There has always been masculine clothing; jeans, boots, checked shirts, and waistcoats. Then there’s always been the obviously feminine clothing; pretty dresses, tights and high heels… but what if you identify as neither masculine nor feminine? What if you like to wear both, or switch from one to the other? That’s the place in the middle, and that’s called non-binary.
If male and female is black and white, non-binary is the grey area in-between. Non-binary clothing might not be mainstream yet, but fashion has been challenging people’s perception of gender for as long as it has existed, and nobody knows this better than colourful clothing designer Jack Bean from Offend My Eyes.
As an artist, Jack has been creating clothing for the non-binary market for over three years now, selling his designs at festivals, LGBT events and gay prides across the UK.
“We were non-binary friendly before we even knew what the term meant. As a transgender man running an alternative fashion company I was already ignoring gender labels on clothing and marketing them as unisex, because to me, clothing is not about what’s in between your legs but about expressing yourself and your style. We’ve been immersed into this world where people don’t care how you identify or what your pronouns are. It’s a great way to meet like-minded people who just care about fashion and what you can create.”
Fashion is a political statement. Someone who identifies as male walking down the street in heels isn’t just trying to look good - they’re challenging society's views on gender and fashion whether they intended to or not. Offend My Eyes don’t split their brands into male or female - everyone comes together in one space. The problem is, the rest of the world is yet to catch up. High street stores still market everything to either male or female. If you shop at high street stores and don't identify as as one of those genders; then tough. Jack encourages people to look beyond the high street when doing their shopping. His advice? Don’t wait for the high street shops to include you - because you’ll be waiting a long time.
“Most high street shops don’t realise that non-binary people even exist. They still sell everything as either male or female. Some big name brands have acknowledged that there are people who don’t identify as either of these genders but then they miss the mark by creating new ranges of what they call ‘genderless’ clothing when really, all their clothing is already genderless and all they have to do is change the way they market it. When we launch a new design for Offend My Eyes, we use a diverse range of models including gender fluid and non-binary people so that when someone sees one of our adverts they can imagine themselves wearing the brand regardless of the gender of the model wearing it.”
So what makes clothing non-binary - is it the cut? The colour? The people who wear it? Jack reckons it's none of the above.
“Anyone who makes clothing is already creating garments that are non-binary; it’s just the labels they put on them that makes them gender-specific. A dress is always just a dress and can be worn by everyone.”
Jack’s company Offend My Eyes now creates each product with non-binary bodies in mind.
“When I’m designing, let’s say, a pair of shorts. I ask myself, ‘will these look good on small, curvy bodies as well as tall, muscular ones?’ I make sure the fastenings and the waistband are stretchy enough to fit around all different types and sizes of people - there’s no gender involved. Genderless clothing doesn’t have to be clothing that shares both masculine and feminine traits – that’s where the big brands are getting it all wrong, They think marketing a line of baggy, oversized and bland clothing as genderless is going to appeal to people outside the binary, when really all they have to do is get rid of the restrictive gender labels they already have and let people choose what they want to wear.I like to see people wearing things their way and discovering their own style. Clothing is about the freedom to express yourself and experimenting with who you are as a person.”
The popular counter-argument for non-binary clothes is often 'Why bother? Aren’t you catering for a very small minority here?'
2017 saw more people than ever before identifying as non-binary, but that’s not the only reason you should think about it. Doing away with the old fashioned ‘male or female’ style of advertising benefits people of all gender identities - not just the minorities. You might think it’s acceptable for women to wear shirts marketed to men, but what about men wearing skirts, or butch, muscular women wearing heels and dresses? We’ve still got a lot of work to do if we want to undo the imaginary boundaries placed on us by an oppressive society. Embracing the rise of non-binary fashion not only includes more genders but it also frees men and women everywhere from being told what they can and cannot wear.
“There’s no pressure to conform to the ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ expectations when you shop with Offend My Eyes - it’s about who you are as a person. We want our customers to feel comfortable with being themselves because they're brilliant, diverse, beautiful and perfect just as they are.”
Independent, alternative brands are already marketing their clothing as genderless and non-binary. They’re not on the high street - they’re made by real people, and not often mass-produced. Offend My Eyes is just one of them.