​Should retailers promote genderless shopping?

A century ago, the high-end British department store Selfridges was founded on the revolutionary idea that shopping should be fun. Now, it's pushing another radical change: genderless shopping.

Through its Agender concept store, Selfridges is selling clothing, accessories and beauty supplies that, it says, "transcend notions of 'his' and 'hers'." While that might seem like a niche market to many Americans, it could just prove to be the future of fashion within the next few years. According to market researcher NPD Group, "our nation is degenderizing," with fashion designers creating genderless fashion in response.

Athletic apparel from brands such as The North Face and Patagonia is often already relatively gender-free, given that hoodies are basically the same whether they're designed for men or women, NPD noted. Other brands are creating unisex lines, such as American Apparel, while high-end fashion designers have long blurred the line between men and women's styles (with mixed success.) The time might be right for such de-gendering in the fashion aisles, NPD noted, pointing out that half of millennials believe that gender exists on a spectrum and shouldn't be relegated to only just "male" or "female."

"Gender and sexuality are no longer the black and white concepts they were years ago," the NPD report noted. "In American business, no area, with the exception of popular entertainment, is blurring the gender lines as quickly as retail."

Target, the arbiter of middle-American style, on Friday said it was moving away from gender-based signs because "we never want guests or their families to feel frustrated or limited by the way things are presented." Target, however, is focusing on areas such as toys, home and entertainment, which may strike shoppers as less charged than messing with fashion.

Target's decision comes after a mother tweeted about visiting a Target when she saw a sign for toys that separated "building sets" from "girls' building sets." The mom, Abi Bechtel, pointed out that the signage reflected how many people think of boys and men as the "default," while women and girls are placed in a special category.

While those designations may be frustrating for some shoppers, there's also a financial reason why a move toward genderless retail could prove beneficial to Americans' wallets: the issue of the "pink tax." Products that are targeted to women, ranging from razors to clothing, are marked up at higher prices than men's. One study found that women can pay up to $1,300 a year more for the identical products that are bought by men. The only difference? The packaging.

That extends to clothing, which is notorious for marking up women's clothing. Even at bargain-conscious Walmart, a six-pack of Hanes men's t-shirts cost $12.46, or $2.08 per shirt. Meanwhile, the lowest-price Hanes t-shirt for women sold by Walmart costs $4 per shirt, or almost double the price that men are paying.

The idea may be easier to swallow for women, since decades of fashion change have given women much more leeway in their fashion choices than men. Even though designers have tried since the 1980s to push the idea of men's skirts, that fashion choice is still largely relegated to cultures where the garment is acceptable on men, such as kilts in Scotland.

As millennials -- now the largest generation in America -- gain more spending power, retailers may respond with additional agender options, aiming to appeal to their fluid view of gender, NPD predicted.

"This genderless approach toward fashion is proving to be more than just a passing fashion -- it's a trend," the report said.