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In September, department store John Lewis announced that they would remove the ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ labels from their children’s clothing and instead opt for gender neutral labelling. The move received a tidal wave of mixed reactions online. However, the brand isn’t the only one moving towards a less restrictive shopping experience. Mothercare has also announced a collaboration with Myleene Klass containing gender neutral clothing and US Store Target has also abolished gender labels on its kids clothing.  

For some, the move to abolish gender restrictive clothing labels seems trivial. There appears to be a sentiment among some people online that the world has gotten drunk on political correctness. But while the rebellion against gender stereotypes has gained massive momentum of late, it isn’t a new concept to the fashion industry.

In the 1920s Coco Chanel, inspired by menswear, created trousers and button-down suits for women. John Lennon wore high heels in the 60s, as did David Bowie in the 70s. John Paul Gaultier has been defying gender norms since he launched in 1976. It has been a slow grind for those pushing for a more gender fluid world, but now it seems retailers are buying into the idea.

Fashion at its core is about self-expression. Designer Rachel Zoe once said that “style is a way to say who you are without having to speak.” Whether you acknowledge it or not, your clothing choices say a lot about you. This is why western society spends billions every year on their appearance. So why can’t that little boy wear a dress if he wants to?

What is perhaps most interesting about the gender-neutral kids’ collections that have found residence on the high street, is not the removal of labels but the gender stereotypes that can be suppressing. As well as the binning of gender specific labels, John Lewis has created several designs which subtly defy gender roles. One example is a dress littered with pictures of dinosaurs.

In 2016, the Central Statistics Office reported that just 25% of those working in areas of science, technology, engineering and maths were women. If we start by encouraging the youngest members of our society to discard stereotypes and norms with their clothing, perhaps it can pave the way for something bigger. After all, these are the ones who have been least impacted by society’s infatuation with gender roles.

Most parents tell their children that they can be whatever they want to be, to aim for the stars. So, let their clothing reflect that. Just as Chanel created the trousers and button-down suit for women entering the post-war male dominated work place, we can empower children in the same fun and creative way.

At the same time, those children whose interests lie within gender stereotypes are not to be forgotten about. It all boils down to showing children that they are wonderfully complicated and that there is clothing that will reflect that.

Whether you believe fashion has the power to impact the ambitions of today’s youth or not, allowing a little girl to feel proud of her love of dresses and dinosaurs must be celebrated. Allowing a little boy to spin around so his skirt catches the wind and he can watch the dinosaurs all blur into one big rainbow of colour must be celebrated. Allowing children to be happy and comfortable in their clothes must be celebrated.

 

Ashleigh Nolan 

Image credit: John Lewis