Rip Off the Labels: Fashion’s New Inclusivity around Size and Gender

The fashion industry is all about labels, not just Chanel or Levi’s, but labels such as “petite” or “plus-sized” or “man” or “woman”—dictating what you should buy, in what part of the store, and at what racks. But in our era of feminism, body positivity and “wokeness” of all kinds (especially from millennial and Gen Y generations), all those labels are being questioned, and the fashion world is embracing a dramatically healthier inclusivity around body shape and gender identity that is shaking up the language they use, the runway, new collections and social media.

Clothing that Fits…Without Labels

If there is one uber-trend in fashion these last years, it’s that a new comfort is demanded: from the loose, structural and modest high fashion for women to the athleisure, workleisure and streetwear takeover. Fit has rightly become a feminist issue, given an industry that stubbornly refused to acknowledge the size of actual women’s bodies. Brands have retailed the old 0–12 when 40 percent of women globally are overweight, and, for example, the average American woman wears between sizes 16–18. In the last couple of years, companies, such as fast-growing pioneer Universal Standards, or Premme or Isolated Heroes, have stepped in to provide great-looking, sophisticated clothes for women with larger bodies. Mainstream brands, such as Reformation, J.Crew and Madewell, are expanding their size ranges up. They’re digesting the data: The size-inclusive market is expected to jump from $21 billion globally to $60 billion by 2020.

But the future is total inclusivity and breaking down the walls and labels around size. Ahead-of-the-curves Universal Standards points to the new directions: It gathered a cult following for its plus-sized line, but in 2018 added smaller sizes, and in 2019 will launch collections that span 0–40. Co-founder Alexandra Waldman has argued, ”The world doesn’t need another plus-sized brand. We need to…just start making clothes for women, for everyone.” The body-inclusive fashion moves are everywhere, from Asos’s fitness line that spans petite to size 30 to Rihanna’s new, headline-grabbing, body-diverse Savage x Fenty lingerie collection to Serena William’s new line that is expanding its sizes up but just calling them the “Great” collection.

Gender Fluid Fashion

A raft of studies shows that millennials and Gen Z have brave new ideas about gender identity: believing it shouldn’t define people, with younger generations embracing much more fluid identities. And the future of fashion is to interrogate the constricting, arbitrary boxes we get shoved into: blue versus pink, dresses versus suits, pretty versus masculine.
The first chapter in that revision is a slew of clothing brands now blurring gender lines, with a rise in unisex or “fluidly sexed” collections. If our first sartorial moment was having a pink or blue onesie clapped on us, now, more baby/kids brands are nixing gender stereotypes. For example, Celine Dion’s new childrenswear brand Celinununu has a mission to free children from the “girl” “boy” prison, with gender-free colors and dresses available for both boys and girls. More adult brands have an explicit mission of producing genderless clothes, such as Rebrand, Agender or NYC store, The Phluid Project. More mainstream brands like Asos and Zara have rolled out unisex collections.

If gender-neutral clothes are welcome liberation, in pursuit of that gender-busting “middle” ideal, they can sometimes bleach the richness of what the categories of “feminine” and “masculine” once held. The future, the next stage in “well” fashion, will be more exploration of all the things that clothes could let someone be.

More Meaningful, Creative, Story-Based Fashion

Jessica Jesse, who provided the roadmap for this trend about the myriad ways that fashion will become more “well,” notes that while we humans are hardwired to be individuals, so much of recent (and fast) fashion has robbed us of our uniqueness and histories. In other words, the very joy of fashion: its unique power to express meaning and tell a story. The dopamine rush of swiping a credit card for another pair of identical jeans or workout leggings is not joy.

Jesse predicts a future where personal expression and meaning will matter more in fashion. “The Maasai women of Kenya and Tanzania are really the best-dressed women in the world,” noted Jesse. “Everything they put on has a provenance, a complex meaning, and tells a story—every colorful pattern in the many-layered fabrics they wear, every bead on their necklaces, tells who they are and where they came from, over generations.” (Maybe that’s why Pinterest just reported that “African print fashion” was one of the top fashion trends of 2018, with searches up 229 percent—people are hungry for more vibrant, tradition-rich, means-something fashion.)

If, in the West, women have but one day (their wedding) devoted to the concept of meaning and story as the very point of dressing—“something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue”—in the future, Jesse predicts, that kind of philosophy will become more everyday-important. A slower, more mindful, more self-expressive form of dressing will rise, where each item bought or chosen has value—whether because it was crafted, not mass-manufactured; or refashioned from something in your mother’s or friend’s closet; or your own more thoughtful experimentation in capturing through your clothes what makes you, you.

Forecasting the Future

    • Inclusivity is millennial and Gen Z consumers’ loudest demand, and young generations will continue to push fashion brands (most intensely on social media) to create fashion that caters to every kind of body, gender identity and cultural background—and in every market, whether activewear or lingerie or fashion for pregnant women or the disabled. Labels that are creating clothing for the spectrum of sizes and identities in the real world are being richly rewarded.
    • A new era of AI and 3D design technologies means brands could break the spray-and-pray model of overproducing cookie-cutter clothes and start delivering on-demand, made-to-order clothes that actually fit your exact body (and with the colors/features you want). It’s not only radically more sustainable but also technology that enables true inclusivity.
    • The trend will impact the worlds where wellness meets fashion: everything from more inclusively-sized activewear to the language and visuals used to market wellness products/experiences to re-thinking the size of spa robes or those disposable massage panties that only fit a chihuahua.
    • The future: slower, more personally expressive forms of dressing, where each item has some unique meaning and value—whether because it was handcrafted, refashioned from something in your mother’s closet, or your own more thoughtful experimentation in capturing through your clothes what makes you, you.

This is an excerpt from the “Well Fashion” trend in the 2019 Global Wellness Trends Report.

This is an excerpt from the TRENDIUM, a bi-weekly communication exploring the wellness trends identified in the Global Wellness Trends Reports.

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