Western societies are becoming more accepting of different gender identities, and this is reflected in the fashion industry. In addition to labelling clothes according to the two binary genders, female and male, the industry also promotes more fluid concepts such as gender-neutrality. However, the definition of gender-neutral fashion carries its own fluid connotations since the concept’s meaning is not clearly defined apart from the obvious idea that it is, arguably, offering clothing appropriate to all genders. This allows variety in the ways different brands currently choose to represent gender-neutrality. Stereotyping is an essential part of meaning-making processes and even though gender-neutral advertising aims for gender inclusivity this does not necessarily exempts these representational practices from gender stereotyping. However, gender-neutral fashion advertising is not adequately researched as it is a rather emerging phenomenon. Existing literature on gender stereotyping in fashion advertising largely highlights the differences between the representations of men and women. In contrast, this thesis examines how gender is represented by self-described gender-neutral fashion brands on Instagram using the critical lens of an intersectional approach. Thus, different intersecting identities such as sexuality and ethnicity are considered. Instagram is a highly popular social media platform in which the fashion industry is reproducing its visibility through advertising its products reaching a wider pool of consumers. The representational practices of the most popular gender-neutral brands today are examined through visual discourse analysis. Through an intersectional approach, the results reveal that even though the analysed brands claim gender-neutrality, this does not exclude pre-existing stereotypical gendered and racialized representations in their posts. The analysis shows how these portrayals remain trapped within broader existing hegemonic representations of femininity and masculinity despite their aim to be gender-neutral. Specifically, these representations reflect traditional characteristics assigned to masculinity and femininity that have been defined according to the two binary genders. Nevertheless, this research also illustrates how some advertisements studied challenge existing norms by offering alternative representations. For example, the brands that represent queerness in addition to gender, challenge the most stereotypical depictions through cross-dressing and role reversion as stereotypically feminine bodies are represented in traditionally masculine clothing and vice versa. Additionally, racial stereotyping to some extent is challenged by the representational practices of the examined representations highlighting the aim gender-neutrality has for inclusivity.

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Maria Avraamidou
Media & Business
Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication

Heta Emilie Puoskari. (2022, June 27). Gender-neutral fashion advertising: Trapped in stereotyping A critical analysis of representations of gender-neutrality on Instagram fashion advertising from 2021 to 2022. Media & Business. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/2105/65048