The term “unisex” as applied to dress was coined in the late sixties to denote clothing suitable or designed specifically for both males and females. Prior to this, fashion most traditionally contextualized stood for the clear demarcation of the sexes through the reaffirmation of gender identity.
Simply put: women wore skirts, and men wore pants. Although historically there were of course experiments in appropriation, the decade that produced the Youthquake solidified the idea of universal dress.
Denim jeans and T-shirts, popularized in the 1950’s by Hollywood cinema, inaugurated the democratization of clothing. Up until that point, they had served as working-class garments that signified a particular niveau in society. For the burgeoning younger generation, the seductive charm of young actors like Marlon Brando and James Dean, combined with the powerful vehicle of motion pictures, transformed jeans and T-shirts not only into fashion phenomena, but perhaps the first truly accepted unisex articles of clothing.
The seeds of youth revolution, planted in the 1950’s, fully blossomed the following decade. The 1960’s were a period of extraordinary change-one in which conventional notions of age, gender, and class were completely redefined. In an environment conducive to experimentation, the era pushed designers to incorporate new definitions of youth and universality into their work. The idea of unisex, in particular, gained currency precisely for its implications of multifaceted freedom. In the obvious sense, unisex meant liberation from gender, but more importantly, its association with the future in its disavowal of traditional hierarchies and old-fashioned attitudes made it a major driving force for fashion.