How gender fluid fashion is changing the discourse in the industry

Fashion has conventionally been divided in two broad sectors – women’s wear and menswear. But talking about fashion and convention in one line itself is an oxymoron. Fashion has no form; it takes shape of the time it lives in with influence from cultural, social and political-scape of the world. No wonder then that gender fluid fashion has been creating waves in seismic proportions across the fashion and creative fraternity.  The clear demarcation between menswear and women’s wear is blurring. There is a new breed of innovative designers who have become the torchbearers of gender fluid fashion. They create unisex line of clothing while promoting a cultural revolution addressing the fashion needs beyond the binary customers.  Labels like Anaam, The Pot Plant, Antar- Agni, Huemen and Anuj Bhutani are leading the gender fluid fashion in India.

So what is gender neutral aka gender fluid fashion?

This is the latest entrant in the fashion vocabulary that creates unisex collections for all; not just catering to men’s or women’s line separately. But has the gender non-conformity happened for the first time in fashion? No. Androgynous fashion for women was first started by Yves Saint Laurent in 1966 when he created the first women’s tuxedo for evening wear. As the second wave of feminism spread across the world, women embraced the tuxedo as a symbol of rebellious evening wear.

Gender fluid fashion, Appleblossom, Fashion writer, YSL, First woman's tuxedo, vintage fashion campaign, androgynous fashion , falguni patel, fashion writer

YSL – First women’s Tuxedo Campaign in 1966

Women wearing pants and shirts have been accepted as a form of androgynous dressing but the reverse isn’t true. Men wearing effeminate clothing, be it skirts or crop tops or slouch pants or sari, hasn’t been very common in current times.

Though the history recounts it otherwise.

One can’t forget David Bowie in the 70’s. He tried it all, from one-legged cat-suits, voluminous tie-dye suits to embroidered dress coats. Clothes were used to define personalities and make big statements. Remember Boy George rocking the peacock punk style and everything outrageous in the 80’s?  Back home in recent times, Ranveer Singh has been the ambassador of gender fluid fashion flaunting his devil-may-care-swag with long skirts, quirky floral print suits and earrings.

gender fluid fashion, David bowie, style icon, style inspiration, falguni patel, fashion writer, apple blossom,

David Bowie – Stardust Ziggy


“Historically, clothes never had gender.  Our mythology provides us with ample examples in form of deities who despite being the icon for strength had effeminate dressing style.  Clothes worn then were not divisive on the basis of gender. Be it Dhoti drape, skirt, pearl strings, beaded necklace or earrings, none of these indicated that these particular elements were meant for only men or women. It is only after the invasion of Mughals and the British Raj that there was a clear distinction of menswear and women’s wear” shares Sumiran Kabir Sharma, Founder & Creative Director of Anaam Label whose style aesthetics are highly inspired by Ardhanareshvar avatar of Shiva, an androgynous form of Shiva and Parvati.

Winner of the Woolmark Company’s Best Design Collection Award Portfolio 2013 and Woolmark Young Talent Award, Kabir’s labels’ ethos lies in its unique language — their silhouettes, drapes and detailing. Anaam as the name suggests, is a label that doesn’t adhere to any norms or rigid barriers.

gender fluid fashion, annam, Kabir Sumiran, Indian labels, falguni patel, fashion writer, apple blossom, Femina writer,

Janaaza collection – Anaam

According to Fred Davis in his book ‘ Fashion, Culture and Identity’, the dress of the European aristocracy changed in the 1800s when men’s dressing became a means of communicating economic success and women’s dressing continued to follow an elaborate dress code. As a result, men assumed a highly restricted dress code as the European aristocracy began to decline and the advent of industrial capitalism began.

George Bryan Brummell, better known as Beau Brummell was an iconic figure in Regency England in the 18th century. Known as the forefather of men’s modern style, Brummell was the first one to introduce the concept of bespoke dressing. He made slick tailored suits trending as opposed to elaborate dress coats of British aristocracy.

