Gender neutral movement: how do brands adapt?

Lately, women have taken over historically masculine trends, and men are more and more targeted by lines usually developed for women only. After seeing women wearing pants for the first time a hundred years ago, we now see men wearing skirts (not considering Scottish wearing kilts for thousands of years…). The feminist community, transgender one or even the gender neutral movement have broken traditional gender rules and help these trends to spread.


Hi tomboys !


How did women seize masculine trends?


“Any woman willing to wear like a man should present to the police headquarters to obtain a permission”. This French law, dating from November, 17th of year 1800 aimed to restraint women’s access to certain jobs and status by preventing them from wearing like a man. And though it is in complete contradiction with the first article of the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights, it took more than two centuries for the law to be finally repealed, on January, 31st 2013.


Yet, women have not stayed still until then to emancipate from fashion boundaries. Put to work to answer the World War I needs, they quickly adopted a more masculine look. The 1920s have seen the birth of the “Garçonne” trend (“Garçonne” is the French for boyish), when having an androgynous silhouette was definitely fashionable. Clothes at the time had to be convenient and comfy: no more corset nor poufy dress. Women wear short hair, bow ties and some of them even get tattooed. We also owe the 1920s for the wide leg trousers, back in fashion this past year. Woman trousers get popularized in the 1960s, notably thanks to designers such as Saint Laurent, who have been able to translate the social movements of the period into their creations. And since this is a men’s world, if women wanted to appropriate men’s power, they had to look like men.


Gender neutral movement: how do brands adapt?


From suits, to sweaters, teddy, baseball tee & cap, jeans, or even sneakers, women have borrowed many pieces from men, and that’s only for clothes. In fact, masculine-feminine look is a classic you can never go wrong with. Fashion and beauty are ones of the branches where men are the ones to suffer from gender inequalities. Nowadays, it is generally more accepted for a woman to wear masculine than the contrary, as proven by all the pieces labeled “boyfriend”.


Gender neutral movement: how do brands adapt?


The polemic mainly started with children clothing, and people reacting to the division created by the industry between boys and girls. Most often, girls can only find pink pieces displaying princesses or flowers, when boys will have blue/grey outfits, with cars or superheroes patterns. The problem mentioned is about kids being brainwashed and influenced by mainstream fashion. And that’s when some brands started creating gender-neutral clothing for kids, which was later applied for adult lines too. Many brands have now seen the light, such as Marimacho and Rad Hourani, but the first ones to really capture that trend were haute couture designers like Gucci and Givenchy who have had unisex pieces for years now.


Gender neutral movement: how do brands adapt?


From girls to boys


The cosmetics industry taking the grip on men


There was a time when make-up was for everyone, with no distinction between women and men. History has shown that cosmetics have had their moments of fame everywhere around the world : from Egyptians and their kohl, to Chinese and Japanese using rice powder, African tribes wearing tribal make up distinctions, or even European aristocracy wearing fragrances, wigs and make up from the 14th to the late 19th century.  We may think that, nowadays, our society is built on appearances and that we are just obsessed with beauty. Truth is that make up has only traveled through time, and that beauty has always been a key to social interactions, whether now or ten thousand years ago. Even more disturbing, “studies have shown that attractive people are usually hired sooner, get promotions more quickly, and are paid more than their less-attractive coworkers.” (Copyright : No wonder why men want their slice of the cake.


Cosmetics for men is only the revival of a trend, encouraged by movements like feminism, masculinism, and the gender neutralism. In fact, many beauty brands already sold a masculine toiletries, often limited to colognes, shampoos, deodorants and after-shavings. But these gender-focused movements made it socially more acceptable for men to take care of themselves and it hasn’t took long until cosmetics brands adapt their strategy to their new audience. Among all products ranges, skincare is the most democratized one yet.


