There are colors everywhere: in the facets of every stream, in the levels of a sunset, and in the skin of all living things. In nature, colors are predetermined by something we cannot control. In order to make sense of what we cannot control, we have created our version of color correctness. Color correctness is simply the assigned colors human beings have given to creations made by man. This means that we live in a society where color has been tamed and domesticated in order to create our own reality. Man-made color correctness has been around for centuries, so it is not surprising that when something comes along to challenge our color laws we seek to manipulate its growth. The target of this manipulation is the gender-queer, also identified as gender-neutral. Gender neutrality is challenging color correctness by opening up a new vision of how fashion can be utilized to break down gender binaries. However, certain retailers have taken the social movement and attempted to tame the image of a group whose uprising is based on the ideals of being untamed and non-binary.
The great Coco Chanel once said that “the best color in the whole world is the one that looks good on you.” Everyone has a color that they look best in. But how is someone to choose such color when options are limited to only muted colors? We are in the midst of a fashion era conglomeration, meaning a time in which modern fashion is constantly borrowing from other eras such as the 70s and 90s. Which were eras drenched in color, thus it is contradictory to exclude vibrant colors (bright blues, purples, pinks etc.) from apparel made for the modern public. This exclusion of color will be referred to as “color prejudice” (the word “color” having no connection to race or ethnicity). Instead the word “color” refers to actual colors (blue,pink,yellow etc.), while the prejudice (exclusion) will be executed on the colors themselves. The term also has double meaning as it refers to the color exclusion which is occurring to the gender neutral through fashion. In a sense all individuals suffer from color prejudice. The evidence can be found in any retail store. Imagine walking into a modern day retail store, what direction do you go, left or right? What you need to understand is that the direction that you go has already been predetermined for you, because every retail store has an invisible line cut right through the middle, which divides us by gender. Certain people have no problem with the divide, but gender-neutral individuals seek the option to live in the divide, or on both sides of the divide, or nowhere near the divide! Due to this desire from the gender neutral, the fashion industry has produced their version of gender-neutral fashion. Sadly the fashion industry has missed the mark by producing collections for gender neutral individuals which lack vibrant colors and ambiguous shapes. The collections they have produced consist of clothing that have been color prejudiced to downplay the fluidity of modern gender identities.
There seem to be two definitions of gender neutrality: one from fashion retailers and the authentic definition from actual gender-neutral individuals. The fashion industry has taken the word “neutral” literally and muted their color palette to represent their version of gender neutrality. On the other hand, The Gender and Sexuality Center at UT Austin, explains that gender-queerness (aka gender-neutral) is often defined as , “A term people may use to describe their identity as neither woman nor man but instead between, beyond, or a combination of genders. A rejection of the social construction of gender, gender stereotypes, and the gender binary.” The two definitions could not be more different from each other. The authentic definition demonstrates how complex gender neutrality is. So why have fashion retailers ignored the complexity of gender neutrality and muted their collections?
Color forces you to look. It craves attention. The fashion industry is misinterpreting gender neutrality as a desire to be invisible. The color prejudice that is imposed on gender-neutral fashion stems from the developed ideology that color should be categorized according to gender. There is an evident divide between colors that are acceptable for women and those for men. Women have been consistently instructed by society to wear delicate and floral colors, such as light pinks, pastels, and whites. Today, these colors are still commonly associated with femininity. This is due to society’s expectation of a sensitive and submissive woman. Conversely, the man has been dressed in dark and muted colors, which are repressive and mysterious. These colors demonstrate society’s expectations of men, in that they are expected to be commanding, unemotional, and rugged. Furthermore, it is seen as more acceptable for women to wear dark colors than it is for men to wear pinks and pastels, because of how important society views each gender. Society has manipulated fashion to fit into the gender norms it created, and therefore has halted creativity and individual expression.
Recently mainstream retailers like Zara’s “un-gendered” line and Guess’s “His + Hers Unisex” collection have been released under the category gender-neutral. The collections are composed of muted colors, such as blacks, greys, and whites. However to give credit, Guess features one light mauve leather jacket and skirt. The collections borrow shapes and designs from masculine clothing, and very little feminine shapes and designs are offered. For instance, the Zara collection consists of baggy hoodies, boyfriend jeans, and large white-shirts; while the Guess collections features large coats, black skinny jeans, and heavy leather jackets. Anything a girl could find in her boyfriend’s closet. These collections do not emphasis the female body, because they are designed for a masculine figure. There is no emphasis on the body; the models are like blank slates. The collections break no gender norms. As mentioned before a light mauve skirt and jacket are featured in Guess’s collection, but that’s as adventurous as the collections get. It is odd to create a collection inspired by a group of people, and then produce collections that misrepresent those individuals. It is disheartening, retailers have not been able to produce an authentic representation of gender-neutral clothing, even though there is a diverse appetite for it. A recent study conducted by Fusion found that, “Half of all Millennials believe that gender exists on a spectrum, and shouldn’t be limited to the categories of male and female.” So why has mainstream fashion not managed to catch on?
The problem with mainstream gender-neutral clothing is that colors are muted with few color options available. As mentioned before, the collections usually consist of dark and muted tones, which leave individuals with little option for self-expression. Guess’s unisex line features black and light mauve leather, with black, grey, and white shirts and pants, while Zara’s line features basic, bland items such as grey hoodies and light blue jeans. There is nothing revolutionary about the clothes. The clothes in the collections are all items a man and woman can find in their assigned sections in any other retail store. The truth might be that society is not ready for true gender neutrality. The strict use of muted colors speaks to the confusion US society has of changing gender identities. The addition of different colors would mean that it would be visible gender neutrality. So instead of having individuals that look like blank slates, there would be individuals who look vibrant, ambiguous, and who would be an authentic representation of the fluidity of their gender identity.
The problem is also in the craft. Gender-neutral fashion tends to be shapeless – it mainly uses masculine shapes and trends. There are no dresses, very little skirts, and nothing extremely feminine, but a lot of masculine. Does it put one gender over the other? For centuries men have held positions of power, and therefore their identity has been held above the identity of women. Men have been taught that in order to succeed they must stick to their assigned identity. Due to fear of losing power, it is not surprising that mainstream fashion is scared of breaking the power structure by giving men feminine attributes.
The clothes already chosen for each sex is only a social construct. For example, not all women are delicate, and they might not like pinks and purples and mobile or “flowy” fabrics. The same goes for men; some might be interested in pinks, neon colors, and delicate fabrics. Gender division and color correctness are creating a color prejudice directed towards the gender-queer and nonbinary community whose simple desire is to utilize fashion to express themselves. Retailers have created their own definition of gender-neutrality – without endorsement – which is harming the authentic definition of the identity by defining it as individuals who wish to be invisible.
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