Dandyism, George Byron Brummel, gender fluid fashion, British aristocracy, style icons, fashion writer, Falguni patel, apple blossom

George Byron Brummel

“The British invasion brought in the strict code of dressing divide. Erstwhile drapes were traded for modern day pants, shirts and jackets to fit in the working class in India” shares Himanshu Verma, Founder –Red Earth. He further elaborates on the history of menswear and adds ‘Before Mughals came to India, both men and women wore only drapes, either as dhoti or a sari. The concept of stitched clothing came in with Mughals.  Ornate Jamas and Chogas became a part of both men and women’s wear”.

Himanshu Verma, aka Saree man, has been the torchbearer of gender fluid fashion in India since 2006, almost a decade after David Beckham wore sarong and took the world by surprise. The Saree man moves around the country curating and showcasing saris from different regions, while being draped in his six yards. He wears handloom saris with eccentric shirt blouses while colourful nose pin and ear studs are his evergreen style companions. On the days when he doesn’t wear a sari, he opts for dhotis, almost always.

Himanshu Verma

Himanshu Verma aka Saree Man

Resham Karmchandani and Sanya Suri’s love for fashion aesthetics are not restricted to gender. Their label ‘The Pot Plant’ believes in inclusive and comfortable fashion for all, regardless of gender. Their ensembles explore the possibility of moulding supposedly feminine fabrics like chanderi, silk and bandhani into garments that are just that – ‘garments’; a non-gender confirmative entity.

“For us working with gender fluid aesthetics has not been just about designing clothes that people would like to wear. We both have grown up with beautiful hand–me-down clothes irrespective of the fact whether they belonged to our brother or sisters or our parents. We wore our mother’s dresses and our father’s old shirts .So the idea of creating gender neutral clothes came naturally to us” says Sanya Suri on their ethos to create gender neutral clothes.

The Pot Plant

The Pot Plant

Reiterating the importance of hand-me-down clothes in Indian families, Kabir reminiscences his childhood and shares “I come from a middle class family from the hills in Himachal Pradesh. I was given clothes, be it skirts or floral pajamas, as hand-me-down from my elder sister. Since it was a part of my upbringing I never thought that these pieces were gender specific. Education and society conditions us to believe in these demarcations. My label Anaam is an extension of my belief in breaking these society generated barriers of clothing’

Kabir, who calls himself a silhouette artist, is influenced by his family in his style aesthetics. His mom was a teacher who proudly flaunted sari with sports shoes and wore his dad’s coat to protect from cold. It was a utilitarian approach more than a style statement. Gender conformity was never a question.

“If one may notice, kurta, Tee-shirt, Jacket and Jeans are gender neutral clothes. Shirts however have distinction in buttons. Women have buttons on left and men on right. Theories say it was because upper class women in Renaissance and Victorian eras were dressed by maids and hence for the ease, buttons were on left. At Anaam, we create clothes that are unisex. Buttons are on the same side for both men and women’ added Kabir on trivia of gender neutral clothes.

While the world is embracing this trend of gender neutral garments, there is still a resistance in customers in India. Bollywood celebrities like Arjun Kapoor have sported cowl-neck and draped pants by Antar-Agni, Sushant Singh Rajput has walked for Shantanu and Nikhil in a cascading draped kurta whereas Ranveer Singh has sported skirt. But beyond the celebrities endorsing the trend or models sashaying the outfits on ramp, labels see a marginal acceptance outside the fashion and design fraternity. Women have been acceptant of the androgynous fashion as a symbol of feminism in everyday life but men are still hesitant to try the drapes and unstructured silhouettes.

Arjun Kapoor

Arjun Kapoor in Antar Agni

“I think there has been a paradigm shift in the way people are now accepting fluid aesthetics. They are following the trend but we think there is still a long way to go in India. While there is more acceptance of women wearing androgynous clothing and men wearing draped silhouettes, I think we still have time when men will accept wearing dresses and women will wear ‘traditional’ menswear silhouettes” shared Reshma Karamchandani from The Pot Plant on market acceptance in India.

