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Updated on Aug 31, 2020. Posted on May 27, 2015

10 Badass People Proving Androgynous Fashion Is What You Make It

"You can dress braver than you feel."

by ,
Sarah Karlan/ BuzzFeed

BuzzFeed reached out to some beautiful people who are taking androgynous fashion and making it their own. We asked about everything — from style icons to the anxieties that come up when your clothes don't fit people's expectations — to explore the perceived connection between gender, fashion, and sexuality. Here are the things they shared:

1.

Ari Fitz
BuzzFeed/Karlan

Fitz is the creator of Tomboyish, an androgynous style web series.

How do your clothes make you feel?

Ari: You serious? When I get dressed, I feel swaggy AF. When I'm well-dressed for an event or meeting, there's absolutely nothing that can stop me. That's how my clothes make me feel: unstoppable.

On identifying with labels and androgyny:

Ari: I never felt comfortable with "butch" or "stud," although I used to feel pressure to use them. "Androgynous" is the most comfortable term for me; androgynous seems the most fluid. Lately, I've grown to love the term "tomboyish" and use it for my style series now. Tomboyish has a more playful and fun connotation. I use it to describe the individuals I feature on the series because "tomboy" somehow relates to more people, queer and otherwise.

What are the biggest misconceptions people have about you based on your style?

Ari: IThat I like girls, which is true, but problematic. I'm annoyed by this "dress like a lesbian" trope we throw around. Androgyny is not reserved for a subset of people. Clothing is not reserved for a subset of people. That's why I never try to harp on the lifestyles of the subjects I shoot for Tomboyish, just the fashion.

On fashion inspiration:

Ari: Most of my friends or the people I capture on camera are my style icons now. Well, maybe Kanye. In fact, I did a style video on how to achieve his style a couple months back. OK, and A$AP Rocky. He's next up on my series.

Has your personal style changed over the years? How so?

Ari: I get dressed for myself now. When I first came out, I dressed very masculine because I thought that's what my lover wanted. I met another girl and I dressed more girly because I thought my masculine side turned her off. Over the years, I've recognized masculinity and femininity are not in opposition. I can acknowledge and exhibit all sides of myself without losing me — and the right person will love it all.

What problems do you run into while shopping for your preferred style?

Ari: I remember some guys in Amsterdam were very confused about who and what I was when I was shopping in the mens section a few weeks back. I think all of it is funny now — so maybe shopping can be tricky. I'm doing more and more shopping online and in vintage stores (which surprisingly don't have those issues), so that helps.

Share an embarrassing fashion moment:

Ari: I have 1,000! I make them daily. I'm still finding my voice aesthetically. When I was young, the goal when getting dressed was to shock as many people as possible. Head-to-toe felt? Sure, why not. Nowadays, I think my embarrassing fashion moments happen when I don't think about the way my body interacts with my clothing. I have a long torso, I'm very lanky... I can't run around in a super-long-length tee. It's just no bueno. But, I try it all anyway. That's part of the fun. People who get fashion — to me — are those that take risks then put it on Instagram like, "try me."

Sarah Karlan/BuzzFeed

2.

King Texas
King Texas
BuzzFeed/Karlan

Bailey is the inaugural director of the Office of LGBTQ Student Life at Harvard College and a member of The Brooklyn Boihood.

How do your clothes make you feel?

Dr. Van Bailey: Clothes make me feel like I can define myself for myself. However, as a person who is considered full-figured, visible role models when it comes to queer style is limited.

On identifying with labels and androgyny:

Dr. Van Bailey: I identify as a masculine of center trans* person, which I think makes room for all types of fashion possibilities.

What are the biggest misconceptions people have about you based on
your style?

Dr. Van Bailey: It's interesting. I think style, race, class, and assumed level of education are closely linked. For example, when I'm at work, people have no problem asking for directions to a certain venue if I'm in one of my tailored suits, but on days that I may want to rock my leather pants and hoodie, no one will even make eye contact with me.

