How non-binary TikTok designers are helping a generation find their style

Written by Megan Wallace, CNN

While fluid, non-binary genre designers like Harris Reed and Ella Boucht have started to make their mark, it’s also no secret that the fashion establishment hasn’t put much effort into designing. for non-binary people. – at least, that’s if collection after collection of drab beige hoodies and graphic tees, so-called “genre-fluids” is to judge.

And while transgender, trans, and non-binary people have been around forever, social media means they have new visibility and new ways to have their voices heard (including memes sharing roasting each collection of below-average unisex capsules). However, in the last year or so, TikTok has become the foundation for a thriving style community, where non-binary content creators trade genre-affirming fashion tips or just – but that’s no less. important – freely express their style.
“Fashion is a medium,” said Kate Sabatine, who uses the handle @ k8sabz, in an email interview. “Every day I wake up and I ask myself: ‘what kind do I want to express myself? “

Kate Sabatine (@ k8sabz) offers her gay-focused style tips and fashion tips. Credit: CNN

Sabatine has amassed over 948,000 subscribers on TikTok with an eclectic mix of videos that include gay-focused fashion advice (as well as role-playing a lineup of hyper-specific lesbian characters). For them, fashion has been an important aspect of having their gender and identity asserted.

“I think over the years I’ve gotten pretty good at this form of expression,” they said. “People say to me, ‘I could tell you are gay by the way you look’ or will often ask me for my pronouns because they don’t want to assume based on how I look.”

With 6 million views on the #nonbinaryfashion tag and 10.4 million views on the #unisexfashion tag at the time of posting, there are plenty of inspirational outfit articles of the day, advice-based clips with headlines like “outfits with both masc + female energy”, and challenges like “show me your favorite non-binary outfit equation, I’ll start”.

To the average person, these videos may sound fun but far from groundbreaking – like a queer take on the golden age of 2000s-style bloggers – but to the non-binary community, especially people who have recently adopted their identity, they are vital resources. Since most mainstream fashion stores still divide clothing into “menswear” and “womenswear” and do not provide gender neutral dressing rooms, many non-binary people have to take it upon themselves to experiment. their styles without being judgmental. environment.

Curious to know what form this experiment takes? In one video, user @robinstares mimics queer comedian Chris Fleming’s dress, channeling “Florida grandpa vibes,” while in another, @kyronrizzo appears to be levitating through a series of outfit changes. Illustrating a wardrobe hack, designer @maxwellvice turns two old pairs of fishnets into a sheer strappy top that, as Vice says, makes you “think I’m wearing Mugler when I walk down the street.” For the less crafty among us, videos like @ cgi.vampire offer tongue-in-cheek advice: “Get off dressed weird.”

A community haven

According to Momo Amjad, senior strategic researcher at trend forecaster The Future Laboratory, disgust with the fashion establishment and its standards is part of the reason why non-binary fashion has found such a place on TikTok, especially with an audience. Gen Z skeptical of capitalism.

“TikTok (is) run by the creators and the community, rather than the brand, which gives it tremendous credibility and authenticity,” Amjad explained in an email interview. “Brand-focused resources are often seen as selfish and therefore not in the best interests of the consumer at heart. These consumers ask, “Who created these resources? “,” Who do they benefit from? And ‘What is the motivation behind them?’ “

That’s why Sabatine, one of the app’s top non-binary fashion designers, says their fashion videos are all about encouraging followers to find their own style, without the pressure of getting a unattainable look established by the fashion elite.

“I hope to teach people, especially my young and impressionable audience, that you don’t have to follow trends to look and feel cool, and that it doesn’t have to be expensive to look and feel cool. express, ”they explained.

In some of their videos, Sabatine also explores savings, tacitly encouraging those who watch to consume mindfully. Sustainability is an inextricable key to their work – they say almost all of their wardrobe is second-hand, second-hand, or vintage. “I wanted to help people express themselves and do it in a sustainable way,” they explained. “Some of the outfits I wear in my videos cost me less than $ 20 from head to toe, but you’d never know.”

“Brands must do a lot more”

Like Sabatine, artist, stylist and art director Darkwah Kyei-Darkwah (@hausofdarkwah) is also active on TikTok’s #nonbinaryfashion tag. But while on Instagram, they post slides on non-binary identity and microaggressions such as bad gender, their TikTok feed is a pure celebration of non-binary adornment: experimental beauty looks, music videos. ‘them sewing their own outfits and the occasional BTS moment photo shoot.

“Where I am now with my fashion and my sense of style is really the complete culmination of how I feel,” they said in an audio interview. So I think it’s catching on TikTok, but I feel any day, any time. ”

Darkwah Kyei-Darkwah, stylist and artistic director, says "brands need to do a lot more" make clothing more inclusive.

Fashion designer and art director Darkwah Kyei-Darkwah says “brands need to do a lot more” to make clothing more inclusive. Credit: CNN

For someone already in the fashion industry like Kyei-Darkwah, there is a main difference between the way non-binary people dress in real life and what big brands seem to think of them.

“Non-binary people actually have style,” Kyei-Darkwah said.

Although the artist doesn’t rush to shop for gender-neutral capsule collections that make wearers look, as they say, “like an amoeba floating through town in an oversized t-shirt and oversized sweatpants. “They are also put off by the size constraints of traditional women’s clothing.

“Brands need to do a lot more. What about skirts that, rather than a side zipper, have three loops that you can tie at different widths so that the body flows freely through different sizes? They offered. “I might be a size eight in ‘women’s clothing’, but my butt may not fit into a size eight the same way a size eight is made.”

Right now, TikTok has a solution for this as well, if you’re up for it: the #sewingtiktok community, a space where individuals can get information on making and modifying their own clothes rather than sneaking around. outfits. created by binary divisions between the sexes.

While the #nonbinaryfashion community has yet to spark major industry overhauls, it might not be a bad thing: LGBTQIA + youth of diverse genders are, out of necessity, retooling themselves to launch. their own fashion revolution. Through positive portrayal, style advice, and sustainable fashion recommendations, they are part of a larger online community providing much-needed support for those trying to navigate a Cissexist world.

For Amjad, this queer generation’s ability to create spaces to thrive online is one of Gen Z’s strengths.

“Social media in general, and not just TikTok, (is) experiencing an education and learning revolution, led by young people who believe that the mainstream discourse is not being used to enlighten or empower them. release, ”Amjad said.

Top image: Left to right, the creators of TikTok @hausofdarkwah, @maxwellvice, @kyronrizzo, @ k8sabz. Images courtesy of users.

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