Kabir adds an interesting point on business aspect of unisex garments while sharing “In European markets, unisex clothes are very acceptable. There is an emergence of sustainable fashion believers who tend to invest in labels that produce garments with lesser carbon footprints. Unisex garment production is a sustainable way, both for designers and retailers. They do not need to invest in creating an inventory for both genders thereby reducing the amount of fabric used and resources spent. The acceptance in India is at a nascent level but I believe with Bollywood endorsing the gender neutral clothes, there should be a change in the scenario in future”

There is a rising population of youth that does not want to be identified in standard gender binary (male or female). They want to be gender fluid and not bracketed in one label. The society has become more acceptant of this Cultural Revolution. Gender Neutral trend is moving beyond symbolising its wearers’ identity or sexuality. World over it is now being accepted by the mainstream as more of a look both on ramp and high street. Will Indian fashion aficionados accept this as a mainstream cult or allow it to fade as a cyclical fashion trend is a million dollar question.

Until then, the silent mutiny of Gender Fluid Fashion continues; trying to be heard.


Make way for Gender Fluid fashion in India

falguni patel, appleblossom, top 100 indian fashion blogs, ahmedabad, saree man, options ahmedabad, sustainable fashion, saree lovers, 100 saree pact, gender fluid fashion, saree not sorry. handlooms

Fashion reflects the times we live in. 

The perennial changes in style, be it a puff here and a nip there, flared hemlines or tapered cuts, are more often than not influenced by the social, economical, political and cultural changes in the society. The 20’s flapper dress was symbolic to women’s liberation and the first wave of feminism, the 60’s bohemian prints and bell bottoms were indicative of the counter culture movement whereas 90’s was focused on relaxed jeans and basic tee shirts- a sign of minimalism(Oh , don’t roll your eyes )

In the current times, gender fluid fashion is on the up rise. The menswear shows in London last fortnight have witnessed fashion brands clamouring for the co-ed badges. Be it men wearing silk dresses at Vivienne Westwood’s show, puff-sleeved gowns at Charles Jeffrey Loverboy, and hooped floor-length skirts at Edward Crutchley’s, gender neutral fashion is here to stay. High street brand Zara has capitalised on the market for clothes that can be worn by men or women, offering a gender-neutral fashion range.

We are living in interesting times, aren’t we?

Closer home, away from the stiff upper lip London Fashion week scene, a saree-clad desi man has been initiating dialogues around gender neutral fashion. Himanshu Verma, aka Saree man, has been the torchbearer of gender fluid fashion in India since 2006, almost a decade after David Beckham wore sarong and took the world by surprise, dare I say pleasant?

The Saree man moves around the town draped in his six yards with an enviable nonchalance. He wears handloom sarees with eccentric shirt blouses while colourful nose pin and ear studs are his evergreen style companions. On the days when he doesn’t wear a saree, he opts for dhotis, almost always.

falguni patel, top 100 Indian fashion blogs, fashion blogger in gujarat, saree man, himanshu verma, guys who wear saree,

Himanshu Verma aka the Saree man displaying Saree Summery at Options, Ahmedabad 

Himanshu Verma was recently in the city to display ‘Saree Festival‘ at Options, Ahmedabad for the very first time. For the non-initiated, ‘Saree Festival’ is a unique saree exhibition curated by Himanshu wherein he brings together about 10 indie fashion designers from across the country and displays it in various cities across the country, spreading the love for rich Indian textiles far and wide.

In an exclusive interview with Ciceroni and Appleblossom, he opened up about his penchant for the gender fluid fashion and what influenced his sartorial choices.

Here are the excerpts from the interview.

  1. What is your earliest memory of wearing saree?

Though I graduated in English literature from Mumbai, I found that probably language wasn’t interesting enough for me to pursue career in it.  Back then, I was in love with Hindustani classical music and I aspired to be a vocalist. The classical music, poetry and its accompanying aesthetic sense had a strong influence in my formative years of career.

I formed a company ‘Red Earth’ under which I dealt with interesting initiatives in art, music and poetry. During one such art exhibition in 2006, where the theme was Changing Masculinity in India, I decided to explore and dress thematically by wearing a saree.

That was the very first time I wore a saree.

