What’s next for the gender fluid fashion movement?
21 Dec 2020
Polysexual: someone attracted to multiple genders and identities. It is the kind of word that someone would expect to hear in a liberal arts college course on gender and sexuality studies. While there are polysexual people in the fashion industry, it’s not the buzzword that comes to mind when it comes to fashion trends. The genderless fashion movement recently found itself a new relative: polysexual fashion.
The first major catalyst in this new arena of gender fluid fashion is fashion designer Marc Jacobs. Marc Jacobs recently released a polysexual fashion collection titled “Heaven” drawing inspiration on teenage daydreams. The inspiration for the collection was fitting since the teenagers of Gen-Z are more fluid about gender identity, sexuality, and expression than any previous generation. The collection not only pays homage to the queer youth of today, but also pays tribute to the films of queer film director Gregg Araki, the sculptures of Mike Kelly, and the work of artist Cindy Sherman.
For those who might be unfamiliar with the term polysexual, a polysexual person is someone who is attracted to multiple gender identities. In laymen’s terms, “it’s all love.”
Jacobs’ new collection is not marketed toward any specific gender, but instead leaves shoppers to interpret their own style as they wish. This is more niche than the genderless fashion movement which is about more being gender free than dress people who are attracted to multiple gender identities. Marc Jacobs did not reply to FashionUnited’s request for comment.
The idea of fashion as free from gender norms continues to be gaining momentum in the fashion industry. Rob Garrett Smith, the founder of The Phluid Project, a retail concept focused on genderless fashion expression, has been one of the biggest proponents of this movement. “Fashion has been a platform that has been used to break binary constructs,” Smith said. “Looking at the polysexual fashion movement, my thing is I usually try to take anything related to the word sex out of the conversation and I try to make it about gender. I try to extract the word sex from the word gender. Sex is what you are assigned at birth and gender is part of your identity. I like to reject the word sex in relating to clothing and expression.”
While Smith is excited to see a major designer such as Marc Jacobs doing a collection that is fit for anyone of any gender identity, he thinks anchoring a word related to sexuality to it makes the language around the marketing a bit misguided. “The terminology can get confusing because of associating the way you present yourself with being sexually or romantically attracted to someone, which is a big leap,” Smith said. “That being said, I love the idea of celebrating polysexual people because identifying as polysexual opens up opportunities to have a relationship with someone regardless of their gender identity. The term polysexual fashion also sounds a lot sexier than what would typically be used to describe these types of clothes, which would be androgynous. The word polysexual is definitely a conversation starter as well. Gender free fashion is the future of fashion and it’s exciting to see more brands move into the space.”
Fashion has long been a tool of rebellion and sticking it to the status quo, and while the genderless fashion movement was long seen as something that would either be niche or just a brief trend, rather, it has grown to expand to include thinking of fashion in terms of sexual fluidity as well. Polysexual fashion, which falls outside the mainstream of generally known sexual orientations, is bringing about a sect of fashion that has never been considered before.
While the term polysexuality might be new to the fashion hemisphere, there continues to be an increase in the number of designers who have been able to create a universally sexual and gender fluid aesthetic. London-based fashion brand Underage’s spring/summer 2020 was considered a rebellion against ideas of anything being ingrained as male or female and was loaded with symbolism from challenging norms of sexuality and embracing themes of polysexuality, sexual fluidity, gender fluidity, and sexual liberation London-based Art School is another British brand that has been aiming to redefine queer style and has found a fanbase among the polysexual community. Art School designer Eden Loweth was determined to create a fashion collection that was less focused on binary codes of gender and sexuality.
Within the United States, there is a growing number of gender fluid retailers and brands as well. Audio Helkuik, a queer/trans designer with a leather obsession has been on a mission to create gender fluid leather accessories with every leather garment made to a customer’s measurements. Cilium, formerly known as TillyandWilliam, is another fashion brand that is at the forefront of two major conversations in the fashion industry, both gender fluidity and sustainability. Designer Tilly d Wolfe, who uses the gender-neutral pronoun they, spent years developing their brand to align with both social and environmental issues facing the world today. They are on a mission to help people extend the life of their clothing and teach them how a piece can evolve with ever changing sartorial desires. For anyone who wants a polished, fashion forward look for their wardrobe, there is also Devonation, an independent custom fashion label by Devon Yan where styles are tailored to be feminine, masculine, or anything in between. The list of gender fluid brands and retailers just keeps growing, and although it is still a small part of the overall fashion market, there is a mighty and expanding following.
Gender fluid fashion made a major splash at New York Fashion Week in September 2019 when queer-style digital magazine dapperQ threw a runway party filling the Beaux-Arts Court of the Brooklyn Museum with 2000 guests. The entire philosophy of the show was clothing should be regardless of all people, regardless of who you love or how you identify. The show has become a staple for LGBTQ+ designers trying to get the attention of press and buyers and all designs are considered completely generous. Filling a venue with 2000 guests is nothing to scoff at, as those are attendance numbers some young fashion brands would be willing to die for. This proves the growing strength and audience of the gender fluid fashion movement.
The future of gender fluid fashion
Fashion is always about what’s next, and with polysexuality finally coming into the broader conversation about sexual and gender fluidity, it’s no wonder that fashion would be at the front of the bandwagon. Currently, there is limited media representation around polysexual people, which is typically attributed to lack of understanding around its meaning.
Polysexual people are attracted to some, but not all genders, which leaves room for the idea of gender as being part of an entire spectrum rather than just male or female. This differs from pansexuality, which is attraction to all genders and bisexuality which is associated with the typical male and female binary system.
As the fashion industry works on catering to the younger generation, celebrating sexual and gender diversity could be an excellent part of that marketing formula. A 2018 study by The Advocate found that 33 percent of those in Gen-Z identify as something other than exclusively heterosexual, the highest number of any generation up. A quick search on popular Gen-Z social media video app Tik Tok shows that the hashtag for polysexuality has almost 10,000 views and is still growing as content creators produce more videos surrounding polysexual identity and polysexual people. On Instagram, the hashtag has over 1,000,000 tags.
It might seem like in the case of Marc Jacobs, he was originally just out to find a new way to sell clothes, but, now, the gender fluid fashion movement might have found its next frontier. Polysexual fashion is a conversation starter and will get people thinking of new ways of queering fashion and gender fluidity. What might be one designer’s one-off collection today could be the next building blocking in the greater gender fluid movement tomorrow.
photos: via marcjacobs.com