What fashion can learn from Gen-Z’s approach to gender.


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When Timothée Chalamet wore a bright red, hooded, slim-cut jumpsuit at the 2022 Venice Film Festival, the 26-year-old actor — and his Haider Ackermann-designed outfit — turned heads. According to gender-bending couture, this was another memorable moment. Chalamet has become the poster child for younger generations who use fashion to assert their right to freedom of expression while ignoring traditional gender stereotypes.

It’s a cultural shift that Gen-Z can take a lot of credit for. In the year Born between the mid-1990s and the 2010s, this generation has been vocal – often on social media – against being pigeonholed into a binary world of male and female. “Our generation has broken the idea that gender is a male and female binary,” said 22-year-old Nate Jones, head of talent at Juv Consulting, which advises companies on relationships with Gen-Z. “I think clothing is only one place, so it’s bound to be affected. [essential to our every day] And [shopping] It’s still mostly a sexual experience at this point.”

Even veterans of fluid fashion design are seeing the influence of Gen-Z. In the year Designer Alejandro Gómez Palomo, who founded the gender-neutral label Palomo Spain in 2015, says, “I think things have changed a lot in the last few years. Now you can see the skater painted in pink, wearing a crop top. And the pearl necklace, and that’s it [a] A completely straight boy. … [A few years ago] It could be ‘only for gay people, only for the community I’m a part of’.

It shows a significant pillar in the fashion industry. Gen-Z now dominates key segments of the fashion industry. Gen-Z is the largest generation ever — comprising 25 percent of the world’s population — but it’s also high-spending: In the U.S. alone, Gen-Z consumers have an estimated $360 billion in purchasing power, according to BoF Insights. BoF’s research and analysis arm.

But as brands and retailers are discovering, changing their gender-specific shopping habits and building a fluid fashion offering that resonates with this generation isn’t easy. In particular, Gen-Z’s relationship to gender-neutrality in fashion can be tepid at best. For example, Gen-Z isn’t necessarily looking for gender-neutral clothing – Gen-Z prioritizes other factors when shopping for clothes, such as affordability. However, Gen-Z cares about inclusivity and the freedom to shop within gendered fashion categories, showing a greater willingness to wear clothing designed for the other gender. So, Gen-Z may not be looking for gender-neutral fashion overtly, but they prefer to interact with brands in a less restrictive way than previous generations.

As Juve Jones puts it: “When I make any buying decision, first of all, I think about how it looks, then I think about the quality, and then I think about the price I’m buying.”

Ignite the trends

Just a generation or two ago, the world was different. And so do attitudes about gender fluidity. But as Gen-Z begins to grow up, change is coming. In the year In 2016, a study from marketing communications agency Wenderman Thompson found that 56 percent of Gen-Z consumers shopped for gender-specific clothing.

That same year, Jaden Smith, then 17 and now style icon Jen-Z, starred in an international campaign for Louis Vuitton wearing a dress from the women’s collection. Since then, independent brands have stood out for their gender-fluid messages, including Hood by Air — which predates Raul Lopez and Shane Oliver’s 2007 launch — along with Palomo Spain, Ludovic de Saint Cernin and Telfar. . Streetwear is also getting into the game as the wider shift to casual begins. Wardrobe essentials began to include non-gendered streetwear, with pieces including hats and small cross-body shoulder bags.

Gen-Z is inspired by a number of role models, from beauty influencer Brettman Rock, who shot to YouTube fame at a young age in 2015, to gender-nonconforming designer Harris Reid, who was recently appointed Nina Ricci’s creative director. . For the role models, wearing gender-neutral clothes or dressing in a gender-fluid way is probably not as extreme as it is for their parents. It’s part of how you see the world and how you want to live.

Gen-Z is translating this into fashion in unique ways. Increasingly, they see themselves as co-creators, playing an active role in the idea of ​​new styles, instead of waiting for brands to show them what the next big trends are. Steve Dole, brand director at social e-commerce company Depop, told BoF Insights: “This generation is more likely to get inspiration from their friends and what they see online, compared to the fashion system that defaulted to the default trends of the past. Generations.

