Who would’ve thunk? Marketers, those paragons of American capitalism, may be the most effective agents of social change. They have discovered there is money to be made when there’s no binary, that is, no males or females–in clothing at least. Mass marketing will follow and, with it, acceptance.
Just as they’ve sold pants to women, they are now beginning to sell colors, patterns, and frills to men. And designers will soon be creating designs for people who identify all along the gender continuum, transsexuals and those who experience their sexuality as distinctive or ambiguous. We are all becoming more and more comfortable with ambiguity. We see the full range of sexual identity on the street and in our closets.
Women already can express their masculine self as well as their feminine side with pant suits a la Hillary Clinton and jeans (formerly men’s work clothes), as well as dresses, skirts, and blouses. Burkas, hijabs, saris, skull caps, and headscarves have all become commonplace. Some of these clothing articles accentuate gender or sexuality, while others conceal it or make it mysterious.
Of course all these objects have no intrinsic gender, only the gender we attribute to them. Advertisers are helping us see we can expand our definitions of what is male and what is female and what can be worn and enjoyed by anyone, regardless of where that person self-identifies on the gender spectrum. Last year, for example, we found ourselves working next to a tall, hirsute, muscular man in a frilly pinafore in the Apple Store in Boston. He looked perfectly natural and at ease with himself, and did not attract critical glances. This man is a symbol of the new freedom benefiting all of us.
But there’s more. Marketers have discovered what so many of us already knew—many child-free women have children in their lives as aunts, as other mothers, as patients in their waiting rooms, as customers who need give-aways, as students in their classrooms, and as volunteers at for not-for -profits. The list goes on and on. More than children in their lives, these women also have disposable income.
Marketers like people with money. It motivates them to recognize changes in the American family. Advertisers now show multiracial families, a far cry from the miscegenation laws of the pre-civil rights era. We even see dads taking care of kids and sometimes two dads or two moms in ads. A few years ago, a friend of one of our granddaughters described that she had two moms and had gone to a camp in Truro, Massachusetts, for lesbian mothers and their children. She was unabashed and straightforward in describing her summer experience.
More significantly, our granddaughter was matter of fact about her friend’s family configuration. Subsequently, when laws were liberalized, her biological mother married her partner, to the joy of their families and friends. The American family has changed, is changing more, and so are the lives of all Americans. Marketers may not be leading the charge, but they are actively participating in it and making us all comfortable with new configurations of families.
While the disabled are a niche market now, soon marketers will discover they are a large and growing market. Christina Brinkley of the Wall Street Journal recently published an article about “A New Range of Clothing for People with Disabilities,” testimony to marketers’ recognition of this potentially lucrative niche whose buying power has heretofore largely been neglected. Not only do many of us have temporary disabilities following surgery or with broken bones and the like, but we are an aging population and as we age, things happen.
Imagine stylish dresses with no buttons or zippers for those of us with arthritic fingers. Stylish shoes that don’t topple those with uneasy balance. Long shoehorns for those of us that can no longer reach our feet to don our shoes. Marketers are beginning to realize that those of us in our 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and even 90s, need athletic equipment. We aren’t just sitting around. We’re using snorkels for our arthritic necks and bikes with motors as the hills grow higher. There is opportunity for each of us to create a new business or repurpose an old one.
Eyeglasses are our inspiration, our model of success. Formerly they were a sure sign of geekdom, and are still used in movies today to signal the attractive intellectual woman. Eyeglass makers have created a multimillion-dollar fashion industry with fancy, enticing optical shops, jazzy and conservative frames, and online ordering options.The price range is vast! Pretty soon markets will discover that even obese women want to look fashionable. Pretty soon they might even expand to create inexpensive yet stylish clothing for larger women and men. Check out the clothing at Target, stylish and reasonably priced–it “walks out of the stores.” Oversize t-shirt makers beware! You could have real competition.
The internet allows for greater market segmentation and greater feedback from customers. Let’s let them hear from us! Whoever we are and whatever our needs are. Marketers may not have social motives or even care about social change, but their profit motive leads them to creative solutions to what society demands, and they do expose us and make us comfortable with the facts on the ground.