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The Gender Binary, Fashion, and Diversity

Fashion and the gender binary

Fashion is something that the vast majority of people see every day and this includes those who fall outside the gender binary. From seeing fashion magazines on shop shelves to actively watching what the newest designers put out on the runways, most people in society have some form of interaction with the fashion industry on a regular basis.

As such, doesn’t it make sense that fashion campaigns should accurately reflect the diversity of this society? It makes sense that they should. However, this isn’t always the case. Diversity can be defined as the inclusion of people from a variety of social backgrounds, ethnic backgrounds, sexualities, gender identities, or abilities in any aspect of society so fashion should be inclusive too. By being diverse and showing a variety of people in their campaigns, fashion brands could play a big part in making people who may not adhere to societal ‘norms’ feel accepted.

As well as this, fashion campaigns being diverse could also go a long way towards making wider society more accepting as a whole because people would become accustomed to seeing a wide range of people in the spotlight. This is why diversity in fashion is so important.

Non-binary people in fashion

One way in which fashion can show the diversity of the society it is meant to reflect is through the inclusion of people who identify as non-binary. That is to say that they do not adhere to the gender binary or identify as exclusively masculine or feminine.

Openly non-binary people are very rarely featured in fashion campaigns as brands tend to opt for people who fall within the gender binary to model clothes that are often marketed toward a specific gender. For example, in the Spring 2019 season ‘only two openly male-to-female transgender or non-binary models landed campaigns’, according to a diversity report created by The Fashion Spot.

This lack of representation for those who do not fall within the gender binary could be confusing or even damaging, especially to those who may be younger or those who are only just figuring out that their gender identity doesn’t fit into the male or female categories.

Fashion is integral to our self-expression. We use it to reflect our inner selves to the outside world. Therefore, it may be difficult to those who identify as non-binary to feel like they are truly expressing themselves through clothes if they don’t see people like themselves represented in fashion campaigns.

The effect of inclusive language

Not only are campaigns lacking in diversity when it comes to who they choose to model their clothing, they also fall short when it comes to the language they use.

Gender specific language is language that leans towards suggesting that something is more masculine or feminine and this is typically the kind of language that is used in fashion campaigns. Clothes are often categorised into groups labelled ‘menswear’ or ‘womenswear’, making it abundantly clear that those specific items are being marketed towards single genders.

However, clothes themselves are not inherently gendered and many people don’t just wear clothes from one category. Something that may go a long way towards making fashion campaigns more inclusive of people who do not exclusively identify with either masculine or feminine labels is using language that is more gender neutral. This means that the language used is not biased towards any one gender, instead suggesting that anybody can wear any item of clothing.

Moving forward

Of course, there are some brands that are making more headway than others when it comes to gender inclusivity. This means that some brands do hire openly non-binary people to model in their campaigns or use language that is more inclusive of those who fall outside the gender binary.

There are even brands that are entirely gender neutral such as Telfar, Agender, and Nicopanda. These brands do not market any of their clothing towards one specific gender, instead showing that anyone can wear anything no matter how they identify.

This goes a long way when it comes to making fashion more diverse. It helps to make non-binary people feel included by doing away with language that suggests only certain people can wear certain clothes.

There is still a lot that can be done in order to make the fashion industry accurately reflect the diversity of society but the way in which these brands are inclusive of gender is a great start.


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