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A market for gender-neutral dressing slowly comes of age

By Leticia Miranda

08 May 2023 · 5 min read

Editor's Note

For many nonbinary people, clothes are more than a necessity or self-expression—they're a kind of armor, writes Bloomberg's Leticia Miranda. Mainstream retailers are waking up to their needs.

Fashion and its changing shapes have long stirred controversy. Once it was women in pants who drew a frenzied backlash. Today it's the choices of people who identify as nonbinary, and challenge the norm in what they choose to wear and how they want to shop. Amid the furor, a few - too few - mainstream brands have had the foresight to design clothes for people who don't sit neatly in the gender binary, and for an expanding group of young shoppers who prefer to dress across gender lines. The communities these companies see have always existed, even when they weren't acknowledged. And now their choices are helping reinvent how we think about everyday dressing. Sped up by social media and the influence of international celebrities like Harry Styles, nonbinary fashion is becoming more prevalent and driving retailers to figure out how to catch up.

Women first started wearing pants regularly in the early 20th century to widespread condemnation. Those who wore bloomers (a precursor to pants) and trousers came to represent a larger cultural shift called bloomerism, which described women engaging in more masculine pastimes like drinking, smoking and gambling. The threat became so overwhelming that cities passed laws banning women from wearing pants. The fear was that if women wore pants, what would be next? Men wearing dresses while they're bossed around by their wives? What even is a man if women can wear pants?

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