Nov 9, 2023
Crafting Your Unique Style:
A Guide to Genderless Clothing and Neutral Outfits
Finnegan Shepard Founder of Both&
If you were to time travel back to any time before the 20th century, you would quickly see a very different relationship between gender and clothing. While there have always been cultural tropes and trends around how gender is represented in clothing, a key transition point in fashion occurred with the invention of mass manufacturing. Before this kind of manufacturing was possible, all clothing was custom. That meant that while the types of styles were gendered along cultural lines, the actual fit of them was not. All bodies were different, and required different patterns.
When mass manufacturing came along and global pressures like the world wars motivated the creation of uniforms along ‘standardized’ body measurements, gender in clothing took a turn. Clothing was split along hyper binary lines, with an ‘average’ cisgender woman and an ‘average’ cisgender man taken as the core fit pattern off of which sizing would be graded.
So what does that mean for you today, if you identify as trans, nonbinary, or gender queer, and don’t want binary clothing? What to do if you are looking for genderless clothing or gender neutral outfits?
Don’t worry, this article is for you. We’ve built a guide that will give you all the information you need.
Understanding the terminology
First off, it’s important to create working definitions for the varied types of clothing that exist outside of binary fashion. While there is no set or singular definition, it’s worth pointing out what we see as some of the common similarities and differences.
Gender neutral clothing is clothing that aims to be worn by anyone, regardless of the sex they were assigned at birth (and the body proportions that are correlated with secondary sex characteristics and hormones). It tends to be on the baggier side, which increases the likelihood of more people being able to wear it. The pros of this kind of clothing is that it is the most inclusive: it welcomes literally anyone and everyone to wear it. The cons are that because it is made for everyone, it is also in a way made for no one in particular: the fit isn’t made to be very flattering for any specific kind of body.
Gender-fluid clothing. This term has become more prominent in recent years but still doesn’t have a set definition. Many people in the fashion world argue about what exactly it means, and whether it is any different from gender neutral clothing. For the purposes of this article, we are going to refer to gender-fluid clothing as a term that refers more holistically to presentation: it isn’t a singular garment that is gender fluid, but rather the pairing of different garments, accessories, and other means of self-presentation that creates an appearance commonly read as gender fluid.
Gender affirming clothing is clothing that addresses the needs and wants of gender more specifically. This can apply to functional wear, such as binders (which address the desire for AFAB, masc presenting people to have a flat chest), the gaff (which addresses the desire for AMAB femme presenting people to be able to comfortably and effectively tuck), as well as clothing made by companies like Both& Apparel that have specifically altered the proportions of clothing to create the desired fit and silhouette for transmasc and nonbinary people. In this model, clothing or functional wear is designed to meet a specific need and deliver a specific outcome.
Ultimately, while the solutions and literal fit of these clothing categories differ, they share a fundamental philosophy, which is that not all clothing should fit into the limited boxes set out by cisgender fashion.
The rise of gender neutral brands
Today, 25% of Gen Z have rejected a binary worldview. That is roughly 650 million people worldwide who don’t fit themselves into the box of ‘male’ or ‘female.’ It is no surprise then that over the last decade, and especially the last five years, we have seen a rise of brands that aim to serve this new audience.
As discussed in the introduction, the rise of gender neutral brands is also a rebellion against the unnatural and unhelpful restriction of cisgender fashion over the last century. The mass commodification and production of clothing has made it so that not only style is limited by gender tropes, but that the literal fit is as well.