Fact is you can’t sell to men the same way you sell to women. First of all, to counter the rather emasculating image of cosmetics, the beauty industry prefers the term “grooming products” to “cosmetics” or “beauty products”. Initially, “grooming products” referred to the tools and cosmetics attached to shaving. The lines of products have widen, and men can now purchase scrub, facial cleanser, eye roll-on and so forth. Sticking to the term “grooming” is a way to add testosterone… Yes they have a beard, and yes they take good care of it, because not only are they men, they are FINE men. Grooming has this kind of gentleman, dandy, hipster connotation, implying that beauty is not the real matter. To have men purchasing grooming products, brands have to prevent any possible comparison with a concern considered to be typically feminine. And brands such as L’Oréal, who nurtured women for decades, are now associated to them and are having a hard time appealing men. (Source : Statista)


Gender neutral movement: how do brands adapt?


As proven by the picture above, masculine cosmetics packaging are rather refined, angled and monochromatic. To take the grip on that trend, brands are giving their products whether a luxury look, a sportive image, a vintage style, or a pharmaceutical one.


Anthony, Lab Series and Baxter opted for a pharmaceutical look, to imply that the use for cosmetics is to solve a health concern rather than just look beautiful. Armani and Dior have developed luxury style packaging, completely black for the first one, and mainly white for the second one, to give an image of simplicity and prestige.


Clinique, Biotherm and Clarins bet on a sportive look. In an advertising, Clinique compares the different steps of driving a muscle car to shaving, insisting on the fact that “there is a science to looking good”. Clarins chose Olympic athlete Camille Lacour, 2011 & 2013 swimming world champion, to advertise its men line. The emphasis is on strength, on men surpassing themselves; nothing is really about appearances but rather on performance.


To stick with the “grooming products” image, brands such as Kiehl’s, Jack Black and Marvis use a vintage look. The story-telling behind reminds men that historically, the apogee of masculine elegance was from the early to the mid-20th century, when gentlemen would observe a strict skin routine. The brands’ packaging and shops have a really apothecary-like style, suggesting a British dandy lifestyle. Gomina, white teeth, typewriter font: cultivating nostalgia has always provided a great boost for sales. Especially when this “back in time” celebrates an era when grooming was a sign of status and education.


All in all, no matter the strategy, brands successfully emphasize the link between typically masculine figures and cosmetics to reassure men in their manliness.


Men have their very own make-up


Although make up is pretty common for men working in the broadcasting industry, in Fashion or Beauty, it is still a bit bizarre for the rest of society. In fact, men have thicker skin, and dark facial hair, which means their make-up needs are different from women ones. Asos, Dr. Jart and Jean-Paul Gaultier – just to name a few – have launched men make-up lines during the last past years. But not only do men are targeted by beauty brands, they are also at the front line in terms of communication and salesforce. Lately, make-up brands Cover girl & Maybeline both chose men as icons and we can also now see more and more salesmen in cosmetics shops such as Kiko and Sephora. Once again, packaging stay rather simple, discreet and unicolored, as shown in the picture below.


Gender neutral movement: how do brands adapt?


Which countries are leading the trend?


More and more men are giving importance into looking good. It is not only about appearance, but also to feel more attractive, more successful and above all, more self-confident. And we all know that trusting yourself inspires others to trust you too. Some countries like Brazil, South Korea and the U.S. are leading the way. Proof of the deeply-rooted correlation between appearances and successfulness in the United States, is the use of the term “B.O.” to refer to “body odor”. In its book called “American Dream”, author Guillemette Faure explains that the deodorant brand Odo-Ro-No (Odor? Oh no!) first used this acronym in a 1919 advertisement, implying that “body odor” is too much of a taboo to talk about it out loud. The ad suggested that the shame resulting from body odor was a social handicap that could prevent professional success for men, and a successful marriage for women. As a matter of fact, one quarter of American houses nowadays have at least 3 bathrooms.




It is difficult to say whether clothing will shift from “female clothing” and “male clothing” to well… just clothing. Both women and men should be able to wear whatever makes them feel confident and happy, without any social pressure. Having sections divided by gender prevent people from searching clothes in the opposite sex department. Brands could just create gender-neutral garments and consumers could choose whatever they feel suits them, with no other consideration. So far, the sayings state that “Men will be men” and “Girls will be girls”. But will they, though?

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