Hi y’all, I’m a graphic designer at a t-shirt shop in Central Texas. I’m also very gay (lol) and have always taken issue with how gendered the clothing industry is, which is why I’m here at r/butchlesbians for some help! I have been tasked with creating an informational PDF to send to our customers that describes things like price breakdown, file specifications, and (here’s the kicker) the difference between men’s and women’s shirt styles. I need some help in coming up with a more gender-neutral way to describe the difference between these two styles!
A little background: shirts advertised as “men’s” are generally cut straight from the shoulder to the hip with wider sleeves, while shirts advertised as “women’s” are generally cut narrower in the waist and sleeve in comparison. In recent years, there has been a shift in clothing manufacturers and sellers alike calling what would be traditionally referred to as “men’s” shirts instead as “unisex,” which I think is great and more true to how that style is actually worn anyway. This change seems to be indicative of a larger cultural shift towards using more gender neutral language. A small example of this being a barber shop here in town referring to what would usually be described as “men’s/women’s” haircuts instead as “long cut/short cut”. This is a great example because not only is it practical (they need to make this distinction because of the price difference between the two cuts) but also inclusive (anyone of any gender can have any length of hair!). I want to do this for t-shirts!
Unfortunately, there is a still a strong cultural and industry-supported trend of referring to the narrow waist/small sleeve style of shirt as “women’s”, for whatever complicated reasons we don’t need to get into here. The truth is, there is a deeply engrained idea of binary gender in our culture, and that idea informs what we think men and women “should” wear. We use gendered terms in the clothing industry as a shortcut for communicating what is essentially just differently cut pieces of fabric that anyone can wear. What I want to do is tap into that deeply engrained idea and use it as a foundation for the understanding of a new shortcut that is free from gender stereotypes and instead uses straightforward language to describe the acutal cut of the garment, not the anticipated audience. I’m sure there are a lot of people (in this community especially) who have never worn a “women’s” shirt, find themselves shopping in the “men’s” section more often than not, and would still consider themselves women! Gendered language in the clothing industry is ultimately not only outdated and harmful, but frankly fails to actually accomplish what it’s supposedly trying to do: describe how something fits on your body. There is no universal “woman” body or “man” body! Not all women like a form-fitting cut! Non-binary people exist! Sometimes men want to accentuate their arms! You get the picture. We can use language that plainly describes the cut of the garment rather that relying on lazy and rapidly changing ideas about gender as a catch-all. It seems kinda silly to me to do anything else, frankly.
I don’t want to give the impression that I believe I can End Gender**TM by changing a couple words in a PDF that is ultimately just a sales tool for t-shirts. I also don’t want to pretend like the concept of binary gender is not something that is still very dominant in our culture, nor do I want to demonize/confuse customers who have only ever seen t-shirts described that way. This info packet is meant to above all be a useful tool for our sales team that clearly answers whatever questions the client’s has, not create new ones. I know my job slinging t-shirts isn’t really that important in the grand scheme of things, but do I think it’s a cool lil’ opportunity to communicate our values (friendliness and inclusivity) as a company (and more importantly the values of the people working here!) directly to our customers.
On a final note, I want to avoid terms like “curvy” or “fitted” – which already describe certain commonly understood styles of cut in our industry. I also want to avoid words like “hourglass” or more obviously “feminine”, because they feed into the same general problem we are trying to solve. Again, the goal is to describe the cut of the garment, not the anticipated audience.
Thanks so much in advance for your time and ideas!
TL;DR How would you describe a “women’s” cut shirt without using gendered language?