Let’s explain this through a story of a transmasc identified person we will call Adam. Adam is 17 years old, and lives in Arizona. Assigned female at birth, Adam has always identified as male, and dressed predominantly in his older brother’s hand me down clothing as a kid. In elementary school and middle school, Adam was read as a tomboy. By high school, with the onset of puberty, Adam became increasingly uncomfortable in his body and in the way clothes fit (or didn’t) fit him. Luckily, Adam has very supportive parents that he was able to talk to about all of this with, and over the last few years he has been on HRT. He is hoping to get top surgery soon. In the meantime, Adam experiences quite acute dysphoria around his chest (which he binds), and his hips, which are much wider than he would like, and which make wearing men’s pants pretty much impossible, because he would need to wear a size with such a large waistband that proportionally the inseam (or length) looks clownish on him. As a result, Adam has taken to wearing cheap joggers for boys he’s found online. They fit him alright, but he longs to be able to wear a pair of men’s straight cut jeans that actually fit his body. Unfortunately, he is marooned between two impossible options: wear men’s jeans that are so oversized as to be comical, or wear women’s jeans which technically fit him better from a sizing perspective, but which create a form hugging silhouette that is the exact opposite of what he wants.
Sadly, Adam’s story is a common one. It is the by product of a fashion world defined by cisgender fit and sizing patterns, that is fundamentally not inclusive for folks who identify outside the gender binary. The good news is that this problem is being tackled by a number of brands who see how big a problem this is and are coming up with a variety of solutions.
Styling Gender-Neutral Outfits
There are two ways to go about building a gender-neutral outfit. The first is to create a gender-neutral vibe by styling yourself with garments from ‘both sides of the aisle.’ That is, to create a different vibe around gender by pairing cisgender male clothing and accessories with cisgender female clothing and accessories. For instance, a pair of baggy men’s jeans with a silky femme blouse with a butch vest. Many people who choose this as their base approach also do a lot of thrifting and DIY to their clothing. This is a very creative approach and can lead to some awesome styles, like the following:
The challenge/con of this approach is that the clothing put together doesn’t always feel the most gender affirming on the body, depending on dysphoria, and it is also hyper dependent on working really hard to source and put together outfits that feel right. Many people report needing to buy multiple sizes from a brand to see if any of them even fit, or to be constantly thrift shopping in the hope that they can find something.
Another approach is to build a gender affirming base wardrobe and then ‘play’ on top of that. By this we mean buying clothing in fits that are gender affirming (if you are AFAB and want a masc silhouette, then this is often based around clothes that emphasize muscle and create a square shape while avoiding cling and curves), and then adding accessories/flair/whatever other style elements feel good to you.
This approach starts with a less creative foundation (build your gender affirming basics), but ultimately provides an ease and freedom, since you have your bases covered.
Gender Fluid Fashion: Beyond the Binary
One of the beautiful and encouraging things about living in the time period that we do, with the access the internet provides, is that we can be inspired by each other’s stories. All over the world, gender queer people are deciding for themselves what feels right in terms of gender expression and presentation, and unlike prior time periods, we are now able to see that in action. That has created a kind of groundswell movement of inspiration in a community that has always been creative. There are queer fashion shows, queer fashion conferences, queer fashion brands. On social media, trans, nonbinary, and gender queer people have taken to sharing their styling tips and ‘get ready with me’ videos. While it can be overwhelming amidst this explosion of inspiration to find the right path for yourself, it’s also an exciting time to be exploring your gender presentation through clothing.
Shopping guide: finding your right fit
Finally, we want to leave you with a few tips on navigating this exploding space. The first question to ask yourself is: “how important is fit to me?”. If Adam’s story resonates with you, and you find yourself thinking things like: “I just want a suit that fits me well so I can look super suave at my friend’s wedding,” or “if I could just have a perfect white tee that makes me look like Jeremy Allen White,” then you need to prioritize building a gender affirming base wardrobe. Brands like Both& Apparel have focused exclusively on this, building the world’s first transmasc fit and sizing system so that the base fit patterns are optimized for AFAB folks who want a masculine silhouette.
You can explore some of Both&’s best sellers here:
Alternatively, if you are looking to piece together a gender neutral wardrobe from pairing cisgender men and cisgender women’s clothing, then a good place to start is by thrifting or through online marketplaces like Depop.
Let us know what you found helpful in this article, and what burning questions you still have, we’re here to help!