People often use clothing as a way of communicating without words, to tell others what kind of person they are. However, because gender identity is different than gender expression, a person's gender identity may or may not correlate with how they wear their hair or clothes. For example, if someone likes to wear clothes from the women's wear department, or feminine accessories, that doesn't necessarily mean that they identify as a woman. There is no set style or guidelines for nonbinary presentation due to the diversity of identities encompassed within these terms. Clothing links and descriptions may be identity-specific as well as subject to variation by the individual. For example, a person identifying as an androgyne may not necessarily wish to present as androgynous. Some nonbinary people like clothes that don't give any female or male markers (gender-neutral fashion). Other nonbinary people like clothes that mix female and male markers (mixed-gender fashion). Yet other nonbinary people wear clothes that are very similar to either conventional women's wear or conventional men's wear.
A note on language: Although some nonbinary-friendly talk tries not to use this kind of language, this article has to use the phrases "women's wear" and "men's wear" in order to talk about the characteristics of these categories as they are usually sold.
Advice for anyone
Some fashion advice has useful application for people of any gender expression, gender identity, or gender assigned at birth. For example, how to choose clothes that fit well, and that flatter one's figure. For transgender and nonbinary people, the cost of making a change to one's wardrobe can be big. It shouldn't be the biggest cost, so one needs to think about how to make it affordable. This includes how to make a budget, catalog one's wardrobe, plan a minimalist wardrobe, shop cheaply and wisely in second-hand, and easy ways to modify and repair clothes.
Also called "unisex" or "androgynous" fashion, the gender-neutral aesthetic is about avoiding female/feminine markers and male/masculine markers. A person of any gender can use anything from this aesthetic without looking like they are mixing gender markers. The challenge is that some clothing is thought to be gender-neutral, and is closer to that category than anything, but would still look just a little bit out of place if it was in the men's wear section. Because Western culture to a significant degree sees male and masculine as default or unmarked, and because the rules of men's wear are arguably stricter than women's, men's wear tends to unavoidably get (mis)used as gender-neutral. Nonetheless, it is still possible to avoid some explicit masculine markers while pursuing a gender-neutral look.
Elements of fashion that are gender-neutral:
- Colors and patterns. Neutral colors are gender-neutral: white, black, gray, and brown. Most other colors are fine, as well, but avoid colors that are feminine markers, such as pink, purple, magenta, and pastels. Avoid decorations that could be seen as feminine or masculine markers. As a result, a gender-neutral outfit can end up looking practical, austere, or utilitarian.
- Tops. "Men's" hoodie sweatshirts. Some sweaters, depending on the cut. Button-down shirts. Tank tops. Leather or denim jackets. Business blazers. T-shirts are cut differently for men's wear and women's wear, but they wear them interchangeably.
- Bottoms. Jeans. Overalls. Jumpsuits. Shorts aren't gender-neutral, since they're cut much longer in "men's wear."
- Footwear. Sneakers, in particular Converse Allstar. Some styles of boots.
- Hair and headwear. Newsboy caps, although this is debatable.
- Accessories. Gender-neutral neckwear: neckerchiefs, winter scarves, short hemp necklaces. Jewelry: hemp wish bracelets. Gender-neutral bags include briefcases, messenger bags, laptop bags, bum bags, backpacks, and large tote bags.
- This Pinterest board, Gender-neutral expression in clothing, has a collection of pictures of gender-neutral fashion. [Dead link]
The LGBT community often calls this "genderfuck," although some give it a gentler name, such as "genderplay." In clothing, this gender expression combines traits from that which is conventionally considered "women's wear" with "men's wear," though the wearer can identify as any gender. (Gender expression isn't the same as gender identity.)
Some ways to make this mixture:
- Adding one accessory from a different gender expression. For example, an outfit that is conventional "men's wear," except for shoes (particularly heels), jewelry, bags, or tights from "women's wear." It can also mean a conventional "women's wear" outfit with the addition of a tie or practical shoes. Since it's only one accessory, the effect can be striking or subtle. This is a good option for people who want to experiment with mixed gender fashion. If a place seems unfriendly, and one feels unsafe, one needs only remove the accessory.
- Adding one clothing article from a different expression. For example, a skirt.
