If you speak with any fashion historian, you’d know that androgynous clothing is not a trend that’s emerged these past few years. Though, the uptick in nonbinary dressing by celebrity couples and men donning jewels doesn’t hurt. Some of the most prolific designers (Coco Chanel, Yohji Yamamoto, and Phoebe Philo) built their reputations on challenging the gender binary through crisply tailored clothing. Of course, any designer can create clothing that challenges the rules of gendered fashion—suiting has stayed trending on the runway for a few seasons now, and unisex clothing can be, well, anything. But what makes nonbinary clothing great moves beyond just labeling it as such. It requires true skills.
Any brand can drop a collection of “androgynous” sweatpants and say it’s inclusive, but that doesn’t mean it’s stylish. I’m not trying to be gauche or bash anyone’s love for sweatpants (you do you), but the point is that dressing in a nonbinary way doesn’t mean you don’t want crisp tailoring, luxurious fabrics, or sultry pieces. And luckily for us, there is a wave of contemporary fashion brands that understand just that. These 14 androgynous fashion brands continue to move beyond the boundaries, one garment at a time.
The idea that androgynous clothing is somehow niché is debunked time and again by one brand: Telfar. While it’s far past a blow-up moment, the brand has become beloved by many (including Beyoncé) for its practical tote bags that sell out in mere seconds. You have to respect how Telfar Clemens, as a designer, has been able to use collaborations with Ugg, Moncler, and even the Liberian Olympic team to expand our collective notions about what nonbinary clothing looks like. Through its athleisure apparel and accessories, the brand embodies the ethos that fashion is for everybody.
Here at Who What Wear, we live for a risqué trend. Give us built-in G-strings, full-body cutouts, and micro miniskirts, and our Slack conversations will be lit up. But no other designer has a grip on the conversation like the self-taught designer Victor Barragán. What started as a hobby for the Mexico City–born designer back in 2015 has blossomed into a sex-positive, gender-fluid fashion label and a 2019 CFDA award nominee. And while the accolades and low-rise pants can catch the attention of anyone, what really makes Barragán’s work so unique is the intimacy he brings to each piece. Close-up, you can see his creativity in his use of layered sheer lace to create a cutout tank or how a pair of corduroy pants are reworked with knee-high slits and detachable legs. It's this attention to detail that reminds us that the truest form of erotica is creativity.
Charles Jeffrey Loverboy
Many people debate about whether fashion is political. “It’s just a skirt or just a suit,” some naysayers may argue. But while the Glaswegian designer may never set out to create “political” fashion, Charles Jeffery’s presentations season after season are just that. In truth, if you identify yourself as among the marginalized, your very existence and what you choose to wear are always political—a truth that bubbles below the surface of the Victorian-collared button-downs on men and the deconstructed Scottish tartan trousers on women in the Loverboy S/S 22 collection. It’s Jeffery’s infusion of couture-inspired tailoring with punk aesthetics that reminds us the best fashion comes from the fringes.
Photo:Courtesy of Eckhaus Latta
Founded by Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta in 2011, Eckhaus Latta has become ubiquitous within the industry for its melding of contemporary art and fashion. This genderless label’s fashion shows have long been the talk of the fashion set. They regularly have the most inclusive casting and aren’t afraid to incorporate installations and performances that tinge on raunchy at times. These aren’t the sole reasons this brand continues to be one watch. It boils down to the label’s LVMH award–winning designs. The designers’ ability to play with proportions in the form of multi-tonal knits, cutout tanks, and tie-dye denim brings a whole new meaning to the term wearable art.
Aimé Leon Dore
I’ll never forget the first time I passed Aimé Leon Dore’s brick-and-mortar shop. Situated in the hustle and bustle of Nolita, a chic crowd of women and men stood outside sipping on cups of coffee and waiting to get into the space. While most stores with lines outside get an eye roll from me and my immediate desire to speed-walk past, Aimé Leon Dore did nothing of the sort. This could be because it attracts a crowd of laid-back artists and fellow editors, but it has more to do with the label’s down-to-earth take on streetwear. The brand creates richly designed pieces—from double-breasted wool coats to two-tone penny loafers to chunky cable-knit sweaters—that don’t scream “trapped in hype” but are worth hyping up.
There are so many new androgynous fashion brands claiming to be revolutionizing the industry, but LGBQT+ designer Jackie Yang is out here doing the work. Determined to challenge and transcend gender norms through casual tailored pieces, Yang founded the rising gender-fluid label Jacq. Not only is there more thought put into staples (like adding multiple buttons to ensure it fits every type of body type), but the label also sources sustainable and vegan-friendly fabrics for every piece. So you can shop soundly knowing that there’s no detail skipped over with this brand.
