The man, the myth, the legend, Harry Styles himself came under fire recently for a Vogue photo-shoot where he wore a gorgeous dress. Well he didn’t fully catch fire, he had a massive outpouring of support, but there were still some people on the internet that weren’t too pleased with his style choices. One even went so far as to state that “real” men from the past didn’t indulge in supposedly vain clothing like gowns and dresses, instead, they wore rough, crude outfits. Now that couldn’t be farther from the truth; one Google search will bring you thousands of results that prove that men did, in fact, wear dresses similar to women’s and this goes to show the far –reaching implications unisex clothing has had on humanity. Let's talk about the history of unisex clothing.
World War 2 and Gender Norms
Up until World War 2, there weren’t too many gender norms around on clothing. Boys were seen growing their hair out, girls wore trousers freely, and everyone wore ponchos. Even late into the 19th century, there were advocates for women’s rights that boldly proclaimed that girls were to be allowed to wear shorts or pants under their dresses, a declaration that was almost risky in those days.
But in the days leading up to the second World War and the days after it, gender norms were laid down as a fixed set of rules, and no one dared question them. Men were the ones who made money for the family and did masculine things, like changing a light bulb, play sports and hunting. Fathers brought their boys up to be manly, and if they weren’t fond of cars or preferred playing with dolls, they were ridiculed for being too girly. Likewise, women were given the role of homemakers. They were the ones supposed to nourish their family, bring warmth and comfort to their homes, take care of everyone including their adult husbands, and cooking delicious food. Young girls were brought up with the same mindset.
The men and women of those days dressed with respect to the guidelines laid down on them by society. Men’s appearance was always masculine, with short hair, trousers, and all other “masculine” clothing. The stars of those days like James Dean embodied the ideal man.
Women’s clothing, on the other hand, was designed to be more restrictive and pleasing to the eyes. They highlighted a woman’s curves, and gave them a delicate, doll-like look. They also wore heels a lot of the time, because hard as they are to walk in, they sure look good. Stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn portrayed how women were supposed to look down to a T.
The Revolution of Sexuality and Rebirth of Feminism
With the sexual revolution of 1960, people started questioning the unbreakable grids they were placed in, and fought back against the societal norms imposed on them after World War 2. Feminism also picked up momentum again, and gender norms were branded as social constructs and nothing more than that.
This period led to a surge in unisex clothing. Women and men were seen roaming the streets dressed in outfits that couldn’t possibly be ascribed to either gender, and stores everywhere branded unisex clothes as their main strength.
Men ditched their plain clothes and tried being more flamboyant in their style, as shown by the likes of Freddie Mercury, and women bought men’s trousers, sweaters and jackets. Men sported jewelry and long hair once again, and girls walked around comfortably in sneakers.
Unisex Clothing For Children
Children, specifically, were a big part of the unisex storm. Parents grew more daring and rebellious, and were more progressive in their parenting style. They didn’t want their children to grow up in the same restrictive environment that they did. And, to add to the whole theory of gender being a social construct that can’t be perceived at first glance, more scientific evidence was being released supporting exactly that. Parents didn’t bring their children up with a gender, and let them wear anything and everything.
The Fall of Unisex Clothing
This new liberal approach to parenting did more harm than good, however. Many adults have now relayed memories of being mistaken for the wrong gender when they were children. They have been psychologically affected by that, and struggle to revisit their childhood.
Furthermore, for all the benefits unisex clothing allowed people to have, like expressing themselves in many ways without fear of being judged, it also pinpointed the differences between men and women, the exact opposite of what it was supposed to do. For instance, tight-fitting turtlenecks were supposed to be unisex, but they actually ended up embracing every curve and making the wearer’s gender almost conspicuous. Unisex clothing also didn’t succeed in making men’s clothes more feminine, as towards the late 20th century, men dressed in feminine clothes were being branded as homosexuals. During a time when even homosexual men had to hide for fear of being prosecuted, wearing feminine clothing wasn’t the best idea for them.
The Rise of Unisex Clothing (Again)
And finally, that brings us to now. We live in a more accepting society, and women and men once again have the freedom to express themselves however they want. They aren’t shying back, and celebrities like Harry Styles are pushing unisex clothing back into the spotlight.
Sadly, all of our issues with unisex clothing haven’t been solved, what with some conservatives not being willing to move forward with their thinking. But with time, hopefully we can all move past this, and channel our fashion sense however we deem best.
At Unito, we don’t sell a lot of unisex apparel, but we do cater to every sense of style there can be. Our clothes are made of quality material, and they’re all designed in such a way so as to blow your mind away. We are also trustworthy, efficient, and caring. We want the best for you, and we try to make that as clear as possible. So come explore our selections, and walk home with the ones that speak to you!