On fashion inspiration:

Dr. Van Bailey: Jay Z, the new jack swing era, and the Harlem Renaissance.

We've discussed chest binding on our site; is this something that's relevant to your personal style?

Dr. Van Bailey: Not currently, but it used to be. It's especially challenging when you need to go try things on and want to work with a styling professional in that store. There definitely needs to be more resources and shared knowledge regarding the politics of body image for all genders and expressions.

Share an embarrassing fashion moment.

Dr. Van Bailey: Honestly, I wore heels at my undergraduate graduation and it just was not the business. My mother begged me to wear them and it was one of the biggest mistakes. Not only did I look a mess, I wasn't comfortable. I was limping by the end of the procession and I thought I was going to fall at least 10 times. One thing will always stick with me from that day: "Know thyself."

King Texas
King Texas
BuzzFeed/Sarah Karlan

3.

Sam Murray / Via qwearfashion.com
BuzzFeed/Sarah Karlan

Oram is the founder of the Qwear fashion blog.

How do your clothes make you feel?

Sonny: When they fit really well, I feel empowered and less dysphoric about my body.

On identifying with labels and androgyny:

Sonny: I tend to stay away from these words (butch, androgynous, etc.) for myself because none of them really fit. I prefer to just say that I love traditional menswear.

What are the biggest misconceptions people have about you based on your style?

Sonny: When I'm dressed dapper, people think I'm going to be really serious, but I'm actually a complete goofball.

On fashion inspiration:

Sonny: People on the street wearing basketball shorts and brightly colored sneakers influence me, as well as the street style photographed during Milan Fashion Week because they have a lot of men carrying clutches and wearing crazy patterns. I look up to blogger Anthony Urbano a lot too.

Has your personal style changed over the years?

Sonny: I used to wear a tie every day, and I've loosened up a lot since then. I had to get the ties out of my system.

Do you experience any inconveniences while shopping for your preferred style?

Sonny: The biggest issue is that I often need to get men's shirts a size up because they won't fit over my hips. It's also very difficult to find men's shoes that fit.

We've discussed chest binding on our site; is this something that's relevant to your personal style?
Sonny: I used to bind before I had top surgery, but I bound for gender dysphoria, not for style purposes.

Share an embarrassing fashion moment:

Sonny: I used to just buy everything in one color and think it would make my whole wardrobe match.

Sam Murray
Sam Murray
Sarah Karlan/BuzzFeed

4.

Cory Wade
Sarah Karlan/BuzzFeed

Wade's best known for placing third on the 20th cycle o f America's Next Top Model.

How do your clothes make you feel?

Cory: My clothes make me feel fierce, fabulous and most importantly: confident. You should always feel confident in the clothes you choose to style yourself in.

On identifying with labels and androgyny:

Cory: When I was in theater school, I was told to "butch it up" all the time so I don't really like that word but at the same time, I know that there is a community of women who identify as "butch" with great pride. This is how human beings are trained to function. We categorize things in an effort to help us better understand them. I like the word "androgynous" because it doesn't require you to be either masculine OR feminine. Androgyny doesn't require you to take on either of those classifiable roles and to me, that is a truly beautiful thing. We can have an easier time being ourselves when we don't have to focus on fitting into these specific boxes.

On fashion inspiration:

Cory: Grace Jones, Boy George and David Bowie are all great style inspirations of mine. I love the 80's andro glam look. People back then weren't afraid to use bold colors and outrageous silhouettes. It looks like it would've been fun to be a fashionista in those times.

What are the biggest misconceptions people have about you based on
your style?

Cory: Apart from some bigoted reactions I get from time to time in response to what I wear (mostly just from some insecure straight masculine men on the internet), there really aren't many misconceptions in reference to my style that I notice. I would hope that the misconception people have about me is that I am some sassy unapproachable diva who is just too fierce to be bothered. Obviously that is not the case when it comes to me… but I'd like it to look that way! I can dream, right?

Has your personal style changed over the years?

