Is Genderless Fashion the Future?
Issues of gender have been swirling around a lot over the last year, from Caitlyn Jenner’s much-documented transition to mainstream stores like Selfridge’s testing out gender-free departments. Corners of the fashion world have hopped on board as well, with editorials styled in gender-blending fashion and ad campaigns embracing transgender models. That said, finding a home for these ideas online or in print was next to impossible until the recent launch of You Do You, a website celebrating agender fashion and lifestyle. Under the direction of industry alums Kristiina Wilson, Logan Jackson, and Casey Geren, the platform hosts original editorials, interviews, and news that transcend the strict confines of male versus female.
Having followed Wilson’s stellar photography career for a while now (she’s shot for the likes of Elle, Nylon, and L’Officiel, to name a few), I was curious to find out more about her plans for the site and what she thinks about the state of genderless fashion today. Below, she discusses everything from what the fashion industry still needs to work on in this arena to how she feels about the spotlight on celebrities like Jenner.
Scroll down to find out what she had to say!
When did you first get the idea for You Do You, and what inspired you to start it?
“It all began in June. I was just really dissatisfied with what I was doing in my life and with the fashion industry in general and thinking, I’m unhappy… I feel like I have a voice, but there’s not really a place for it. And [I knew that was also the case] for a lot of my friends. So, I was trying to figure out what else I could do and what I could offer that wasn’t already part of the industry—how could I marry fashion with my interests?
“I wear a lot of menswear, even as a boring straight lady, and my friend Logan [Jackson] mixes a lot of gendered clothing together as well. I started to realise that there was no space for people who were just interested in clothes for people overall. There are sites for women and men, but nothing for people [at large]. So I realised there was this big hole in the market that I wanted to fill, and I felt like my friends and I could all [work together to] make something cool.
“A lot of people [might] think our site is only for those who identify as gender neutral or that it’s trying to be heavily trans, but it’s not; it’s for everyone—people who want to mix things up or explore whatever it is that they like.”
How did Logan Jackson and Casey Geren get involved in the project?
“Logan and I have been friends for a long time, and he’s been my assistant for the past two or three years. He’s also an amazing artist and photographer in his own right. When I was thinking about what direction I wanted visually for the site, I didn’t want to come in and be like, This is my company. It’s going to be all of my photography. I’m really focusing on the business end, and I really wanted his voice, which is of a younger generation, to be running the creative side more. I just really trust his style, so I asked him, and he was totally down.
“With Casey, he had been an editor in chief of Icon magazine a few years ago, so I felt like he would be good in terms of the business structure—knowing how to reach out to press people, etc. Then we just started putting some stuff together and launched it in two months.
“My marketing plan the whole time has been to let people come to it organically. A lot of the people we’re shooting aren’t even professional models. They’re people from Instagram who get really excited about it and then they put it on their social media accounts, so all of that work is sort of being done for us.”
I know that the industry still has a lot of work to do in terms of accepting not only gender-neutral clothing but people who identify that way, but I do think in the last year there has been greater acceptance. Do you think this is just a trend or the way things are going permanently?
“I think it’s both. I think it’s very trendy right now, obviously—there are a lot of companies who are like, ‘Look, here’s our transgender model in our campaign!’ which is a little gross and a bit tokenistic, but at the same time, almost any press [of that nature] is good press. It’s [important] to open people’s minds to this, and it’s great to give [usually sidestepped] people more opportunities. I do think it’s going to continue to get better. … I don’t think it’s going to go back to only using cisgender models.
“But it is very trendy right now. A lot of major magazines have even asked us if we can write monthly columns for them so that they’ll have that one page in the magazine [acknowledging genderless fashion]. It’s nice that they’re trying, but instead of fully integrating it [into the magazine], it’s just like, ‘Here’s one page!’ I liken it to how a lot of magazines have a feature that’s called ‘Big Girl in a Skinny World’ or something, but then the rest of the magazine is right back to skinny white women. I feel like plus-size people and people of colour have been marginalized in the same way that the trans community [now is], but at least they’re starting to give these people a voice.”
Have you received any flak from the trans community since your site isn’t identifying as purely trans? Does anyone feel that it might be watering down their cause?
"All we’ve received so far are really nice emails from people who identify in all different kinds of ways, and a lot of messages from kids in the Midwest and places that aren’t metropolitan centres, just saying, ‘Thank you so much, it’s great to find a place where I can go to just look at clothing and figure out how I feel about it.’ We haven’t received anything that’s been negative, other than comments on random press articles, but those are from people who just don’t understand what we’re doing; they’re not from the trans community.
“We’re not trying to say that we represent everybody, and we’re not trying to say that we’re doing everything right—we’re just trying, and we’d be happy to hear from people who want us to try harder or do something differently. We’re very open to all of that because obviously we’re not perfect; we’re just three dummies trying to do something a little better.”
How long has dressing across genders appealed to you, and why?