It was my mom’s embroidered saree in magenta pink colour. I was enamoured by its intricate detailing and how its drape felt on me. Since that day and now, I have consciously worn sarees as I firmly believe; saree is gender neutral apparel. It’s only about 150 years since there has been a clear distinction in men and women’s draping norms.

  1. Which is your favourite kind of saree?

I am a big fan of ilkals from Karnataka and Maharashtra. I personally like fabrics that are thick since they hold and drape really well. I am sucker for the masculine sarees – the ones that have solid coloured plain body and a big border. If I were to evaluate my fashion style, I have indeed graduated. Starting from fashion novice’s fascination with bling and jazz to gradually transitioning to connoisseur’s choice of timeless handlooms in neutral tones, I have come a long way.

For now, I am onwards on my journey towards minimalism.


  1. Do accessories play an important role in styling?

Accessories form an integral part of fashion styling. They help in creating individualistic styles. I often wear full sleeves blouse and style it with brooch, chaabi-challa, nose pins and ear studs in old silver.

My personal accessory collection is memorabilia of my travel sojourns. Antiques and old silver are my go-to options when in dilemma. I generally scour for vintage pieces in small jewellery shops located usually in the old cities.

falguni Patel, sareeman, top 100 indian fashion blogs, appleblossom, fashion bloggers in gujarat, ahmedabad blogger, fashion stylist, aesthete, saree interview, kala cotton, options ahmedabad

Saree Man aka Himanshu Verma with Falguni Patel , Appleblossom in Ahmedabad

  1. What led to the inception of ‘Saree Festival’?

The first ‘Saree Festival’ was conceptualized in 2014. We did the first festival in Delhi, our home territory. The idea was to curate indie- designers who worked on creating handloom sarees from different parts of the country and educate the locals about the different weaves while making the products commercially available through the Saree Festival.

Since we are particular about the quality, we always work with only 10-15 designers at one go. We have exhibited in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Jaipur and Lucknow till now. To get the saree lovers interested in different weaves, we designed knowledge based workshops and talks around textiles while offered styling advice for the trend enthusiasts.

Saree Festival has grown by leaps and bounds in last three years. Various online groups that are dedicated to saree appreciation have been following saree man and his saree festivals very diligently.

In their maiden festival ‘Saree Summery’at Options Ahmedabad, Himanshu displayed a magnificient collection of kala cotton, chanderi, bamboo saree, santhal saree, linens, begampuris , ilkals , khadi and kutchi worked sarees to woo the Amdavadi saree lovers. One could lay their hands on rich linens by Nadiya paar and Galang Gabaan, Khadi sarees by Love for the loom, concept sarees by Tuni Textiles besides the intricate and festive Benarasis.

As a part of the festival, Saree Summery in association with Options Ahmedabad also organised a ‘Saree Gossip’ where I finally met Rushika Gadani, a practising dermatoligist and saree enthusiast , Neha Sharma, stylist and blogger at The Stylewali and Vaidehi Shah, entrepreneur and saree enthusiast as a part of the panel of saree discussions. Thanks to the enterprising Janki Patel, Founder – Options Ahmedabad, that Ahmedabad city witnessed an event like this.


The evening went by exchanging notes on the first memory of saree draping, favourite kind of saree and blouse and what would one prefer – linen, kota doria or chanderi while sipping on the kadak masala chai served by the very hospitable Options Ahmedabad team.

As I left from the Saree Summery exhibition, I wondered about what I had been a part of just about some time back in there…What stayed with me was the panache with which Himanshu carried himself in the gender fluid drape and how the fashion world was evolving here in India, thousands of kilometers away from the thriving fashion scenes of London, Paris and New York.

Changing perceptions of the society; one drape at a time.


 Creative Team for Saree Man Project – 

  Photography Collaboration – The awesome Kavan Solanki  of Design Shoots 

  Make-up & Hair – Kamleshbhai from VLCC Ahmedabad ( See this is where your ex-work place comes handy , Thank you Vishal Mudgal  )

Location and Accessories Courtesy – Options Ahmedabad 

I am wearing a Kala Cotton saree by Three Threads



If you did like this story, then do come back to check the next story on Old world Charm and love for slow life on Saturday.