Cory: The first time I decided to try expressing myself through fashion, I was in middle school and the style I took on was full on Goth. I would wear big black parachute pants, studded belts and those jelly wristbands (which apparently had different sexual meanings according to what color you wore… I had no idea). When I became a theater geek during my freshman year of high school, I started to incorporate more color… I was still an awkward kid with very little fashion sense but I pushed myself to at least try. My style changed for the better once I started hanging out with my drag queen friends in the "Gayborhood" of my hometown. I remember watching what they would wear and finally understanding how to accurately express myself using fashion as the medium. My style is always developing and always changing slightly. The more culture I experience along my journey, the more daring I become to try new things.

Do you experience any inconveniences while shopping for your preferred style?
Cory: Currently, the world is not tailored to meet the needs of a man who likes to dress with a feminine edge. If I feel like getting a pair of heels to compliment an extremely bold look I have planned, I am bound to run into trouble because anatomically a man's foot is naturally larger than a woman's and we are still trained to believe that high heels were meant for women exclusively (even though the truth is that high heels weren't meant for anyone… seriously no man or woman was ever meant to walk with their feet contorted like that). The day that we can all just realize how contrived fashion is will be the day that we can stop styling ourselves within the confines of what society says we are aloud to wear according to our gender assignments.

Share an embarrassing fashion moment:

Cory: My most embarrassing fashion moment stands out in my mind so vividly. It was my first time performing in drag at one of my favorite gay bars in my hometown. I knew NOTHING about my style at that point. I also had no idea how to put on makeup. I wore an ugly pink tutu over top of a skimpy gray tube top dress. I wore a bra with STRAPS under it too! It was a complete fail… a travesty.

Jared Gruenwald
Sarah Karlan/BuzzFeed

5.

AmbersCloset
Sarah Karlan/BuzzFeed

Washington dishes out fashion (and life) advice on her YouTube channel Amber's Closet.

How do your clothes make you feel?

Amber: My clothes make me feel comfortable! For years I tried to hide my sexuality by trying to be feminine because I felt like that is what society was pushing onto me. But when I decided that I'm done with that, I was able to let my true self shine. I do not wear things in order to stand out, but I think when you are comfortable in your own skin, it naturally catches people's attention.

On identifying with labels and androgyny:

Amber: I do call myself androgynous or stem. Stem is a word for lesbian women that are in the middle category — if you're not feminine or a stud (butch), then you're somewhere in the middle.

What are the biggest misconceptions people have about you based on your style?

Amber: I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that I want to be a man. Just because I dress tomboyish or masculine does not mean I do not want to be a woman, but for people that are not used to seeing someone like me, that is the first conclusion that they draw in their mind.

On fashion inspiration:

Amber: As far as being a tomboy, my fashion icons growing up were Aaliyah and TLC. I love the '90s look and I love how they were able to pull off the feminine aspect of wearing men's clothing and making it sexy to the world! I would say that I grab inspiration from trendsetters such as my fellow androgynous friends and style icons such as Kanye West.

Has your personal style changed over the years?

Amber: I used to be very opposite from the day to the night, by dressing in girly business chic in the day and then looking like a rapper at night. But nowadays I blend those two style together and I am that person all day! My style is much more fitted and refined than it used to be. I wear higher-end clothing with a mix of thrift-store items and local clothing lines.

Do you experience any inconveniences while shopping for your preferred style?

Amber: Yes! Sometimes it's so frustrating that while I'm in the store shopping in the men's section, they try to send me to the women's dressing room. It's ridiculous to me, especially when they're on separate floors. I have to go back and forth if I don't grab my perfect size the first time. Plus it makes me feel singled out when I get shooed away.

Share an embarrassing fashion moment:

Amber: I think it was embarrassing when I used to wear pants and shirts that weren't tailored to my body — or wearing a dress to a party because I felt like a suit would be inappropriate, so I stayed uncomfortable all night.

AmbersCloset
AmbersCloset

6.

JL Brown
BuzzFeed/ Karlan

Lauren works as a civil rights attorney at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and is a a collective member of the Brooklyn Boihood.

How do your clothes make you feel?