- Dividing the outfit between a conventionally feminine half and masculine half. This isn't everyday wear, and is usually only done in events such as stage performances, religious rituals, and weddings. The division may be vertical, in which case two tops may be folded up and pinned together, so the garments need not get cut up. The division may also be horizontal. In that case, the outfit may be a masculine hat and top, worn with a skirt and heels.
- Combining aspects of personal grooming from more than one gender expression. For example, wearing both eye makeup and facial hair. To popular perception, some outfits are made mixed-gender by the mere presence of either makeup or facial hair with an outfit that is otherwise conventional "women's wear" or "men's wear." (Note, though, that about 40% of cisgender women have facial hair, so society has only arbitrarily decided that this is not a feminine marker.)
- Combining the form of one gender expression with the color, pattern, or texture of another. For example, redesigning an otherwise masculine article-- such as a rugged hiking boot, business suit, or even just a tie-- so that it has feminine markers such as pastels, florals, or cut-outs.
- This Pinterest board, Mixed gender expression in clothing, has pictures and descriptions of many ways to make this kind of look. [Dead link]
Some fashion is conventionally considered "men's wear," though the wearer need not identify as a man. For the reasons described above, much of gender-neutral and unisex fashion ends up being conventional men's wear. Also, some people who call themselves butch call it a strictly MOGII nonbinary gender identity, which is strongly linked with a masculine gender expression. One variation on butch gender expression is soft butch.
- This Pinterest board, Masculine gender expression in clothing, has pictures and advice about masculine fashion for people of all genders.
- dapperQ: Transgressing men's fashion. A magazine. "dapperQ is the primer style and empowerment website for masculine presenting women and trans-identified individuals. Dubbed GQ for the 'unconventionally masculine,' dapperQ was among the first digital spaces to champion 'menswear' for those traditionally under-served by mainstream menswear media and designers."
- Marimacho. A retailer. "Marimacho is a masculine clothing line for cis women and transmasculine bodies...we offer cis women, trans men and gender [variant] folks the same standards of fit and style available in mainstream menswear." Some retailers and other resources of masculine fashion specifically aren't for cisgender men.
- Saint Harridan. A retailer. A lesbian-run store specializing in suits that have been adapted to better fit people who were assigned female at birth (AFAB).
- Tomboy Tailors (site temporarily down). A retailer and tailor, specializing in men's wear tailored for AFAB people.
There are some differences between conventional men's fashion and butch fashion. Although butch expression is masculine, it doesn't follow or even subverts the rules of conventional men's wear, and has ways of flagging MOGII identity. Some transgender men-- and people of other genders who intend to pass as men-- are surprised to find that what they thought was masculine attire turned out to instead be butch. As a result of their butch attire, people tended to see them as masculine women rather than as men. Gabriel's web-site The FTM's Complete Illustrated Guide To Looking Like A Hot Dude talks about some of these differences.
Called dandy, dapper, and so on, depending on the particular fashion movement and time period. Although this style uses the structure of men's wear, it has an overdressed, ornate quality, sometimes using traits more common in feminine fashion, so it is often called effeminate. Remember, the wearer can have any gender identity. When fancy masculine wear has been considered "men's wear," they've been considered dandies. When seen as "women's wear," it is often "men's wear" that has been slightly modified with decorative touches more characteristic of "women's wear," such as that seen on businesswomen in the 1980s. Either way, the style is much the same for women and men, so this is arguably a unisex fashion.
This style is popular in the butch lesbian and genderqueer communities alike, who call it dandy or dapper. The main trait of that style is that they wear a bow-tie, which is less commonly worn in conventional men's wear.
- This Pinterest board, Dandy gender expression in clothing, shows pictures of many outfits and clothing articles of this style. [Dead link]
- See also the links for the masculine section, above.
Some nonbinary people adopt conventional women's wear as a political statement, to challenge the idea that androgyny and gender-neutrality looks masculine. Also note that some people who call themselves femme say it is a MOGII nonbinary gender identity, which is strongly linked with a feminine gender expression. Some MOGII variations on feminine gender expression are high femme, low femme, and hard femme.
In order to make women's wear fit well on their bodies, some wearers pad and/or tuck.
