The Transgender Revolution: The Industry’s Duty to Challenge Tradition‏

For anyone who has ever shopped on the high street, online or in a catalogue (if they still exist), you will know that ‘menswear’ and ‘womenswear’ are neatly divided and noticeably disparate. As shoppers, we are forced to operate on a restricted vocabulary; male, female, men, women, girl, boy. The result? Ultimately we’re left with very little space, as trans model Hari Nef argues, “to consider the trans experience as anything other than abnormal”. However, with campaigns such as H&M’s ‘& Other Stories’ being branded a ‘game changer’, there is evidence of the fashion world finally embracing transgender models and proving an appetite for more varied representations of beauty.


Trans model Hari Nef

In a year that has seen transgender visibility at its highest in popular media, from the publicly scrutinised transition of Caitlyn Jenner to the success of series such as ‘Transparent’, and the celebrated inclusion of trans actresses such as Laverne Cox in addictive ‘Orange is the New Black’, it’s about time that the fashion industry caught up.

It’s undeniable, gender identity is a complex subject; its terminology is ever growing and there will always be tensions surrounding misspeaking, misunderstanding and above all, offending. However, the growing presence of trans models in the fashion industry might help tackle such tensions by finally normalising a concept which is ultimately nothing other than normal. Designers, runways and even the high-street are slowly beginning to challenge tradition, by recognising gender and sexuality beyond the binaries of male and female. As one of the most influential industries in the world, fashion does have a duty to play its part in fighting transphobia, and a huge part of that is representation. Put simply, trans people exist, and have been an integral part of fashion scenes across the world for years. As Hari Nef says in her interview with Dazed:“it’s about time that this reality was represented on the city’s runways.”

Trans model Mz DeSe Bae Escobar walked the runway at NYFW

And so it was…
For AW15 at New York Fashion Week, the casting of transgender models at a series of shows and events brought the topic of gender and gender fluidity to the forefront of conversation both in terms of people and clothing; Isis King, Mz DeSe Bae Escobar and Hari Nef were among the transgender models who took to the runways, and it’s not just here that the community are gaining visibility. As previously mentioned, H&M’s sister brand ‘& Other Stories’ launched an ad campaign in August which uses not only transgender models, but trans photographers, make up artists and stylists. Creative director of ‘& Other Stories’, Sara Hildén, questioned how to challenge the traditional fashion gaze with the same normative crew behind the scenes, before realising that for her, it could not be done.

& Other Stories’ ad campaign features trans models such as Valentijn De Hingh

Both the visibility of transgender models at New York Fashion week and the emergence of an all-trans ad campaign for an H&M owned brand, show that the industry is challenging tradition and that a market of acceptance is growing. Brands and designers are more and more willing to disregard binaries that have been creating frankly unrealistic divides for far too long. Agender clothing brand ‘All is Fair in Love and Wear’ uses “middlewear” to describe their creations. Neither lingerie nor underwear, it is designed to highlight gender fluidity and created specifically with those transitioning in mind. It is essential not to see trans casting in fashion as a fad, all too often we celebrate the inclusion or appearance of something but fail to fight for its real integration. Transpobia is still a very real threat to not only the trans community but to everything we should value as a fair and accepting society, but the acceptance not only of transgender individuals into the world of fashion but more generally the introduction of a conversation on accepted gender labels and binaries within the industry seems like a step in the right direction. Finally we’re seeing diversity, and more importantly than that, reality. The visibility and success of transgender individuals within these circles is proof of a desire beyond traditional ideas of beauty, a desire that will hopefully continue to be fulfilled.

Charly Bowen

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