Zahyr: I did not have control over my own clothing choices until I was in high school. Being forced to wear dresses and skirts was a bit torturous. Choice is what clothing represents to me. Whether I get them from the Goodwill, or from somewhere fancy, the fact that I made the choice to put that piece of fabric on my body represents a level of autonomy that feels amazing. I command my own presence. I create and reaffirm myself every day. I walk as a prince without shame.

On identifying with labels and androgyny:

Zahyr: I identify as a transmasculine third gender trans human. For me this means my style is limitless.

What are the biggest misconceptions people have about you based on your style?

Zahyr: Like a true Cali boi, I wear a lot of baseball caps and hoodies. When not at work, my pants are often a bit on the baggy side. I do not walk behind white women on the street (especially at night), and I avoid police at all costs. Racism is real. When I am perceived as a black masculine person, misconceptions go hand in hand with racial stereotypes. This is always interesting for me because in the land of respectability politics, one is fed the fable that if you are what I am (a lawyer), you will automatically earn respect in America. However, my style as a black masculine person is often read as threatening — so it's hard to separate what is misconception based on style, and what is simply the result of racism because the two go hand in hand. As a black person I cannot tease parts of myself out of the equation. Any way you cut it, I find those who judge folks based on their style (particularly when we talk about baggy pants and baseball caps and blackness) generally incapable of a certain level of intellectual thought. As a super-privileged light-skinned person who gets read as criminal or threatening, I know it's even worse for my black and brown family members who are darker-skinned and without as much privilege. As a lawyer, I have seen what that looks like. Misconceptions created and encouraged by the power structure have altered the lives of so many in really negative ways.

On fashion inspiration:

Zahyr: Some of my fashion icons are the men over at Street Etiquette. Eliezer Infante. The stylist Van Bailey, and my big brothers JL and Skyler Brown.

Has your personal style changed over the years?

Zahyr: I think style evolves with life. Experience and feeling shapes what feels good on your body. As I grow more and more inspired to train my body and be in touch with myself, my clothing has become more and more tailored. The need to hide decreased steadily as I built confidence. Sharp lines and tailored clothing is a preference now. I used to be really, really baggy. Obviously, baggy clothes are not about hiding for everyone — I am just expressing my own experience.

Do you experience any inconveniences while shopping for your preferred style?

Zahyr: I know so many folks who are constantly inconvenienced when shopping. I have the privilege of inhabiting a body that is acceptable by American fat-phobic, differently abled-phobic, curve-phobic standards. That said, I usually find my size.

We've discussed chest binding on our site; is this something that's relevant to your personal style?

Zahyr: Chest binding is a constant consideration and a constant annoyance for me. Again, I am lucky to have a body that is not so terribly outside of alignment with my gender that I suffer constantly. However, I am still ever vigilant and ever wary about the way my button-downs look. I strive for as masculine a presentation as possible. Binders are difficult to get on on a daily basis. I actually hurt myself trying to squeeze into one on a few different occasions. I accidentally wore one to the gym and thought I was going to die of suffocation when I started working out. My relationship with them is a love-hate one. Binders are relatively accessible for folks with enough privilege and access to purchase them. Top surgery not so much. So I continue to bind.

Share an embarrassing fashion moment:

Zahyr: I used the wear choker necklaces with Chinese symbols on them in conjunction with checkered dress pants and hoodies — I looked a mess.

JL Brown
JL Brown
Sarah Karlan/BuzzFeed

7.

Buzzfeed/Karlan

Graham is a Brooklyn based fashion blogger and stylist.

How do your clothes make you feel?

Allison: Prestige! Besides being educated, you sometimes look how you feel. I like to feel prestige and elegant.

On identifying with labels and androgyny:

Allison: I try my best not to identify with anything other than just being me. The most I'd identify as is a woman with an androgynous side. I feel like I am a woman — it's who God has made me, and I appreciate the body that I do have. I am just more comfortable dressing as a tomboy/androgynous, so as to speak.

On fashion inspiration:

Allison: Idris Afpel, Alexander Wang, and Sarah Ann Murray.

