The future is fluid as labels sign up for gender-free fashion

Pop stars and designers drive a growing trend for non-binary outfits

When two of the biggest pop stars on the planet sign up to a fashion movement, you know something must be afoot. On Wednesday, Rihanna posted a photo of herself to her 76.8 million followers on Instagram wearing a T-shirt by London-based fashion label Art School. Last month, Harry Styles put out his video for Lights Up in which he wears a blue silk moire suit designed by long-time collaborator Harris Reed.

Both Art School and Harris Reed identify themselves as non-binary labels. On Instagram, Art School defines itself as “a non-binary queer luxury label”, while Harris Reed is “fighting for the beauty of fluidity”. Despite there being a long history of LGBTQI designers working in fashion (McQueen and Lagerfeld among the most famous), they have notably been cis-identifying, white men. The label of “non-binary” in fashion is new (Collins recently announced it was adding “non-binary” to its dictionaries) and pertinent to a younger generation where more than one in 10 millennials identify as transgender or gender non-conforming. There are a clutch of new fashion labels, from One DNA to Riley Studio, that offer the same clothes to everyone, and where dividing your fashion into gendered lines feels out-of-date.

Rihanna wears Art School in an Instagram post.
Rihanna wears Art School in an Instagram post. Photograph: @badgalriri/Instagram

“Previously, fashion was very binary – it was men’s or women’s, and you never could transgress between the two,” Preston Souza, chief of staff and buyer at The Phluid Project, New York’s first gender-free clothes shop, explained to website Rivet. “And what is really beautiful is that Generation Z is rejecting these labels. Sixty per cent of Generation Z will shop across gendered sections, proof that these binary structures are slowly phasing out.”

Younger stars like Billie Eilish, Yungblud and Lil Uzi Vert dress androgynously and speak openly of shopping across the genders (“The women’s section is waaaaay better than the men’s section,” Lil Uzi Vert told US GQ).

Mainstream fashion is playing catch-up. New York fashion week featured 36 models who identified as transgender or gender non-conforming (30 more than last season), while Pose star Indya Moore was the first non-binary person to be the face of a Louis Vuitton campaign.

“It’s not about a girl wearing a suit or a guy wearing a heel, it’s about you feeling yourself and feeling the fantasy and the look,” designer Christopher John Rogers, who has dressed Michelle Obama, Lizzo and whose label won the prestigious CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award earlier this month, told The Fader. “It’s about queerness in terms of you fully embodying the nuances of yourself when dressing up.”

With high street brands such as Zara and H&M doing gender-neutral lines, this could be the future for fashion. But for the creatives at the heart of this change, there are deeper issues at stake. “To see someone as powerful as [Rihanna] wearing [our label] is really important,” says Eden Loweth, who has run Art School with partner Tom Barratt for three years. For him, “non-binary” is more than a trend: there’s a political element too. “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 [queer]community.”

Eden says that their company is a non-binary one to its core. “Words like ‘queer’ and ‘trans’ are used quite a bit [in fashion] but we are the only brand who work with the entire community,” he says, adding that they do extensive castings, so models are representative of their queer collective. From now on, he says, the onus is on the bigger brands.

“The next step is for fashion to stop seeing gender fluidity as a trend,” fashion and lifestyle blogger Ben Pechey says, “but to see us as real people and ensure that the queer community is given more rights, safety and respect”.


Priya Elan

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Colour is the new black as fashion looks to a bright future
Once the epitome of cool, the dark and moody look is out of favour among a generation tired of bad news and restrictions

Lauren Cochrane

07, Nov, 2021 @10:45 AM

Article image
Too cool for the pool … holidaywear brings summer to the city
Designers from Pucci to Gap, and celebrities such as Rihanna are embracing the beach chic trend for sunny days on urban streets

Ellie Violet Bramley

08, Aug, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
Now interiors are the new black: fashion labels move into homeware design
Buying clothes is so last year: millennials prefer to spend on covetable items for their homes – and top labels are busy offering it

Scarlett Conlon

20, Nov, 2021 @4:28 PM

Article image
Could Rihanna’s new lingerie line turn out to be her greatest hit?
The star’s Savage X Fenty range is stealing the market from Victoria’s Secret

Nosheen Iqbal

08, Sep, 2019 @8:00 AM

Article image
As Alexander Wang basks in praise, has fashion shrugged off #MeToo?
It’s two years since the designer issued a public apology, but his LA show last week was packed, and top models graced the catwalk

Fleur Britten

23, Apr, 2022 @3:01 PM

Article image
Reassuringly expensive: top fashion labels bid to lure elite back
As their super-rich clients get wealthier still, haute couture brands cash in by offering increasingly rarefied fashion

Edward Helmore

11, Jul, 2021 @7:45 AM

Article image
‘A great jewel to send a message’: how men are leading the brooch revival
Once something for gran, brooches are now a feature at fashion shows, and it’s men who are pinning their colours to their lapels

Alice Fisher

19, Mar, 2023 @10:00 AM

Article image
‘Dear Sirs’ goes gender neutral
Top City law firm now addresses all letters ‘Dear Sir or Madam’

Tracy McVeigh and Wail Qasim

17, Sep, 2016 @11:00 PM

Article image
Kiss and make up: doting couples show they care with matching cosmetics
Twinning of mascara, lipstick and eyeshadow is moving into the mainstream, spawning new ranges to meet demand

Leah Harper

10, Nov, 2019 @7:19 AM

Article image
Designer Harris Reed: 'How are we still outraged by me putting Harry Styles in a dress?'
Ahead of London fashion week, the gender-fluid designer talks about courting controversy in Vogue

Morwenna Ferrier

14, Feb, 2021 @9:45 AM