But what exactly is meant by unisex?

Before we go into what unisex entails and how to define the word, it is important that we pinpoint the constructs that lead up to the term. Unisex and unisex fashion plays with the cultural concepts of gender and society and how gender boundaries are perceived, so therefore when we start from a broader perspective, the question we must ask ourselves first is: what is “gender”? 

Gender vs. sex

The construct “gender” frequently leads to confusion as it is often interchanged and mistaken for the term “sex”.  When referring to the sex of a person, it includes the division of society into male and female reproductive organs as well as sexual identity and desire/activity. Gender on the other hand, is defined by Sally McConnell-Ginet as following:

“The word gender […] refers to the complex of social, cultural, and psychological phenomena attached to sex, a usage common in the behavioral and social sciences.”

McConnell-Ginet, Sally. 2014. “Gender and its relation to sex: The myth of ‘natural’ gender.” In The Expression of Gender, by Grenville Corbett, 3-38. Berlin/Boston: Walter de Gruyter GmbH.

To further define what is meant by the social, cultural and psychological aspects, McConnel-Ginet clarifies the term sociocultural gender, as “a matter of […] the significance attached to that division [of female and male], the institutions and ideologies, the pre-scribed and claimed identities, and the array of social practices that sustain those institutions, ideologies, and identities.” This means that e.g. gender roles play an important part within gender constructs, which will be further defined below.

Gender roles, boundaries and stereotypes- what’s the difference?

Gender roles have been present for a long time, however the term was first coined by in the 1950’s by John Money. He refers to these as things that reveal a person being a woman or man, including sexuality, habits, attitude and behaviour. He also mentions conversation topics, dreams and speech determining the gender of a person. It has to be said that as this definition was published about 70 years ago, with multiple generations following, this explanation can be seen as somewhat bizarre. Nowadays gender roles and with that, boundaries, still exist within society and are usually present already from a young age. According to a paper by Anne-Kathrin Meyer’s, this happens in order to distinguish between groups and simplify the complexity of the social world and is necessary for adaptive living. Often, these roles fall into stereotypes, which are socially shared opinions on characteristics such as behaviour, capabilities and other individualities. These can be realistic but can also often be untrue and too simplified. In terms of gender, these often also negative stereotypes are occasionally found within categories like school subjects or sports, where girls are said to have a disadvantage. As these boundaries and stereotypes are a social construct, society is starting to reveal inconsistencies in gender both physically and psychologically and rethink split gender models. Through this shift, the term unisex is gaining popularity.

Unisex and fashion:

Unisex as a concept showcases an interplay between gender boundaries and roles and is continuing to gain presence within society. The term itself is also very subjective and fluid and can therefore be interpreted in many ways, with artists in the design world varying their understanding of the term immensely. In the Collins Dictionary the term is described as “[…] designed, or suitable for both sexes; not distinguishing between male and female; undifferentiated as to sex”. The term is not only limited to the fashion world but can also refer to places such as hairdressers or bathrooms. In fashion, unisex usually refers to clothing that does not comply with the socially and culturally assigned gender boundaries within clothing. This can be either by e.g. men wearing dresses or women wearing boxer shorts. Another form of unisex fashion encompasses basic clothing, accepted by society for both sexes like t-shirts and jeans, tailored for the wear of both through inclusive sizing and use of colours, graphics and patterns. 

Now that the basic terms are clear, the research can continue on e.g. differences, if existing, between ungendered and genderneutral clothing.


Collins Dictionary. n.d. Definition von unisex. Accessed November 24, 2021. https://www.collinsdictionary.com/de/worterbuch/englisch/unisex.

Hively, Kimberly, and Amani El-Alayli. 2014. ““You throw like a girl:” The effect of stereotype threat on women’s athletic performance and gender stereotypes.” Psychology of sport and exercise 48-55.

Kuo, Yu-Pei, Jirawat Vongphantuset, and Eakachat Joneurairatana. 2021. “From Eastern Inspiration to Unisex Fashion: a Case Study on traditional Chinese Shenyi Attire.” Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Studies 535-546.

McConnell-Ginet, Sally. 2014. “Gender and its relation to sex: The myth of ‘natural’ gender.” In The Expression of Gender, by Greville Corbett, 3-38. Berlin/Boston: Walter de Gruyter GmbH.