Has your personal style changed over the years?

Allison: It's changed whereas I'm learning more about quality over quantity. Now I'd prefer to buy a sweater that may cost a good price but I know it'll last me longer than something cheaper. In the long run, it pays off.

Do you experience any inconveniences while shopping for your preferred style?

Allison: A lot of men staring at me wondering why I'm shopping in the men's section, or fitting room issues — some sales associates are jerks and tell you you have to go to the women's fitting room.

BuzzFeed/Karlan

8.

Tutera is not only the face behind Willoughby General​ in Brooklyn, New York, but also The Handsome Butch.

How do your clothes make you feel?

Rae: Like myself.

On identifying with labels and androgyny:

Rae: I'm simultaneously not really into labels and fluid enough in my approach to my identity that I relate to these labels. I think if I had to use a word I would be most likely to use "masculine."

What are the biggest misconceptions people have about you based on your style?

Rae: I think that because I exclusively wear menswear and am also a masculine-presenting person beyond my style, there are some folks who get the impression that that means I'm male-identified. I'm non-binary, so I only try to pass as myself.

On fashion inspiration:

Rae: My grandpa, who raised me (and whose middle name I've taken for my own). He was born in 1925, so I guess that means my favorite style era is the 1940s–1950s. Pop was known for his uniform of khakis, white T-shirts, and cardigans. A simple gentleman.

Has your personal style changed over the years?

Rae: I think the most notable change has been my chilling out. I no longer feel the urge to make what I wear look perfect; I can remember a time in my life where I would literally iron a T-shirt before leaving the house in it (shout-out to my grandma for teaching me her old-world fastidiousness, by the way). I've just generally become more forgiving of myself, and that's an attitude I've extended to my clothes.

Share an embarrassing fashion moment:

Rae: I had a pretty horrible fade like six years ago that wasn't even a fade because it wasn't blended at all. It was just a blunt, heavyweight line that kind of made me look like a Stooge. Now that I have such a skillful, tapered haircut, the memory of that bad fade gives me the heebie-jeebies. This is just one of many embarrassing moments, though, folks.

9.

Devin-Norelle

Devin is an androgynous fashion enthusiast, follow along on Instagram.

How do your clothes make you feel?

Devin-Norelle: My clothes generally put me in a better mood. Throwing on my yellow suit and my favorite pair of shoes instantly cheers me up and makes me feel more confident.

On identifying with labels and androgyny:

Devin-Norelle: I identify as androgynous. Although I am currently transitioning, my face is very feminine (even with facial hair) and I balance that out with my style, which is more masculine.

What are the biggest misconceptions people have about you based on your style?

Devin-Norelle: If I'm out shopping, sometimes men ask for my suggestions on how to pair their outfits. Then they ask if I'm a personal stylist. I'm not, although I'd like to be. Additionally, many have confided to me that they initially perceived me as pompous because of my flamboyant colors, but changed their minds after getting to know me.

On fashion inspiration:

Devin-Norelle: Fashion icon: Brad Goreski. I came across him one day while perusing Pinterest. Fashion era: I am a fan of the '70s fashion era associated with funk and disco music, but now I prefer the current '80s/'90s trend with a pop of leather.

Has your personal style changed over the years?

Devin-Norelle: Oh gosh, yes — I just had a college flashback of oversized shirts, extremely baggy jeans, and T-shirts with the likes of "Getting lucky in Kentucky" written on the front. Reflecting back, I'd definitely rethink all my fashion choices in college. I wore baggy clothing to hide my curves and feminine shape. As I became more secure with my body, I began wearing more formfitting clothing toward the end of my college career.

Do you experience any inconveniences while shopping for your preferred style?

Devin-Norelle: Now that I'm transitioning, I am currently in an "in-between stage." I wear small in men's shirts but find my arms are now too large for the small to fit the sleeves. I can't purchase mediums because they are too large/long and I just look ridiculous. I had to find brands with clothing that runs large.

