Crop tops for men. Button-ups for women. Gender-neutral underwear. In the Year of Our Lord 2022, it’s obvious more than ever before that fashion is for everybody. For too long our country, as well as various societies around the globe, have clung to unquestioned constructs that limit the possibilities of fashion. But folks like Harry Styles, Janelle Monáe, and many others, especially those within the trans and non-binary communities, have shown us the fabulousness of wearing what you want, when you want—no matter society’s arbitrary standards or gender designations for clothing.
Though the Pandora’s box of fashion continues to crack open more every day, there’s still a long way to go. At Inclusive Guide, we’re well aware that the better, more welcoming fashion world we envision won’t emerge overnight. Individuals may choose to flout societal expectations and express themselves in beautiful ways, but the fact remains that most retailers and fashion designers have work to do to make their clothing options more inclusive and accessible to all. We offer the following short and informal guide so that businesses may start to think about incorporating inclusivity into their practices and decision-making.
Carry a range of sizes to accommodate all body types.
Ever found a cute top at a store, but it’s not in your size or it just doesn’t fit right? It’s frustrating! Sure, you can go to a tailor, but that costs extra time and money most folks don’t have. And that doesn’t account for those who need to size up their clothes. Carrying an assortment of tall sizes and XL options (and that means the 4Xs, too!) would not only make customers happy but also benefit a company’s bottom line—indeed, the average woman in the United States wears a size 16, which is roughly equivalent to a 1X.
However, this doesn’t mean maintaining the status quo of only offering plus sizes for clothes that are dark, loose-fitting, or overall drab in appearance; everybody deserves to feel sexy regardless of body type. And if you’ve been to any brick-and-mortar retailers recently, you might have noticed the plus-size section off to the side, not integrated with the rest of the clothing options. That ain’t cool. All clothing sizes, from petite to 5X and larger, should be both available and easily accessible within stores.
Rethink gendered displays and marketing.
In a perfect world, clothes wouldn’t be gendered, period. There’s nothing inherently feminine about a dress or masculine about a suit. Yet, like public restrooms, clothing displays at practically every retailer are separated into men’s and women’s sections. This setup alienates trans and non-binary customers, as well as those who may be gender-nonconforming and simply want to don a different style. Collapsing the gender divide across both brick-and-mortars and online retailers honors the diversity of gender expression while also reaching a market of LGBTQ+ individuals often disregarded as consumers with buying power.
Because the gender binary is so ingrained within society, it may not be possible for a store to go completely gender-free in its clothing displays. If this is the case, a business should at least emphasize in marketing efforts that its products are available for all. A bigger step would be hiring gender-diverse models to showcase clothing options. And there are always gender-neutral items for businesses to carry, such as TomboyX underwear or Phluid Project makeup.
Provide options for disabled individuals—or offer to tailor their purchases for free.
Clothing for disabled people is often referred to as adaptive and usually entails alterations made after a garment is already produced. Inclusive fashion, however, should be the reverse—clothes designed from the outset with disabled individuals in mind. While these garments are, unfortunately, only beginning to gain traction within the fashion world, businesses can support disabled folks by offering what inclusive options are available, such as Care + Wear, which features designs with chest port access, or Friendly Shoes, which sells Parkinson’s-focused footwear.
If not possible to carry these items, a business could provide their disabled customers with free tailoring services. Because every person’s body is different, some off-the-rack options, no matter how they were designed, might not fit certain individuals’ needs. In this case, tailoring might be the only option, but disabled people shouldn’t be required to bear the financial burden of altering their clothes, especially when the fashion industry has overlooked—and still overlooks—disability in clothing design. This isn’t a perfect solution, but in the absence of available (and affordable) options, the least a business can do is demonstrate to disabled customers that it cares about their needs and is willing to support them however it can.
Inclusive fashion requires a major shift in existing business models. Clothes should be available, accessible, and ultimately comfortable for all people, not a narrow set of individuals often represented by models of European descent with slim bodies. A few steps toward inclusivity on the business end include carrying a range of sizes, rethinking gendered clothing displays, and offering garments for disabled individuals (or providing disabled customers with free tailoring services in the absence of such items). These steps don’t capture the entirety of what must be done to make the fashion industry inclusive, of course, but they’re a start.
We hope you support us in our journey to promote inclusive fashion across brick-and-mortar stores and online retailers. Know of a business making strides in inclusive fashion? Leave a review today on the Inclusive Guide at inclusiveguide.com.