C. Though this widespread market appeal for less gendered clothing shows societal progress, the way in which it still allows for the exclusion of larger bodies is a cause of concern.

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