Five Observations About Lingerie and Androgyny

Via Free People

Via Free People

Over the last year, I’ve been working on piecing together a sense of my own gender identity, and researching what I can wear to support that identity as a gender nonbinary person.

I’ve learned a lot about the way that the lingerie industry has been marketing to (and selling the idea of) nonbinary people, and androgyny in general. I’m pleased to see several companies stepping up to cater to people outside the gender binary, but androgyny in lingerie is still largely falling into very masculine or very feminine camps. In addition, brands almost always advertise very explicitly whether they are selling to men or women (with one notable exception, PlayOut, which is explicitly queer and nonbinary in its design process).



Obviously some of these observations warrant further discussion, and I’ll be talking about them in other articles – but for now, here are my top five concerns about the lingerie industry’s approach to androgyny:

1. Mainstream companies are still representing the idea of androgyny primarily through thin people.

Via Sloan and Tate

Via Sloan and Tate

It’s exciting to see models like Andreja Pejic gaining traction for being deliberately androgynous. However, when mainstream clothing and lingerie brands represent androgyny, they still represent it as involving thin people without breasts or with very small breasts. This trend often seeps down into the indie lingerie brands to a greater or lesser extent.

Nonbinary and androgynous people come in all shapes and sizes, and only seeing us represented as the thinnest of the thin and the flattest of the flat can be damaging, especially for people who already have body dysphoria.

2. AFAB (Assigned Female At Birth) people now have options for androgynous boxers and briefs, but they’re mostly conventionally styled.

lola

via PlayOut

 

TomboyX and PlayOut are both making underwear cut for AFAB bodies for around $25 a pair. Both companies are selling an increasingly popular boxer brief cut, with TomboyX going classic American and PlayOut offering a more Hollister-esque surfer style with abstracted floral prints. Both companies are leaning fairly masculine, although that’s not to say this direction couldn’t change in the future. Both are also trading on the masculine underwear trope of big labels on the waistband. Imitating brands like Calvin Klein, where your waistband label is a status symbol, is interesting, but I’d like to see some options that are more understated or that adopt different aesthetics.

Femme lingerie still has the market cornered on stylistic variety, and probably will for a while.

3. There is still a dearth of top options for AFAB people who want androgynous lingerie. 

Via GC2b.

Via GC2b.

Aside from binders, very few companies are marketing lingerie top garments for AFAB people who are nonbinary, butch, or trans.

TomboyX and PlayOut aren’t offering chest binders, compression bras, or sports bras, which is kind of surprising. I think there’s a lot of uncertainty about what an androgynous person is supposed to do about their breasts, if they have any. If we look at what mainstream culture tells us, the answer seems to be “just don’t have breasts.”

I’d like to see a wider range of options for having breasts and still being androgynous. There is also a strong separation between binder companies (which often explicitly market to trans and nonbinary people as a medical product) and the androgynous underwear companies, which sell the idea of underwear as fun. Why can’t binders be fun, too? Chests aren’t scary, I promise.

4. AMAB (Assigned Male At Birth) people who want femme lingerie still have limited options unless they are willing to buy from sites that use male-gendered and fetishy language.

Via Homme Mystere

Via Homme Mystere

I’ve discussed this earlier: trans women and nonbinary AMAB people aren’t being marketed to, for the most part. While a wide range of companies have sprung up to make underwear (if not bras or binders) for masculine AFAB people, feminine AMAB people are an underserved market.

Meanwhile, companies that make products AMAB nonbinary people might be interested in aren’t going out of their way to educate themselves about the market. This means that pieces that would be good fits for nonbinary people often get sold as “men’s fetishwear,” reinforcing this idea that nonbinary identities aren’t an option for AMAB people.

The founder of Homme Mystere, a company that makes great lingerie for AMAB bodies, has repeatedly said that he does not consider himself capable of marketing to nonbinary people or trans people because they are a negligible market and he does not understand them.

5. This all points to the lingerie world having a view of androgyny that is limiting and heavily rooted in the idea that “androgynous” means “masculine.”

Via Girls Will Be Boys

Via Girls Will Be Boys

This isn’t a surprising conclusion, since masculine is often considered both the ideal and the default in western culture. But lingerie, which so often defies masculinity, could be doing a lot more to present a range of possibilities for androgyny.

We need to acknowledge that not all nonbinary people are thin, masculine, and uninterested in breast support, because there are a lot of people out there who don’t fit into any of those categories and still want to have options for expressing their gender.