Meyer, Anne-Kathrin. 2021. Mutter-Bonus in familienrechtspsychologischen Entscheidungskontexten. Eine experimentalpsychologische Untersuchung. PhD Thesis, Hagen: FernUniversität in Hagen.

Money, John. 1973. “Gender role, gender identity, core gender identity: usage and definition of terms.” Psychoanalysis (Johns) 397-403.

Gender boundaries and the influence on unisex fashion branding

Different examples of fluid gender boundaries in fashion and unisex clothing


This research project is about analysing the stereotypical gender roles that are increasingly beginning to merge. As a result, it is no longer possible to generalise what appeals to men and what to women in terms of a company’s brand design. Especially in the clothing industry, the distinction between women’s and men’s fashion is slowly disappearing and unisex collections and brands are on the rise. The central question here is: are there differences between the preferences for traditional fashion brands that offer both women’s and men’s fashion and the target group of unisex clothing brands? And how does this affect brand design and how can a corporate identity of a unisex brand look like?


Up until 2017, it was not possible to officially register as “diverse” or third gender in Germany. According to the law, “diverse” refers to intersexual people who, since birth, cannot be classified into the gender categories “male” and “female” due to their gender characteristics. Since December 2018, registration has been possible, but this has also caused an uproar in the LGBTQ+ scene. Non-binary, genderqueer, genderfluid and agender people feel discriminated against, as they feel they belong to either no gender, several genders or alternating genders, which is why they are not allowed to register. Overall, the issue of differentiating between masculinity and femininity is the subject of many headlines. The stereotypical characteristics of genders are being reformed, such as men as “househusbands”, women with short hairstyles and men wearing make-up. As a result, the boundaries between male and female are disappearing more and more, so it comes to no surprise that this also affects the fashion industry and labelling. For women, androgynous fashion has been around for a long time such as suits and trousers, but through the media in recent years, it is now becoming increasingly recognised that men also like to dress in women’s fashion, such as dresses or high heels. For example, the cover of Vogue in 2020 caused mixed reactions when the famous singer Harry Styles was photographed in a dress. As a result, more and more brands are now following suit, either offering unisex product lines or collections, as well as unisex brands. Unisex fashion has been around for a long time, as seen on style icons such as David Bowie, Prince and Kurt Cobain. Where gender-neutral clothing has already found its origin in haute couture fashion, department stores and fast fashion brands are now following suit by also offering unisex product lines. At the same time, high fashion is introducing “un-gendered” clothing into their collections, revolutionising the catwalks of the fashion world. As a result, the unisex trend has now also arrived in society and is creating a lot of dialogue on the topic of gender identities and fashion.


Antidiskriminierungsstelle des Bundes. n.d. Geschlecht und Geschlechtsidentität. Accessed June 02, 2021. https://www.antidiskriminierungsstelle.de/DE/ThemenUndForschung/Geschlecht/Dritte_Option/Dritte_Option_node.html.

Askinasi, Rachel. 2020. Why are people acting like Harry Styles is the first man to wear a dress? December 15. Accessed June 2021, 02. https://www.insider.com/harry-styles-vogue-cover-controversy-style-icon-non-binary-fashion-2020-12.

Holaschke, Larissa. n.d. “More Gender- more design? Gender-sensitive design for the society of today.” Not at your service. Manifestos for design. 465-471.

Kelber, Cornelia. n.d. Gender Shift: Zukunft der Geschlechterrollen. Accessed June 02, 2021. https://www.zukunftsinstitut.de/artikel/gender-shift-zukunft-der-geschlechterrollen/.

Stitt, A. (2020). ACT for Gender Identity: The Comprehensive Guide. Vereinigtes Königreich: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Franke, B. & Matter, H. (2020). Not at Your Service: Manifestos for Design. Berlin, Boston: Birkhäuser, 467-471.

Stolerman, Kerri. 2020. Country and Townhouse. Accessed June 02, 2021. https://www.countryandtownhouse.co.uk/style/gender-neutral-fashion/.

Thomas, Charlie. n.d. Does the world really need Unisex fashion? Accessed June 02, 2021. https://www.fashionbeans.com/article/does-unisex-fashion-work/#.