We've discussed chest binding in the past; is this something that's relevant to your personal style?

Devin-Norelle: At one point, yes, it was. Around the time I began wearing formfitting clothing, I didn't like the way my chest looked in shirts. I began to bind and it helped a lot for my appearance, but it did hurt a great deal. I quit after a few months. Since binding was no longer an option I wanted to explore, buying shirts became more complicated. I didn't buy shirts from stores like H&M because of their European/slim-fitting cuts.

Share an embarrassing fashion moment:

Devin-Norelle: Wearing the wrong underwear with the wrong pair of pants! This seems minimal, but it's very important! I have walked out of my apartment several times with my boxer briefs outlined through my pants. The looks people have given me are no fun.

10.

Nomi Ellenson

Dove is the super model of your dreams, and that's all you need to know.

How do your clothes make you feel?

Rain: My clothes make me feel powerful because I get to choose what I wear, and I get to choose how I want to be armed for the day. That freedom of choice is a beautiful thing to experience every morning waking up to a world of new possiblities via my closet.

On identifying with labels and androgyny:

Rain: I identify with all of these labels. And with all labels in general. Perception and labels are opinions, not facts. So whatever anyone sees is exactly how I am styled and what I am. Anything that defines human — that's what I am.

What are the biggest misconceptions people have about you based on your style?

Rain: Many people believe I am more or less capable of certain things based on how I dress. They misjudge my potential genitalia, sexuality, intentions, and abilities. Most importantly they misjudge my breasts, which I've learned to hide quite well in a suit without binding. But just because someone misjudges me doesn't mean they have bad intentions. It just means they are trying to figure me out without getting to know me. I call those people "time-savers."

On fashion inspiration:

Rain: Jean Paul Galtier is a no-brainer. I love him. Love love love love love him. And in fashion I love the '20s in America. Bowler hats and suits were for everyone, drag was being explored, and theatre was in full bloom. The lines were most certainly blurred!

Has your personal style changed over the years?

Rain: I've always worn what feels right in the moment, even if others aren't very comfortable with it. However, I have been wearing more dresses and heels lately than I ever have for my modeling career — and I surprisingly love exploring that femme side that I always hid. In the past when I wore a dress, I was called an "ugly woman" or a "boy in a dress." But now I wear those things that I was ridiculed for intentionally — even if I feel awkward in them — because I want to show people occasionally that my life doesn't fall apart just because they don't like my fashion choices.

Do you experience any inconveniences while shopping for your preferred style?

Rain: I'm 6'2" and it's hard to shop in the "ladies" section. Also, sometimes I wish "ladies" jeans were made more durably like "mens" jeans. As if the designer expected us to work them to death.

We've discussed chest binding on our site; is this something that's relevant to your personal style?

Rain: Yes, I used to chest bind for various shoots because it was easier than Photoshop. But — pain is a sign something is wrong, not a sign of something you should tough up and overcome. Posture, shapewear, and attitude can go a long way in helping to hide your breasts. For me, to be honest, it's all about attitude. I also recommend for the chronically heavy-chested that if you can not come to terms with and love your breasts — or it's not enough to tell people to treat you the way you want to be treated — it is not terrible to consider a breast reduction.

Share an embarrassing fashion moment:

Rain: I've almost never been embarrassed with something I've worn. BUT I will say that walking in heels on the runway for the first time, I looked like a wobbly bird. I walked like I had to pee and was trying to hold it in — or like an invisible earthquake was occurring. During Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, two seasons ago my heels were too small for my feet and couldn't grip the floor, so I couldn't pick up my feet. I had to slide them like I was on an elliptical machine or I was skiing to the end of the runway. I think people thought a tampon needed to be readjusted. So awkward!

Nowadays, though, I find that if Im feeling "embarrassed" or "self-conscious" about a fashion choice, I just remind myself that I can redefine what fashion means just by being unapologetic and making eye contact with the people who try to put me down — so they feel just as odd criticizing me as I do in the item.

Nomi Ellenson
Rain Dove
Sarah Karlan/BuzzFeed