Companies that are already teetering on the edge of catering to these markets – companies that sell masculine pieces “for women” or feminine pieces “for men” – have an opportunity here to drop some of the gendered language and open their doors a little wider. Hopefully we’ll see some changes to the status quo in the coming year.

What androgynous lingerie products would you like to see? Let us know in the comments!

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Rose

18 Comments on this post

  1. slava.zone says:

    I have always thought it odd that being androgynous is usually marketed as thin and flat, but I guess that thin is kind of a common theme across all fashion isn’t it? :/

    BodyAware manufactures a variety of styles of underwear for the male physique, from traditional styles in linen and cotton, to satin, sheer meshes, lace, etc. They also manufacture bodysuits, leotards, babydoll/nighties, swimwear, and sportswear. They are marketing themselves as a fashion-forward and sexy brand; nothing on their “about” page or in their product descriptions suggests that they’re making fetishwear. I think they just like making attractive underwear/lingerie for men who are tired of whitey-tighties. :P Some of their descriptions are all “manly-masculine-manly-men,” but a lot of them don’t mention gender or sex at all in the descriptions. I think they’re just trying to find the balance in order to make uber masculine cis-gendered men as well as non-binary and AMAB individuals feel invited and welcome to their community.

    I also know that there are lots of little companies on Etsy that make gender non-binary lingerie and sleepwear. They’re hard to find, but I know I’ve seen them. I’ve also heard great things about Bluestockings Boutique lately. And yes, while pretty much all bra companies are marketed towards cis-gendered women, there are definitely more neutral styles that would provide support without being frilly or very feminine. As others have already pointed out, sports bras like the one by Panache are an excellent choice, any neutral colored bra would work as well.

    As for the other topics, I don’t know much about them so I can’t make suggestions there. :(

    Definitely very good points all around, and I’m glad this made me aware of gaps in the lingerie industry. Makes me wonder about how I might possibly be able to help when I start designing full-time soon. :)

  2. Sissy Chuck says:

    This is a great article. I agree with several of the posters who have responded to your article and have said that they prefer traditionally made women’s lingerie as opposed to specially made for men lingerie. Speaking for myself, i prefer women’s lingerie made for women. unfortunately, it’s extremely difficult to find bras and other items that fit or are suited for broader shoulders. I love traditionally designed women’s lingerie and enjoy shopping for and wearing lingerie made for women.

  3. Megyn says:

    Great, article, thanks for writing it. I’m a AMAB genderqueer person, and like Annmarie said, I never have a problem finding women’s undergarments that fit me. I see your point that non-binary people are an under represented market, but to be honest with you, I’m perfectly fine with that. I really prefer buying women’s undergarments anyway, and I honestly don’t think that would change if there was a company marketing to people like me. Great blog by the way, thanks for maintaining it.

    Megyn

  4. Sheen V says:

    Excellent article!!!

  5. Z says:

    As a AMAB (Assigned Male At Birth) lingerie lover who is reading this, I am so glad that you understand and the struggles of just trying to find lingerie . I just wanted to thank you for noticing how difficult can be for people who want femme lingerie and have limited options. Its unfortunate that most sites that use male-gendered and fetishy language. It is even harder to shop and be accepted in any actual stores. There are many places that will let anyone come in to try on, but that will not remove the trouble finding anything for a big women or even a average size guy.

    • Rose says:

      Z–I’m glad you’re writing in! I’m on a quest for bra companies that make larger band sizes because I’ve heard this problem from AMAB feminine people a few times now. If anyone has a favorite, feel free to e-mail me at rose@thelingerieaddict.com.

  6. tengalaxies says:

    I’m a cis woman and all my masculine lingerie comes from Ginch Gonch. They make “men’s” and “women’s” briefs that are the same except for the way they’re cut around the junk, and they also have coordinating sports bras. The bras aren’t athletic wear and probably wouldn’t work for large breasted women, but I normally wear a 34D bra and their sports bras are super comfortable for me. Their women’s thongs are truly androgynous, with the wide branded waistband and all — not taking away all “gendered” features but adding both traditionally masculine and feminine ones together.

  7. denocte says:

    I’ve been trying to write an article about this subject for a while, but now I think I don’t have to because you are describing so many of my thoughts and observations!
    Especially the “no boobs at all” part. Which also pressures cis women that have flatter and small boobs, because they aren’t seen as feminine.
    Just complicated.

    • Ll says:

      Thanks for pointing out that cis women with small boobs are similarly unable to find appropriate lingerie if they want to look femme. It’s super annoying to have no options in beween the extremes of “trainer bra with cute hello kitty stuff” and “super uncomfortable mega push up so your boobs appear ten sizes larger than they really”. God forbid we should walk around all unapologetic and sexy with our own modest boobs.

