His and Hers: Fashion Is Genderless In 2020
For centuries, fashion has been inextricably intertwined with one’s social status as well as gender orientation. People and societies have established these norms as a way to identify genders, but stigmas have been known to arise from the rigidness of these rules. In recent years though, there has been a more thoughtful shift in society. People have become more woke and sensitive, and fashion is reflective of that, slowly evolving in the wake of ongoing conversations around inclusivity, diversity, and sustainability.
Misha Pinkhasov and Rachna Joshi Nair, authors of Real Luxury, How Brands Can Create Value for the Long Term, stated that “definitions of value are becoming more complex as the world shifts from an institutional focus to an individual focus, and from an economy of things to an economy of ideas. Brands must evolve from being businesses to being citizens.”
It seems that luxury brands have taken a page out of that book, which was published back in 2014. Early this year, Milan-based fashion house Versace merged its presentations of the menswear and womenswear fall/winter 2020 collections into one co-ed show, a first for the brand. Donatella Versace, the house’s chief creative officer, shared on Fashion Network that she “felt the need to concentrate [her] creative focus, and design a collection with one point of view, one vision, one world of Versace. It’s not just about inclusivity and diversity, it’s about being equal, also on the runway.” The statement issued late last year also mentioned that the decision came at a time when “Versace’s collections are becoming more intertwined with the cross-pollination of ideas and themes informing both the men’s and women’s designs.”
For the first time, Versace combines its menswear and womenswear presentations into one show.
Moving forward, Tod’s has also brought in a new creative director, Walter Chiapponi, who now heads both womenswear and menswear for the classic Italian brand. This is perhaps further indication of the brand’s intention to synergize the two collections. Interestingly, Tod’s has actually been designing gender-neutral footwear, its signature driving loafers or gommino, even before gender-neutral became au courant.
Tod's new creative director Walter Chiapponi now heads both men's and women's collections.
Designing a collection that solely underpins gender-specific codes is becoming antiquated. Gone are the days when floral prints and the color pink are reserved for women, pinstripes or the color blue for men. Fashion today is boundless and limitless. Athleisure, for instance, the popular style choice by the irreverent youth, features gender-neutral pieces in the form of sweatshirts, sweatpants, hoodies, T-shirts, and trainers. For Versace’s fall/winter 2020 collection, Donatella sent both her male and female models down the runway donning tailored outfits in stripes, plaid, bright floral prints, and psychedelic zebra stripes. And many of them carried bags—totes, cross-body bags, even wristlets.
While clothing has become more gender-neutral and consumers have taken to it with less unease over time, there are still traditionalists who are resistant to the idea of men carrying bags. Interestingly, a study published in the New York Post last year, which was conducted by Penn State University researchers, found that “people tend to view the act of schlepping groceries in a tote bag—instead of plastic ones—and other eco-conscious activities as un-manly.” Janet Swim, Penn State professor of psychology says, “People may avoid certain behaviors because they are managing the gendered impression they anticipate others will have of them.” A tote bag, whether it is used as an eco-friendly grocery bag or not, is still decidedly more feminine if we were to base it on that study.
But that has not stopped the market for men’s bags from flourishing. Because the need is there—men do need something to handily store their things they take with them daily, societal stigma notwithstanding. An older report from Euromonitor stated that men’s bags comprise a fifth of the luxury handbag market. And according to a Research and Markets report in 2019, the global luxury handbag market has a current valuation of $59 billion. And this sector will most likely continue to see growth in the next five years.
Men from the younger generation are more open to bag styles beyond the masculine attaché briefcase and the sporty backpack. Luxury brands have taken traditional men’s bag designs further by releasing modified versions of iconic bags from their women’s lines. Designer Kim Jones, for instance, created a men’s version of the Galliano-designed Dior Saddle, which was resurrected by Maria Grazia Churi for the house’s womenswear collection in 2018. The Dior Saddle bag was born in the year 2000 and was originally designed as a woman’s handbag.
Dior's Kim Jones created a men’s version of the John Galliano-designed Dior Saddle, the iconic women's handbag from the 2000s.
And for last fall 2019, Silvia Venturini-Fendi released a slightly different iteration of the house’s signature “it bag” (also from the year 2000), the Baguette. Fendi also proceeded to tweak the popular women’s Peekaboo bag for men, calling it the Peekaboo Iconic Essential. This fall 2020 season also saw Fendi do something in reverse. She took something from the recent men’s fall/winter 2020 collection and reimagined it for women—the signature Fendi “paper bag” tote, which was made in yellow leather, was reinterpreted for women and a dusty pink leather version of the same tote was born.
Fendi transposes ideas from men's to women's and vice-versa to create bags for all.
Designer Jonathan Anderson of Loewe also came early in the game by modifying the house’s signature Puzzle bag to make it more practical, size-wise for men. Loewe’s recent fall/winter 2020 menswear collection, which featured an “Elephant” bag in leather, also came in different proportions to accommodate both men and women’s bag size needs. The underlying denominator is this—all these bags can be cross-carried and are therefore gender-neutral.
Loewe's Elephant bag comes in various proportions to accommodate both genders.
Luxury brands want to maintain relevance and create value for their customers over time. They will continue to listen to their conversations. Inclusivity and diversity, sustainability and transparency are not just passing trends in 2020—they will remain bywords in the industry for years to come. Fashion is no longer just about a piece of clothing, a pair of shoes, or a bag. As Pinkhasov and Nair stated in their book, “What was once a label, a maker’s mark, which then evolved into a point of lifestyle affiliation, is now a signifier of philosophy, a culture, and a set of values that the consumer can support, ignore, or disparage.”