- This Pinterest board, Feminine gender expression in clothing, has pictures of ways to organize a minimalist wardrobe of feminine attire, and other fashion advice. [Dead link]
There are some differences between conventional women's fashion and femme fashion. Although the latter is a feminine gender expression, and it uses conventional women's wear, it also involves rejecting conventions and flagging a MOGII identity.
Difference between women's and men's wear
When people have a wardrobe of women's wear and men's wear, regardless of whether it's always like that or they are in the middle of a gender transition, they discover many small differences between these kinds of fashion that they never noticed before. It's important to know about these, because some of these differences can make it difficult to mix clothing, or to pass as the gender that one intends. These differences can be summarized as creativity vs. conformity, beauty vs. practicality, and some other differences.
Creativity vs. conformity
Women's wear has more diversity of form, allowing for more creativity in personal expression. For example, the wild variety of different kinds of dresses, each with a dramatically different silhouette. Men's wear outfits look very similar to one another at a glance, with space for personal expression limited to tiny and subtle details. For example, the shape of lapels or color of tie. Men's wear can seem relatively drab and boring, but this simplicity and conformity is an intentional feature, in order to give the impression that one has good composure, and isn't trying to attract attention. Because this attitude is so appropriate for business settings, women's business suits have taken after this.
Beauty vs. practicality
Women's wear is constructed to flatter one's body shape, whereas men's wear is constructed to be practical. As a result, the bad side is that women's wear can be inconvenient. (The exception is in sport and camping gear, where women's wear often matches the practicality and durability of men's.) Some examples of this kind of difference:
- Men's wear often has big pockets. However, having and using pockets can make one's figure look bulky, and one's clothes look lumpy. Women's wear gives up pockets in order to make one's figure have smooth lines. Sometimes this means no pockets at all, or fake pockets. When women's wear has pockets at all, they're half or less the size of pockets in men's wear, and sometimes aren't usable. Because of this, people in women's wear carry their wallet, keys, and other things in handbags. People in men's wear carry their wallet, keys, and other things in their pockets, with no need for a handbag.
- Men's wear tends to have a thicker and warmer construction than the equivalent garments in women's wear. For example, men's sweaters are as warm as they need to be, even if that means they're bulky, but many sweaters for women are as thin as tissue paper. One easily gets too hot in men's, and too cold in women's. This may be part of why men's body language is expansive, spreading limbs out wide and gesturing outward, whereas women's body language is constrictive, keeping limbs close together and gesturing inward. It may be no coincidence that this is also exactly how people move when they are too hot or too cold, respectively.
- Men's wear has a durable construction, made to last for many years. Although there are some odd fads, generally men's wear has a classic look that is unlikely to go too far out of style within twenty years. In contrast, most women's wear is made to last only as long as the fashion season. Their construction and details look nice, but are too flimsy to last through many launderings. This is an intentional feature: it anticipates that the wearer won't want to keep wearing last season, makes way for new fashions, and sacrificing durability allows for more space to experiment with creative expression.
- Women's wear and men's wear have buttons on opposite sides. There was a reason for this, once, but it hasn't been relevant for over a hundred years.
- Trouser sizes are labeled differently. Those for men are labeled with waist size and inseam. Those for women are labeled with a single number that isn't an actual measurement, and which no company uses the same as another.
The ideal solution for the expression of genderfluid people would be fashion that is so flexible that it could be changed from a feminine, masculine, or neutral signifier at any time of the day, possibly without even needing the privacy of a restroom to change. Such clothing is rare, and would be fruitful for clothing designers to explore. List examples here.
- Some bags have their straps on clips. By fastening the straps differently, you can change the same bag from a handbag or shoulder bag to a backpack. For example, this multifunction bag, or some bags made by va.de.neuvo.
- Hats and caps are generally seen as gender-neutral, and if the wearer has hair that flows down to their shoulders, they can tuck their hair into their headwear for a more masculine appearance, and vice versa.
- This Pinterest board, Gender-fluid expression in clothing, has pictures of a few articles of clothing and accessories that could suit this style. [Dead link]
- Raphael Carter, "Angel's Dictionary." 1996-07-14. 
- Julie Bindel, "Women: embrace your facial hair!" The Guardian. August 20, 2010. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/aug/20/women-facial-hair