  8. […] latest article, “Five Observations about Lingerie and Androgyny”, is up on The Lingerie Addict. Let me know what you […]

  9. Rose says:

    L: I love the Claudette! It’s certainly less overtly feminine than other pieces. Do we need a roundup of androgynous top options–the best bralettes, sports bras, binders, etc?

    KathTea: Both of the boxer brands listed here are favorites of mine. Let us know if you try them!

  10. KathTea says:

    I am cis-female but I am proud of my androgyny, I’m glad there are boxers for AFAB bodies. I’ve never got the hang of cheeky, Brazilians and thongs, I only ever wear them for photoshoots. My mother and I often shop for men’s boxers out of comfort so it would be nice to sample some of these brands, so thank you.

  11. L says:

    thank you! thank you thank you thank you! I am nonbinary, and it means so much that nonbinary/genderqueer issues are even being written about.

    On another note, Claudette is a lingerie brand that (coincidentally) has some femme-leaning androgynous bra options that I have found likable. I am especially fond of their ‘Dessous mesh’ and ‘Fishnet scoop’ bras; they come in a lot of colors, have a huge size-range, and are not as “flowery” and “feminine” as most lingerie marketed towards cis-women.

  12. Annmarie says:

    Alexis- thanks for your lengthy description of how the market works as well as your very interesting observations regarding feminine and masculine.
    I assume you meant no harm in placing your AMAB clients into two major groups, “M-F cross-dressers” and “M-F trans women”, and you certainly have the right to your own opinion. But I would still like to point to the terminology and images you used.

    Early in your post you state, “images of floppy, frumpy, pink floral ruffles… make me want to gag”. And now that we all know how you feel about it you go on to assert, “for many of the cross-dressers, feminine means Barbi”, and later tell us that “M-F trans clients… [are] more like what my cis female clients prefer… and they tend to dress for themselves, rather than for men.”

    Again, I want to believe that with your background and experience you had no intentions of offending anyone, but you may have inadvertently implied that those two groups represent the real thing vs. the fake wannabees.
    This is an argument I’ve heard before, from trans women and others, and it can be a painful and misrepresenting for many who identify as bigender, gender nonbinary, or even plain “crossdresser.“

  13. Alexis Black says:

    I agree with everything you wrote, and hope to see more diversity and inclusion, along with less stereotyping in the future. As a corset designer, who has been working with people of all genders for 25 years (my first custom order at age 15 was for a 6’+ “man” who wanted a custom english maid costume), I find my best design ideas for people who don’t fit into the typical boxes come directly from clients themselves.

    The difficult part really is the language designers and clients use to communicate concepts with one-another (as well as the emotions surrounding discussing these once taboo topics). I certainly witnessed many positive (albeit often challenging to abreast of and politically correct) changes in terminology and communication thanks to the internet. It can be difficult to interpret terminology regarding gender identification and fashion, because it’s very personal, and a word can mean many different things to different people.

    The terms “feminine” and “masculine” are laden with established associations (as well as personal, abstract associations, even painful ones, often from childhood), which are different for everyone. The definitions can vary from person to person depending on context as well. For example, when shopping for clothing for myself, the term “feminine” conjures images of floppy, frumpy, pink floral ruffles, which makes me want to gag. I also think of mall chicks in their disposable, synthetic, trendy fashion. That’s not me.

    When I use the term “feminine” in with clients, I think of Dita Von Teese, wearing a very curvy, structured silk corset with black lace appliqué, which I find quite lovely. I think of strength, nature, fluidity, art, and harmony.

    Conversely, the term “masculine” often makes me think of kakis and plaid flannel shirts, clothing that never fits properly, because it was designed for the “male” form. It also makes me think of quality workmanship, comfortable natural fibers, and long-lasting clothing with structure.

    When using the term “masculine” in my corset work, I think of an idealized masculine silhouette, like that of an olympic swimmer. I think of tailored mens suits throughout time, and military uniforms. For me, “masculine” equals superior quality, timelessness, structure, fit and comfort. However, I must keep in mind that for some people, it means beer, mullets, and hunting.

    Naturally, my personal and professional associations with various terms are more complex and nuanced than that. The tough part is matching my keywords to clients keywords, and making sure what they think of when they use a certain term is the same thing I think of.

