Zara has always been progressive, edgy, exciting. Its latest collection, however, has sparked controversy. What’s marketed as a gender-neutral clothing range isn’t exactly progressive or, well, even that gender-neutral.
Titled “Ungendered”, one would expect a collection of quirky, androgynous clothes, rebelling against fashion conventions and restrictive gender norms. The collection itself, however, doesn’t commit to either. The 8-piece clothing range features minimalist sports-come-loungewear, such as a plain grey hoodie and a white t-shirt. Rad.
“Zara’s collection is ultimately a collection of traditional masculine clothing that women are invited to wear”
Pieces like these are plausibly, as it says on the tin, “ungendered” in that they are not labelled under the women’s or men’s section, and people of all gender are able to purchase and wear them. Yet the collection is not exactly gender-neutral or agender, as the pieces still very much conform to masculinist norms. Jeans, sweatshirts, jogging shorts – Zara’s collection is ultimately a collection of traditional masculine clothing that women are invited to wear. In a way, this can even be seen as reflecting patriarchal messages: thanks for the privilege of letting us wear men’s jeans, guys.
Prominent agender writer, speaker and media personality Tyler Ford responded to Zara’s new collection by tweeting: ‘when will we move past this notion that genderless clothing simply = plain t-shirts/sweatpants? why is this “bold”?’ Tyler also asked, ‘does @zara have gender-neutral dressing rooms? if not, will they be changing that as well with the launch of this collection?’
when will we move past this notion that genderless clothing simply = plain t-shirts/sweatpants? why is this "bold"? https://t.co/j5SyO3Z0go
— Tyler Ford (@tywrent) March 4, 2016
does @zara have gender-neutral dressing rooms? if not, will they be changing that as well with the launch of this collection?
— Tyler Ford (@tywrent) March 4, 2016
It doesn’t help that the models reflect binary gender aesthetics: a girl with long hair and make-up poses alongside a muscly guy with short hair and no make-up. Androgynous? Hardly. The models and marketing reflect embedded cisnormative and heteronormative conventions. Zara has also come under fire for using skinny white models, which raises questions about Zara’s genuine attempts to cater for groups often marginalised in the fashion world.
Admittedly, stepping away from traditional segregated menswear and womenswear is a step in the right direction – and a big step for such an international and popular retailer. However, Zara isn’t the first to challenge gendered fashion norms. Last year, Selfridges in London launched “Agender”: a three-storey pop-up store selling non-gender-specific clothing. Zara’s parent company Inditex has also previously offered genderless clothing through Pull & Bear; and US store Target is gradually phasing out gendered signs in store.
““Ungendered” seems more like an exercise in capitalism than a ground-breaking statement on gender norms”
Only last month, Impact discussed the surprise of Louis Vuitton’s new face of women’s wear: Jaden Smith. Jaden showed us just how well genderless clothing can work, by transcending gender norms to wear whatever he wants, regardless of labels, in expressing his individuality. Questions were raised over whether Jaden was infringing on a position that should be held by transgender and non-binary people; a valid problem that the fashion world is yet to resolve.
Yet at least Louis Vuitton attempted to transcend binary gender boundaries – an accolade which can only reluctantly be given to Zara, if at all. Plain grey joggers costing 18 quid? I think I’ll go to Primark instead to be honest. “Ungendered” seems more like an exercise in capitalism than a ground-breaking statement on gender norms.
Image Credits: Zara “Ungendered” campaign, Tyler Ford via Twitter, Zara via Instagram