The Rise of Non-Binary Fashion
Hopefully, it won't be a trend, but a way to respect, support and uplift the genderqueer community.
Some might quip that “non-binary fashion is having a moment,” but is that even true? It isn’t just because of Billy Porter’s internet-breaking tuxedo gown at the Oscars this year. Or because Harry Styles wore a silk moire suit by Harris Reed in the music video for Lights Up, or because Janelle Monae’s red Christian Siriano tuxedo suit that shook up last year’s Vanity Fair Oscar Party, all defining moments in non-binary fashion.
Though, the term “non-binary” saw its rise in the early 2010s, when non-gender bathrooms became more accessible, as have the non-binary forms of photo ID, like drivers’ licenses, that followed. But none of this is new, as androgynous actors like Tilda Swinton have been around for decades; the same with Annie Lennox, who wore a three-piece suit in music videos before any other woman, and fashion icon Grace Jones, who started wearing angular clothing and short hair, since the 1970s.
How did it all begin, you ask? Some say it started when Jonathan Anderson started showing gender-neutral menswear in 2012 when he put male models in frilly shorts and bustiers. There has been no ‘aha’ moment, as it has been a gradual shift from the early 2000s, which was easily about hyper-femininity, as was the rise and fall of Victoria’s Secret models—not to mention the Charlie’s Angels remake in 2003, which still played up cutesy femininity (unlike the new remake with Kristen Stewart in theatres now).
It’s true, that more people in the spotlight are making their wardrobe non-binary, with icons like Billie Eilish wearing oversized jackets, furry pants and clothing referred to as “architectural.” Yungblud, Lil Uzi Vert and actors like Lachlan Watson, who stars in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, are also wearing what Deborah Tolman, a psychology professor at the City University of New York, calls the queering of fashion, jumping outside of gender binary boxes.
Meanwhile, others think it might be from the rise of brands like Collina Strada, as well as models like Rain Dove gracing the covers of magazines, while Jeremy Scott put Violet Chacki on the runway, are part of it, too. Casey Legler, a French model in New York, was the only woman with the Ford modeling agency to land a deal for a male campaign.
Oslo Grace, a non-binary, transgender model has made history walking Paris Fashion Week – for both menswear and womenswear. It’s what the model calls being “the ultimate mix of a boy and a girl.” Andrej Pejic, a Bosnia-born model who has modeled on the runway with Jean Paul Gautier and Marc Jacobs and has been called a “poster boy for high fashion androgyny.”
It’s hard to believe that it was only earlier this year that New York fashion week featured over 30 non-binary models on the runway. Meanwhile, non-binary modeling agencies include My Friend Ned in South Africa, and non-binary models include Elliott Sailors, Stas Fedyanin and Erika Linder.
What about non-binary boutiques? New York’s first gender-neutral boutique is called The Phluid Project, which focuses on gender fluid clothing—as well as a shopping experience with gender-neutral dressing rooms and design layout.
Some of the notable smaller non-binary brands include Ziran, a silk clothing brand founded by Kelly Shanahan, where all the silk is sourced at the Pearl River in China. There are numerous sustainable brands like Zero Waste Daniel upcycles fabrics into full garment pieces, and Cosmos Studios, which uses raw and organic materials to make clothes in a WRAP certified factory. GiDelave uses dyeing technology, which uses fewer chemicals and no waste discharge and MATTER makes sustainable artisan-made dhoti pants with elastic bottoms, in Jaipur, India. And Kirrin Finch is a brand that makes suits and blazers for everyone, in all body shapes, while using low-impact dyes. It isn’t just clothing, either. One432 is a shoe brand modeled after traditional styles found in Pakistan but updates them to be gender fluid, founded by Parsons professor Ammar Bellal. The first line for pregnant non-binary folks is a company called butchbaby & co.
What helps gender-neutral shoppers the most? Shopping for non-binary clothing online. As Christina Orlando points out, the right companies are offering chat-based customer service (where your gender is inconsequential), which includes brands like Kirrin Finch, Rebirth Garments, Premme, VEEA, Radimo, and FLAVNT. Some of the LA-based brands on the rise include 8 Palms, No Sesso, 69 Worldwide and Radino and size-inclusive brand Big Bud Press.
Some media outlets are criticized for covering our “non-binary moment in fashion” as a passing trend (meanwhile, George Michael has been doing it since the 1980s). It also doesn’t help when Zara and H&M sell unisex garments without supporting the community. Big brands like Target and The Gap sell rainbow t-shirts and onesies during Pride season, and as one writer says, it’s as if Pride were a costume, and if being queer was seasonal to summer parades only.
The Business of Fashion notes that gender-neutral fashion might be the future – but it still has a long way to go. There needs to be diversity, inclusion and respecting gender-neutral people as not only “moments” in fashion but as human beings, not only as trends or ideas.
There’s clearly a lot of work that still needs to be done. Gender is Over, a nonprofit supporting the fight for non-binary people goes far beyond the binary divide. “By ‘gender’ we don’t mean ‘gender identities,’ we believe that people’s gender identities and expressions are valid and should be respected,” they note, adding that “we also don’t intend for this to imply that we currently live in a post-gender world: gendered violence & gender inequality are real and pressing issues that require lots of work to dismantle.”
Some might refer to the epic moment of exposure when Rihanna sported wore a tee by Art School, a London-based non-binary label, on Instagram. Art School co-founder Eden Loweth was shooketh. But that’s not to say the work is done. “When we formed Art School, we wanted it to be more than a label, more than just about whacking out clothes on the catwalk, it’s about supporting the rights of our community,” he said.
There is no doubt that “trans is trending,” as some trans artists would say, but non-binary fashion should work to support the community more with casting, paid work and hiring models to wear the clothing that is representative of its community, too. That’s especially the case when it comes to the bigger, corporate monoliths jumping on the non-binary bandwagon. Hopefully, it won’t be a trend, but a way to respect, support and uplift the queer community in various ways.
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