There is some scepticism as to whether the unisex fashion trend will ever catch on. While women have been happily buying and wearing “men’s” clothes for years, men appear to have more trouble considering clothes which are not explicitly masculine. But what does the future hold?
Consider “Gen-Z”, the current cohort of under 21s who, in 10 years’ time, will be the most valuable segment of the apparel market: 68% consider gender to be non-binary; the majority prefer non-gender-specific products and shopping in unisex stores. Furthermore, given the current widespread shift towards gender-neutral in the childrenswear market, the generation behind Gen-Z will likely have grown up wearing gender-neutral clothing. So how likely are tomorrow’s young males to look beyond the menswear aisle when building their outfits?
Let’s consider some examples of Gen-Z poster boys:
- Jaden Smith: son of actor Will Smith, and the face of Louis Vuitton’s womenswear
- Young Thug: Atlanta-born rapper whose latest album cover features him wearing a dress
- Zayn Malik: former One Direction member who regularly borrows clothes from his supermodel girlfriend Gigi Hadid
Sure enough, unisex has already touched the mainstream. Gucci, Burberry, Tom Ford, Paul Smith and Vivienne Westwood have started combining men’s and women’s collections; high street examples include Selfridges Agender project and H&M’s Denim United range.
However, if we assume that unisex demand exists and will continue, it does not follow that mainstream retailers such as these are well placed to serve this demand long term. Consider just how challenging Gen-Z consumers are of brands: they approach the world with perfect information, demanding authenticity, transparency, and ethical irreproachability. Doesn’t offering a unisex range alongside traditional menswear and womenswear rather defeat the point?
Therefore, it may be the case that the challenger brands for whom unisex is a core brand essence today are tomorrow’s major contenders. Try Lane Fortyfive, Bethnals or GFW Clothing for size – all are UK based, accessibly priced, and styled well within the comfort zone of mainstream consumers; m/f people occupies a similar positioning in the US.
Still not convinced? Consider that there was a time when the suggestion that women’s trousers might be a future scale opportunity would have been laughed out of the room. The same could be said for male grooming. We cannot say for certain that unisex clothing is the “next big thing”, or that the timescale of its impact is within the horizon of near-term operations. However, this is a trend borne not of the vacillations of fashion but of a genuine cultural shift in identity perception which has yet to reach maturity. As such, it is either a key opportunity to explore or a threat to monitor closely.