Skirts for women, suits for boys? Those days are gone – and Hallenstein Brothers is just the latest retailer to embrace the notion that, while some clothes are tailored to suit particular types of bodies, if the clothes fit, they fit. But placing model Laura Evans at the centre of its latest 'The Power of the Suit' campaign was too much for some, with some commenters complaining a men's clothing brand shouldn't use a women to model its clothing.
'The Power of the Suit' is nothing new for Hallensteins, which has used the tagline as the centre of its formal range campaign for nearly a decade. But this 2019 iteration is undoubtedly a new and bold move for the retailer, as it puts a woman at the centre of its advertising for the first time.
The TVC features two men, Khari Kamal and Jay Alvarrez, and Evans talking about how a wearing a suit makes them feel confident and powerful. It makes no mention of gender – and women wearing suits is no new thing, rather something that has become normalised over the last century. A number of women wore suits on the red carpet of this week's Academy Awards, including Amy Poehler and Awkwafina.
Hallensteins is not stepping on sister-brand Glassons' toes in any way, it isn't looking to expand into a women's wear collection, rather Evans wears a tailored skinny fit suit that is available in stores.
But for some online commenters, the break away from tradition is too much. One YouTube user commenting: "??? Cringey woke is your business model?", and "Hallensteins is a male clothing store? This is ridiculous!" one commenter wrote on Facebook. A number of commenters accused Hallensteins for jumping on the bandwagon of inclusions.
The vast majority of reactions on social media have been positive though, with a number of women owning up to the fact they have purchased numerous items at Hallensteins before.
General manager Glenn Hunter says the company wanted everyone to feel comfortable and welcome to walk into a Hallensteins store – and this campaign is meant to reiterate that.
"Hallenstein Brothers has always been an inclusive brand with clothing made for people fo all shapes and sizes.
"We decided to work with Laura as she embodies the values that Hallenstein Brothers represents, with the right mix of confidence and attitude."
Many of the retailers' previous campaigns have feature young men travelling the world in Hallensteins clothing – and all have played with the idea of 'Brotherhood'. Hunter says this latest campaign just extends the idea of brotherhood beyond gender.
There is certainly no shortage of gender-bending brand precedent overseas. In early 2016, Jaden Smith was revealed as the new face of Louis Vuitton's women's wear collection – with the son of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith posing with three female models in the campaign, all wearing clothing from the women's range. The New York Times reported the fashion world was moving into a new age of "wear what you like", but admitted the tide was changing slowly: "A push to the realization that though we long ago accepted women appropriating men’s clothes — and stopped thinking of it as appropriating — the idea of men appropriating women’s clothes is still largely taboo."
Transgender model Andreja Pejić made a name for herself in the industry by modelling not only androgynous clothing, but also female-specific clothing even before she came out as a transgender woman. In 2011 she became the face of Dutch department store HEMA's push-up bra range, and that spring had walked the runway for Jean Paul Gaultier wearing a wedding dress.
Taking things one step further, some brands are beginning to embrace 'gender-neutral' clothing – launching unisex ranges.
H&M defied gender norms in early 2017 when it launched its first-ever unisex collection, following on from Spanish chain Zara's ungendered collection the year before.
British department store John Lewis announced in 2017 it had abolished 'girls' and 'boys' labels on children's clothing, becoming the first UK retailer to remove gender labels. The clothing styles haven't changed, but the retailer took the first step to proving any item of clothing can be worn by both girls and boys.