Now, trends often start with social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok and BeReal. “Beach Grandpa,” a look inspired by actress Diane Keaton’s edgy menswear style — returning to her wardrobe in movies like “Annie Hall” (1977) and “Something’s Gotta Give” (2003) — became a cultural phenomenon in 2022. It started not with a magazine or brand campaign, but with TikToker Lex Nicoleta.

Several hashtags on TikTok now organize user-generated videos that promote gender fluidity or gender neutrality, such as #femboy, which by the end of October 2022 had amassed more than 3 billion views worldwide. #Gender over 223 million and a girl over 66 million.

Brands respond

For the past decade, most brands have been experimenting with understanding what works and what doesn’t in fluid fashion shopping experiences at various price points. At Palomo Spain, for example, Gómez made a multi-year journey to become recognized by the industry and one of the first high-end gender-neutral labels to get the label on the shop floor. Department stores struggled at first to display Palomo Spanish clothing in the women’s department, the men’s department, or both. He eventually won the men’s division for Palomo Spain. The stores then sought changes to accommodate female customers. “It was very difficult for us to change styles and shapes and everything because [the stores] Required [garments] For women and in smaller sizes,” he recalls, adding that he didn’t want the label to be pigeonholed. “I make clothes that everyone wears. … I’ve always liked to play with masculine/feminine and the tension really attracts womenswear customers and menswear customers.

In mass channels, the brand had to find a gender-based middle ground for male and female customers differently. With more men than women shopping on the site, Gomez began organizing pop-ups and opened the Palomo Spain studio in Madrid for women, where many of the brand’s female customers prefer to try on clothes.

Another fashion brand that has faced the practicalities of liquid fashion is Etis. In the year Founded in 2013 by Jonathan Hirschfeld and Max Schiller, the Stockholm-based brand began by selling thick-soled shoes before branching out into apparel, online and in three stores – two in Stockholm and one in London. “Unisex has always been a given for Eytys products. It felt natural to us. We see it as a service, the customer chooses,” Schiller said. “As our collection grew, it made sense to continue with a unisex philosophy so that not all products would limit our customers.”

The company now sells collections across its physical stores rather than across genders. On the Eytys website, the products are often available in extended size runs and come with detailed size charts for all body types, illustrated with photographs on male and female models that reflect the customers’ ethnic diversity and diverse identities.

Due to challenges in product, merchandising and marketing, Schiller acknowledged that the company’s business model may be easier to operate in separate menswear and womenswear categories. But “now we can see that the efforts and costs associated with complexity are starting to pay off,” he said. For example, the jeans brand Benz Jeans in the 1990s pointed out that baggy jeans were bought equally by male and female customers, while boots and dress shoes, which were mainly bought by female customers, were also attracting male customers. He added that Gaia’s boots, which range from EU sizes 43 to 45, are “always out of stock”.

This fluid fashion trend is not lost on retailers either. UK department store Selfridges, for example, has been buying extended runs from brands that cater to male, female and non-binary body shapes. The retailer also places male and female mannequins in each department. “Our approach is to make the shopping experience as natural as possible,” said Sebastian Manes, director of merchandising and buying at Selfridges.

mix and match

The industry is approaching marketing differently, often placing greater emphasis on inclusiveness than gender neutrality. Craig Brommers, chief marketing officer of popular Jen-Z brand American Eagle Outfitters, explained in a recent webinar that the brand intentionally keeps briefs “loose” for photo shoots, giving creators the opportunity to mix genders and styles as they see fit.

Brommers added that AEO has decided not to overtly market itself as a gender-neutral brand. “Right or wrong, we’re not beating our chests out there because we feel it’s an individual choice and it’s happening naturally,” he said. I think there are other brands that talk more about this… [but] We say: Be you and we’re glad you are.

In many ways, Gen-Z views gender fluid fashion as more than products. “We’re thinking about the brand or company we’re buying, the team we’re bringing in, the faces behind and in front of the camera and getting that product out the door,” Juve Jones said. “Our purchasing power is only growing, and we’re just getting into the market. And so I think it’s important to connect [us] Where are we?”

This article first appeared on The state of fashion in 2023An in-depth report on the global fashion industry, jointly published by BoF and McKinsey & Company.

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