“Since I was a little kid, I would scream about not wanting to wear dresses—you know, I’d fight with my mum about it, and she’d get annoyed with me. I’ve just always liked the idea of having options—I’ve never understood why we shouldn’t all be able to access everything that’s out there. I went through a phase in the late ’90s where I wore really unflatteringly cut suits around, and now when I look back I think, What was I doing? But then, I was also a hardcore goth and went through a phase where I only wore wedding dresses, so I’ve looked like an idiot for most of my life, and I’m not saying that now is any different. But I never really thought of it as making gendered decisions; I just realised that when I wanted to wear a bomber jacket, or even pants with pockets, I often had to look in the boys’ department, and that’s just dumb. Why can’t we just have a clothes area?”
I know that Selfridges in London did that recently, with an agender pop-up shop—what were your thoughts on that?
“Yes, I thought that was cool! I think it will be a while before people can fully understand it, though, and I think it would help if [a high-street store] like Topshop, H&M, or Uniqlo did it because they’re a little more accessible. The Selfridges pop-up was very high-end, which is cool because there are a lot of great designers working in that space, but it’s not realistic for most. Even if a lower-priced store just merged all the clothing together so you could figure it out for yourself, that would be great. But the thing is, dressing across genders is not for everybody, and that’s ok!”
Have you met people who say that—who argue that they feel very strongly about dressing within their gender confines?
“We haven’t, but if we’re going to make a site called You Do You, we have to recognise that a lot of people [might] and that they should be able to do that if they want to. Some people are going to want to dress very gendered, and that’s fine—I’m definitely not trying to advocate for some world where everybody just mixes it up and you’re not allowed to wear your gender-prescribed clothing. That’s goofy! I just want to open it up so that it’s at least fine to do whatever it is that you’re comfortable with. You know, it wasn’t that long ago that women couldn’t wear pants, which is crazy [to think about] now.”
I feel like women have more freedom in that sense—in being able to wear what they want—than men do. It still seems a lot harder for men to wear a dress, for instance.
“Definitely, but I do think that in the last five years it’s gotten easier. If our creative director, Logan, can walk around on Avenue D wearing a skirt and nobody says anything to him—that’s [a great sign].”
Very true, and I see that in Brooklyn, too, where I live, and no one blinks an eye, but we have to remember that it’s Manhattan. I still think that in most parts of the country and even in certain areas of New York City, people are less accepting of it, don’t you?
”Yes, but we’ve gone back to areas of Virginia where I used to live, and rural Pennsylvania, and he’ll wear a skirt and nobody will say anything. I’m sure some people, after we walk away, are like, What the heck? But there hasn’t been any [upfront aggression].”
That’s interesting. I think people have learned to be more politically correct, too.
“Yes, and that’s part of the [increased] understanding.”
What do you envision for the future of You Do You?
“Well, that’s a big question. Obviously we want to showcase more people who don’t have a great platform right now—we want to be that for them, whether it’s artists, photographers, writers, or even celebrities who don’t really get picked up a lot. We’re also doing some consulting with brands about how they can be more gender-neutral. [We want to be] very measured and careful with what we’re doing, but we’d love to do designer collaborations, more consulting, and eventually maybe start representing some of the people we feature who aren’t traditional models.”
When you look for these models who aren’t traditional, what are you looking for?
“Honestly, it’s just anybody that looks interesting, has something interesting to say, and is somebody that we feel fits the voice of the website. It doesn’t matter how they identify. We’ve definitely shot some trans people, but the focus is really on who is this person? Why are they interesting to us? How are they making the story [unique]? I think traditional models can get so tiresome—it’s always nice to have one in a story, but having real people in the story helps [viewers] see how clothes fit and is a closer representation of how they might look in something. Merging fashion with ordinary life is a big part of who we are."
You mentioned celebrities earlier. I’m curious what celebrities you’re interested in for a site like You Do You.
“That’s the tricky thing: Who works? We’re talking with that girl Laura Jane Grace from the show True Trans; we’ve talked to my friend Casey Spooner, from the band Fischerspooner, because he’s played a lot with gender—he changes his persona and how he looks for every album, so he’s an interesting person to talk to. But it is a little tricky finding celebrities who fit with us properly. They don’t have to talk about ‘gender, gender, gender’ all the time—that gets tiresome too—but we want them to have something to say or add to the conversation besides plugging their latest project.”
And what are your thoughts on Caitlyn Jenner?
“Well, I think Caitlyn Jenner is a person … with opinions that I don’t necessarily agree with. I find her problematic, but I think everybody is problematic in some way, and I’m sure we are problematic in some way as a site, so I’m not going to make any condescending remarks toward someone else. Is she somebody that we would want to talk to, though? Probably not.
“Having a celebrity voice out there like that has brought a lot of people to the trans issue, but whether or not it’s helped their understanding on a deeper level is unclear. But I don’t really know her, and I say good for anybody who’s out there trying."
Shop one of our favourite gender-neutral designers, Rad Hourani.
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