Diverse Customer : Shoutout : John Lewis + The Gender Neutrality Debate in Beauty, and The Birth of a New Customer

Image: Get Surrey

Once upon a time, there were only two sexes, male or female. Anything in between was considered too inessential to warrant a categorization. Thankfully, we are out of the dark ages but the shadows still lurch about here and there that denies the parallel lifestyle of today's men and women who want their clothing choices to be able to perform and reflect that confluence.

The "nouveau sexist" (or people who have to be gender specific all the time) might be having a field day labelling any form of gender neutrality as a passing trend, trolling, denying and abusing anything that doesn’t fit their norm of normalness but there is already a sensibility of duality, plurality, androgyny, unisexualism in existence, in full force now, and in the process creating a whole new customer identity, shedding traditional stereotypes and social constructs of male and female.

I frequent beauty counters at Sephora, Boots, Superdrug and there isn't any MAC, Chanel, Benefit Cosmetics, Bobbi Brown products and Real Techniques professional makeup brushes, spongers, applicators I haven't tried on my skin.

And, I'm not alone. Many men use make-up products. Most make-up brands specially make products for women and they don't mince words in making that specification. They clearly only sell to women. Many others launch a male cosmetic line that has mandatory "Man" written on the labels, as if secretly trying to absolve men of any perceived shame in using make-up products meant for women. The labelling isn't limited only to beauty. The reasons why men use make-up products isn't any different from that of women. Foundation to smooth out bumps and narrow features, Treating dark circles and other blemishes with concealer, trim, shape and groom eyebrows. Supple wholesome lips with neutral shades and gloss, men commit to a daily skin care routine as well, if not as much as women do.

Let us analyse some “Man” Labels:

Moisturizing lotions are so passé and men are using whitening & lightening, Eye and Anti-aging creams that have increasingly become a staple of a modern man's must-have grooming kit, So Man-icuresMan-facials, Man-Spas, Man-polish.. Because, Hollywood hot crop like Brad Pitt, Zac Efron, Johnny Depp and David Beckham painted their nails? Man-buns - well now! Meggings because too many Men in "Tights" literally, the Man-leggings become a fashion staple sometime back. Man-spanx - Magic knickers, waist cinchers, man-corsets, mirdle etc. etc. from full body shapers, butt shapers, chest shapers thigh shapers, waist shapers to torso enhancers, abs enhancers and the list is endless! Man-scaping: A term came into use to describe the process of trimming or eliminating body hair. Smooth and well-groomed! Man-heels: Platforms and enormous wedges and I'm not talking about boots for desert safari or rock climbing. Or, platform heels to counter dwarfism of sorts, Man-clutch Man-Purse! The list goes on, Enough said! 

As gender norms continue to loosen, regardless of sexual orientation, almost everything concerning gender perception of femininity and machismo has gone into a constant state of influx and evolution and inadvertently has become an agent of change - forming a spectrum of gender dichotomy that is fluid and ever evolving.

There is a whole new industry that’s re-birthing, re-inventing, being re-written and re-wired as we speak! Infact, this has also spawned a whole new dimension of diversity. John Lewis has introduced ‘gender neutral’ labels on children’s clothing, that has invited a lot of flak. It is unfortunate that this highly progressive stance and possibly the first department store to have ditched reinforcing "gender stereotypes" has met with such regressive tirade. 

Anyhow, when brands are driven by social change, they seldom fail. There may be customers who would want to boycott the store but frankly, John Lewis has gained much in galvanizing its brand image and also opening doors to fashion and luxury labels in the creation, and, retailers to retail gender-neutral collections that have a huge potential and a ready diverse customer base.    

-Amit Anand