Forget men's and women's clothing, one department store is going unisex

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Aaron Schacter: Selfridges, the big department store in British, wants to take its customers on a journey, and on that journey there are no separate Men and Women's clothes departments. Think three floors of Unisex apparel complete with a gender neutral mannequins. That's what shoppers will find at Selfridges flagship store in London. Not so shocking, says Jo B. Paoletti, she is the Author of the upcoming; Sex and Unisex: Fashion, Feminism, and the Sexual Revolution.


Jo B. Paoletti:  Well, it may seem extreme, but in terms of what's really on the runway right now in the fashion world its very fashion forward very trendy.


Schacter: What kind of clothes are we talking here?


Paoletti: My guess is that, I mean I am sitting here wearing corduroy pants, turtle neck, and a fleece waist which I think my husband has all three of those in different sizes in his wardrobe. So, the kind of thing that we would normally think of as okay for either Men or Women to wear, but as I understand it they're also including some things that are Men's wear that women have been appropriating like Boxy Cut Suits, that they've been stealing out of the Men's department, and what used to be the Women's department is now also a fair game for any Man who would like to venture on that direction.


Schacter: I had a little bit of reaction here, and the Producer pointed out that she and I are pretty much wearing the same outfit today. Jeans and button down shirt. But, surely our jeans are different right? The coats that you're wearing and the coats that your husband are wearing they're different somehow right?


Paoletti: Well, they are cut differently, but when you think of it if we sold them in terms of measurements, here are a range of jeans, and here's the waist size, here's the hip size, here's the inseam, and you buy what fits you, then what would the difference be?


Schacter: I dont, sounds like alot of work?


Paoletti: Well, but that's the way it used to be when women started wearing bell bottom jeans in the late 1960s, I would say they but it was actually we, because I was one of them. I went to the Army Navy surplus store, and bought men's jeans, and I bought them by hip size, and for, there was about 4-5 year period in the late 60s, early 70s, where women are actually going into the men's department to buy clothing, they cant find the women's department.


Schacter: It sounds kind of what you're saying here is that this unisex thing isn't really new or maybe not even much of a big deal?


Paoletti: The idea of clothing, Men and Women wearing similar clothing, is actually with us for a long time. I mean, that used to be the standard for little children and babies was to dress them in what we consider a unisex or neutral style.


Schacter: So, did this sort of blue pink distinction come before clothes changed? Where babies were in the same clothes but one was blue, one was pink? Where did that come from?


Paoletti: That comes around the same time as women started wearing pants more often for sports, little girls were wearing overall for plays in the early 20th century and you started having the first beginnings of the a kind of gender use of pink and blue.


Schacter: So, which came first? the sort of changing roles of boys and girls, men and women, or the changing colors of clothes?


Paoletti: Actually the changing roles of men and women. Its interesting, because the reason I started studying this a long time ago was because what I noticed was as Men's and Women's clothing started trading items more often especially in the late 60s, where you have the beginning of the unisex pile and men wearing flowered ties and all that sort of things, and children's clothing didn't necessarily follow the same pattern that sometimes that happens is when men and women's clothing would start looking more similar, the children's clothing has continuously become more and more differentiated and more gendered. So, that today is very very hard to find up until about the last 4-5 years, neutral clothing.


Schacter: This sounds sort of like the free to be you and me sketch right? Its like two babies are talking to each other, you're wearing blue, you must be a boy?


Paoletti: Yeah, thats a great routine, and ofcourse that comes in a time in the 1970s, when there was huge interest in unisex clothing for children, unisex child growing, and trying to create some kind of less gendered or ungendered future by starting at the very beginning with neutral clothing for kids.


Schacter: Do we lose nothing now? I dont know, sense of masculinity, femininity, if all the clothes are the same?


Paoletti: Maybe we need rethink those a little bit. The problem with the way Masculinity and Femininity are now defined, especially when you think of children's clothing, children's toys is alot of what we consider masculine for little boys is not feminine. Its always been more acceptable for girls to dress like boys but to say the boys dress like girls is still considered an insult, to put down a criticism. Its hard to think of them as being separate but equal, but if we could come up with an idea of different styles that aren't different, they're both great, and that are not exclusive to men and women respectively.


Schacter: Jo. B Paoletti is an Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland. Her book Sex and Unisex Fashion, Feminism, and the Sexual Revolution is out next month. Jo, Thanks alot for coming on.


Paoletti: You're welcome. Thank you!