    Let me give you another generalized, oversimplified example. My M-F cross-dresser clients generally have very different concepts of the term “feminine” than my M-F trans clients. For many of the cross-dressers, feminine means Barbi. It means pink, garters, bright, pastel colors, lace, lipstick, painted fingernails and cotton candy hair. For my M-F trans clients, “feminine” is often less commercialized, much more practical, functional, and more like what my cis female clients prefer. They are more likely to go for earth or jewel tones than the bright, gaudy Barbi colors, and they tend to dress for themselves, rather than for men.

    In my professional experience, what M-F cross-dressers ask for is often very different than what M-F trans women ask for, but it would be a mistake for me to make assumptions about either, because every individual is unique, and neither wants to be pigeonholed or stereotyped. Thankfully, I never have to, because my corsets are made-to-order, and clients can manage every detail of the design if they wish. That’s much more difficult to do if you are a design company that produces on a large scale.

    When I attended the Fashion Institute, we were often reminded to design for our “target market”. First, you had to identify who “she” was. In other words, you had to create a stereotype. How old is “she”? What does she do? How much money does she have? etc. The secret that no one tells you is that even when you design for a standard, established target market, for example: [age 25-35, professional, single, $60K income], or whatever, many women in that category won’t buy your stuff.

    Companies are making their money by volume, based on their designs being generic enough to appeal to enough people in that “group”. Most of the time they aren’t even thinking about larger sizes, much less people who don’t fit into the designer’s ideal gender stereotype or target market. If you have ever watched Project Runway, you may have noticed that many young designers (the ones who often have new ideas), can’t even design for a human body that does not resemble that of a super model. What looks great walking the runway rarely works in real life, on people of various shapes and sizes.

    On a personal level, as someone who identifies as queer (for lack of a better term) and androgynous, I have experience constant and continual frustration with the lingerie industry (fashion industry in general, truth be told), and have often considered starting my own line of lingerie (not necessarily corset-related), just to please my own personal tastes. As someone who can design and sew, I harbor a certain amount of guilt every time I peruse the internet in search of suitable undergarments (let alone lingerie or clothing) for myself, because although making clothes for myself is a big investment, I know what I want, and I’m tired of looking for it elsewhere. Over the years I have waited for someone to fill that void, to design something for “me”. It just hasn’t happened. Perhaps this will be my next endeavor when I have more time to devote.

    If we want more gender diverse lingerie, fashion and undergarments, we are probably going to have to design and make it ourselves. Thanks to the internet, and sites like Etsy, which offers a platform for small businesses to test their designs without loans or overhead, I see no reason why we have to rely on big business to eventually come around to making what we want. I realize we all can’t sew, but if we want a product to be made, we either have to make it ourselves or commission someone to do it for us. The up-front investment for the designer and client may be initially somewhat high, but if it’s a good product, the designer can use the prototype to sell more later. That’s how I started as a corset maker. A client told me what they wanted, I made it, took pictures, and used the pictures as a springboard for more orders.

    When big brands see how well these garments are selling, it’s only a matter of time before they copy the idea, and mass produce it, but we shouldn’t be waiting around for the industry to catch up to our demands. Usually once a good design is knocked off, big companies get it all wrong by making it tacky and cheap.

    Corporations are like freight barges. They carry a big load of cheap crap and take forever to change direction. Small companies, on the other hand, are in a better position to actually TALK to real clients, determine their own, smaller, more specific target markets, design, innovate, take risks and produce on a smaller scale with better quality and better, more sustainable practices. I would personally rather pay someone who can sew to make my lingerie the way I want it than to spend hours upon hours looking for products that might (but usually don’t) work for me. I love that the Lingerie Addict helps promote small business, and diversity. Thank you for writing yet another thought-provoking article. You often voice what many of us have been thinking.

  14. Scarlett says:

    On the topic of bras: I just wear the Panache Sports bra (34DD) with an underwire when I want to forgot I have breasts. It’s easy to forget you’re wearing it and and nothing moves!

  15. Annmarie says:

    Thanks Rose, this is an important article and I applaud you for all you have written. Just want to point that as an AMAB I don’t have that big of a problem with finding feminine lingerie that fit me, as mentioned in #4.

    I may be lucky to live in a place where I can shop freely and try items on, and also have a relatively small frame to begin with. But I also think that with the market saturated with such a wide range of women’s lingerie of all sizes, one may have a better luck finding a well-fitted piece in a local department store then in a “men’s specialty” site somewhere across the globe.
    Yes, there’s a lot to learn about the world of lingerie and it took me some time (and money) to figure what works for me, but all and all it was and still is a very joyful journey.

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