The adage “Don’t sweat the details” doesn’t apply to what’s made Bode’s unisex brand successful. Founded by Emily Bode Aujla in 2016, the label started as a couture studio. Since then, the brand has expanded to a ready-to-wear androgynous label that has changed the industry’s perspective on menswear, size inclusivity, and sustainability on a micro and macro level. Every piece uses vintage fabrics paired with female-centric sewing crafts like quilting, appliqué, and mending. The result is showstopping shirts adorned with buttons and bomber jackets covered in vintage patches. Once you see just one piece from Bode, you understand why the designer has won not one but two CFDA awards. With pieces designed this good, it’s hard not to sweat the brand.
Few designers can really take a hiatus from the industry and come back even better than before. But then again, most aren’t the Williamsburg-based Dominican designer Raul Lopez. Lopez has long been a force within the fashion industry for years. He co-founded Hood by Air in 2006, was a 2018 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist, and has become known globally for his groundbreaking androgynous designs. His return from his hiatus to launch Luar has shaken the fashion set (for a good reason). Not only was his debut presentation at New York Fashion Week S/S 22 magic, but his newest handbag, the Ana, has also become an It bag in a matter of months. (It’s even been spotted on It girl Dua Lipa.) If the past few months have shown us anything, it’s that the fashion guys and girlies need to keep their eyes on Lopez.
If you’re anything like me, at least once a month, you’ll have an existential crisis about how much waste fast fashion creates. It’s estimated that over 208 million pounds of trash were produced from single-use outfits in 2019 alone. And while there are a plethora of ways to reduce your wardrobe’s carbon footprint, supporting businesses that center sustainability, like Bobblehaus, is one way to do so. Founded by two Chinese Americans, Ophelia Chen and Abi Lierheimer, the brand uses only deadstock and Tencel fabrics in its production process, which are naturally decomposable. But considering the fact that the label creates the coolest printed androgynous suiting and colorful athleisure apparel you’ve ever seen, it’s safe to say you won’t be tossing any of its pieces.
It may not be the intention, but the inherent mistake most brands make is dictating what consumers should wear by categorizing pieces as womenswear or menswear. This fallacy led Pierre Davis and Arin Hayes to start their fashion label, No Sesso, in 2015. Each piece of clothing is unique not just because it gives the buyer the ability to dictate how they want to present themselves to the world, but with a focus on reconstructed materials, hand-embroidery, and tailoring for each body type, this brand reminds us that great style isn’t limited to one sex.
Based on assumptions, you’d never think that one of the coolest androgynous brands of the moment would be based out of Lahore, Pakistan, but that’s just because you might not know about Rastah. Founded by three cousins (Zain, Ismail, and Adnan Ahmad) in 2018, the brand has been redefining genderless apparel through its fusion of traditional artisan Pakistani craftsmanship and streetwear silhouettes. The result is limited-edition athleisure pieces adorned in conventional patterns, block-printed art from local artisans, and handmade pieces that challenge boundaries of all kinds.
Exploring race, sexuality, and identity is no easy task, yet no other designer does it with as much fluidity as Johannesburg-based designer Rich Mnisi. The first time I stumbled upon the designer’s work, I was immediately enraptured by a sea of whimsical maximalist prints on men and women. But don’t be fooled. Bright prints and dramatic tailoring aren’t the only reason to pay attention to this brand. Each collection is not only an homage to Mnisi’s South African heritage, but the brand has also been challenging gender norms and implementing sustainable production practices since 2014. Basically, the brand is designing the things we editors dream of.
Photo:Courtesy of Wales Bonner
British Jamaican designer Grace Wales Bonner walked so that other androgynous designers could run. All joking aside, when fashion editors think of truly stylish gender-fluid fashion brands, it always comes back to Wales Bonner. While the label has been around since 2014 and has garnered a slew of awards—including the LVMH Prize and the CFDA Award for International Men’s Designer of the Year in 2021—it’s still a brand to watch because of how the designer weaves together the tapestries of identity, history, and design into pragmatic pieces. What other designer is drawing inspiration from Harlem’s ballrooms and jazz stars or the prestigious royal courts of Ethiopia? Bonner’s exploration and embodiment of the African diaspora through tailored trousers and embroidered sweaters is a subtle lesson in subverting systems of oppression that tell us who we should be before we’ve had the chance to choose for ourselves or dress for ourselves.
Some of the greatest talents have come from Texas: Beyoncé, Tom Ford, and Kenneth Nicholson. If you haven’t heard of Nicholson, don’t fret, as the now L.A.-based designer is still newer to the block. He started his menswear label back in 2016 and recently expanded his brand to be genderless. Despite being more recent to the industry, he’s managed to not only become a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist but was also a nominee for the 2021 Emerging Designer of the Year award. And when you see his work, you’ll get it. Challenging masculinity and femininity requires excellent tailoring skills, which is ample in Nicholson’s work. Whether it’s floral-printed trousers or a full-length lace slip dress, each piece fits men and women, making him a rising star in my book.
Kenneth Nicholson’s pieces are not on sale yet, but you can follow the brand for updates.