Has India Finally Achieved Gender-Neutral Clothing?
Indian clothing has always had the touch of androgyny to it, but in the recent past, more brands and designers have sparked the gender-neutral debate again, and even had collections of the same. Has India finally achieved gender-neutral clothing?
For the last few years, androgynous clothing has been a runway staple in the West, and it is also dominating Indian runways. In today’s world of pop culture, in fact, when we talk about a celebrity wearing gender-neutral clothing, our minds instantly think of Harry Styles. The West has hailed him as the leader of androgynous dressing.
But to say that genderfluid dressing is a western concept is preposterous in many ways because if you look at Indian history, gender-neutral clothing existed even before the term became popular.
“Indian men adapted to unisex styles centuries ago. Our Gods and noble kings have carried dhotis and layered jewellery with such class and finesse. In the modern era, we can see that floral prints are not just restricted to women, pink is not a forbidden colour, and dhotis are royally carried by men. As we evolve as humans, fashion and mindsets unfold too. Indian weddings have seen gender-neutral clothing forever too. Dhotis, salwar, accessories, odhnis, juttis, florals, and light colours have always been a part of men’s wedding fashion. Men love being comfortable, and gender-neutral clothing offers that. Thus, the demand for it is relatively very high,” says Nishit Gupta, director at Kalki Fashions, in terms of the influence of gender fluidity in Indian wedding wear.
Men and women are both choosing to share wardrobes and fits, and it’s an exciting direction that fashion is taking. Historically, it has been more acceptable for women to dress in androgynous looks. Men were seen playing safer with traditionally feminine options, but now, they are slowly adapting softer details and fabrics in their clothing. “The easiest way to step away from gendered dressing is to adopt fits that are not gendered — and this is where anti-fit comes in. It’s an important shift in mindset that will lead to an inclusive safe space,” thinks Shyma Shetty, the co-founder of Huemn.
Celebrity stylist Rishi Raj says that Indian men, while always embracing colour, would still be apprehensive of endorsing an outrightly “feminine” colour, like, say, pink. “But I see that has changed drastically. Not only are Indian men wearing all possible hues, but some of the new cuts and drapes in ethnic wear are edging towards being gender neutral. That being said, but when it comes to structured gender fluid designs, there are very few hetero cis males that seem to be endorsing it,” he adds.
And are Indian men open to adapting gender neutral styles beyond wedding wear? “While Indian culture has, since ancient times, had the concept of gender-neutral clothing, the recent modern version is something that India is relatively new in adopting, and adapting to. There is definitely a segment that is open and would like to experience unisex styles, while the majority have limited gender-neutral clothing to sportswear,” says designer Kunal Anil Tanna.
When asked if gender-neutral clothing is just another ‘cool’ trend or an actual, major shift in the Indian industry, Shetty says, “Fashion imagery is so much more inclusive now. We’re having so many open conversations about body diversity, identity, and self-acceptance, and this is reflecting in the work of homegrown designers. Perception of who one is, what one must like, and what one must wear has also changed; so yes, it is a major shift, and tied into the conversations we’re having as a generation.”
Gupta feels that people are being appreciative towards others and respecting their fashion choices. The fashion industry has indulged in gender-neutral, it’s here to stay, and to explore.
In Bollywood, Ranveer Singh is one such celebrity who is championing the cause of fluidity, and embracing the concept of experimenting with styles. “Bollywood plays a key role in influencing aspiration in India. Young people in the film industry today are stepping outside of the traditional male gaze that fashion imagery has been moulded around. It’s a step forward, and it is a mindset shift, not just a silhouette shift,” opines Shetty.
As the fashion industry in India moves forward by bringing numerous different trends in Indian fashion, fashion designers are also attempting to create a new code. Brands such as Heumn, The Pot Plant, Bloni, and Chola the Label are a few of many to attempt and gain success in the gender fluidity concept. Internationally, Gucci and Saint Laurent have been on the top when it comes to unisex clothing. Ever since the pandemic started, homegrown streetwear brands and Instagram thrift stores have also become a major influence in showcasing genderfluid styles, as well as making them easily available to the youth.
Rishi Raj feels, “At this point, gender neutral clothing has a very niche woke audience. I would consider it achieved when it trickles down to the masses.”
Content creator Sarang Patil thinks that at a time where our society is encouraging more and more conversations around androgyny and gender-fluidity, the fashion industry is definitely breaking gendered boundaries. “People have been asking for more than masculine and feminine choices when it comes to clothing, and a lot of brands and designers are trying to fulfill the requirements of the changing norms. I do think we still have a long way to go when it comes to gender-fluid fashion being accessible and acceptable in small towns, but we are slowly and steadily getting there,” he says.
“Gender-neutral clothing is made by not holding gender specifics as a framework for design. The cuts and measurements have to be very precise to be unisex and comfortable to a range of body types. It requires unlearning and throwing yourself into a new landscape,” explains Shetty when asked if designers are afraid of experimenting.
All the conversation points to one direction: the steps to achieve gender neutral clothing are definitely being taken, one stitch at a time.