On March 12, a department store in London will break from the trend of gendered shopping sections.
The store, Selfridges, announced last month that its flagship location on Oxford Street in London will be axing its separate women’s and men’s clothing departments to make way for three floors of gender neutral shopping.
The project, which Selfridges has dubbed “Agender,” will feature a variety of unisex clothing lines. The store’s window displays and website will feature photography, film, music, mannequins, and design pieces that examine the idea of gender. The Agender project will run until the end of April.
Selfridges’ creative director, Linda Hewson, told Women’s Wear Daily that the Agender project is part of an expanding societal picture:
“[The Agender project] is not about harnessing a trend, but rather tapping into a mind-set and acknowledging and responding to a cultural shift that is happening now. The project will act as a test bed for experimentation around ideas of gender—both to allow our shoppers to approach the experience without preconceptions and for us as retailers to move the way we shop fashion forward.”
This is big news. Selfridges, founded in 1909, is a highly established brand, rooted in traditional fashion. The Oxford Street store is the second largest shop in the UK (second only to Harrods), and in November, Selfridges’ sales hit the £1.2 billion (or $1.84 billion) mark.
Fashion changes the way we think about gender and sexuality. The conceptualization of the female body was fundamentally altered by women who shed their corsets. Katherine Hepburn was a trailblazer for wearing pants as a woman. Transgender models like Andreja Pejic have bent and remolded some of the harsh lines of gender.
In other words, Selfridges is taking a stand to embrace a growing movement. By embracing the idea of gender as fluid, stores like Selfridges can help spark discussion and free people from restricting constructs like the male/female checkboxes. Selfridges’ campaign is particularly interesting, because instead of aiming to make gender more flexible, Agender seems to be throwing away the gender divide altogether.
The movement towards gender fluidity is something that can help all people—but for some, this cultural shift can be revolutionary.
If you’re confused, you’re not alone. Many people confuse gender and sex by using the terms synonymously. In reality, sex and gender refer to two distinct ideas. Sex refers to the biological and physiological makeup of an individual’s reproductive anatomy. Gender, on the other hand refers to culturally learned social roles, as well as the way an individual identifies.
Gender and sex do not always align. Sex is assigned at birth (though some argue that the two-sex binary is also a construct), while gender is a person’s “innate, deeply felt psychological identification as a man, woman or some other gender.”
If you’re still scratching your head, the key thing to know is this: not everyone identifies as male or female, man or woman. The traditional gender binary and social conventions of fashion ignore the existence of these people.
Selfridges’ Agender project gives people who fall outside the male/female binary the freedom to shop and dress in ways that may better reflect their true identities—and it gives those who identify as male or female the opportunity to wear nonbinary clothing as well.
As consumers, we should applaud brands like Selfridges for using its popular appeal and clout to focus on social issues and not merely on the bottom line.
Canton Winer is a senior at Fordham University. He has worked as a Collegiate Correspondent for USA TODAY, and is the former Managing Editor and current columnist at The Fordham Ram. Check out his digital portfolio, or follow him on Twitter: @CantonWiner.