As fashion explores more ways to serve people of all genders, the capsule wardrobe is due for a refresh, too. These streetwear designers are serving up pieces worth the investment.

By Reggie Green
Jun 07, 2021 @ 5:00 pm
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Unisex Closet Staples to Keep in Your Capsule Wardrobe Rotation
Credit: Courtesy/InStyle

Capsule dressing is increasingly popular, not only because of convenience, but its approach to sustainability. We all want an easy set of go-to items we can mix and match and make look fresh without over-buying and stressing the planet (and our wallets) beyond repair. However, the minimalist designs that flesh out the average capsule collection don't appeal to everyone, especially those who don't play by the typical "rules" of gender expression through clothing. As fashion explores more ways to serve a variety of genders, the capsule wardrobe is due for a refresh, too, and it's been streetwear designers who are serving up pieces worth the investment. 

While most of the discourse on genderless fashion focuses on reappropriating traditional aesthetics (think: putting a man in a dress and calling that revolutionary), the true potential lies in the opportunity for new silhouettes. James Flemons of flourishing brand PHLEMUNS sets the example with "transformative garments that can be worn [in] different ways." He tells InStyle that he designs pieces meant to intersect gender, and also transcend established styling ideas.

Where traditional binary clothing is lacking — and the middle-of-the-road "unisex" leaves you with a bland and borderline school-uniform vibe — this kind of fashion offers new elements to play around with. For Flemons, that means "finding subtle ways to expose the body and incorporate that into everyday pieces." His brand's success validates the need for more exciting gender-neutral design. Luckily, more are on the way, and several non-binary fashion brands have emerged to meet this need, making what would otherwise be a basic capsule item more exciting to wear.

Below, meet some of the streetwear and emerging designers crafting creative, gender-nonconforming clothing. Incorporating some of these items into your capsule wardrobe will give a whole new meaning (and style) to "foundation piece," as each one stands out as a statement on its own.

A Re-invented Tee

Sure, a tee shirt is already for everyone. But if it's going to be the basis for a million different outfits, make it a bit more interesting. PHLEMUNS offers one with an open back. "The back is one of the sexiest parts of the body, in my opinion, and is also a gender neutral body part — [and] a baby T looks great on everyone," Flemons explains. His inspiration for this shirt was twofold: "an image of Janet Jackson laying down with a cutout in the garment she was wearing exposing her back, and Sigourney Weaver wearing her baby tees and tanks throughout Alien," he says. "Both are kind of bisexual/nonbinary/androgynous/sexually liberated icons." This take on the capsule go-to diversifies your look, offers some sensuality, and plays up this summer's open-back trend.

Un-basic Bottoms 

Leather is a tricky capsule wardrobe item (not usually seen to be truly year-round), but Barragan shortened and widened the conventional slim silhouette for a more inclusive look. The brand also offers cutout polo shirts and T-shirts inspired by Italian and Mexican flags, transforming fashion basics to appeal to all genders (the leather culottes shown here, as well as many other garments, are modeled on male- and female-presenting people on their site). In the capsule wardrobe, these shorts will pair with virtually any top, and getting creative with footwear (a sneaker, a kitten heel, anything you like) can take it from day to night, professional to partying.

The budding brand Dexter provides an innovative take on cutouts with their statement Lava pants reminiscent of Pierre Cardin's mod-futuristic designs. In a unisex capsule wardrobe, whimsical design is so often considered, leaving us with any number of gray and saggy-baggy looks. But these pants are painless to dress up, down, or layer at night. No one ever said your go-tos have to be all-black — or, if they did, we challenge them to expand their color horizons.

A Going Out Top

Unisex Closet Staples to Keep in Your Capsule Wardrobe Rotation
Credit: Courtesy

Yep – the 'going out top' from mid-aughts is coming back and brands like No Sesso (Italian for "no sex") handcraft these knitted bib tops for the perfect night out. With an ethos in challenging conventional expressions of fashion, design, and society through community, this brand is guaranteed to provide innovative design that disregards the gender binary. Plus, it's another favorite that shows its clothing on a diverse cast of models so anyone can see themselves reflected back when shopping.

A Powerful Layering Piece 

Theophilio reinterprets the classic button-up with a corset back (corsets are huge right now), and lightweight lambskin leather. As a "unisex power piece," this is sure to impress, and easy to incorporate into a capsule wardrobe as the business stays in the front, and the subversively sexy fun is tied in the back. 

Unisex Closet Staples to Keep in Your Capsule Wardrobe Rotation
Credit: Courtesy

Zerowastedaniel up-cycles cutting room scraps to create unique garments like this Shades of Sheer turtleneck. "No two pieces are ever exactly alike," according to the brand's website, so there's a guarantee no one will have the same garment, and it is perfect for a day-to-night celebration or date look. In a capsule wardrobe, this is easy to style with denim, a skirt, or shorts. The high neck and sleeves make it work for chilly evenings and the shoulder seasons when nothing feels like the right temperature — but all the lace peekaboo moments keep it cool (and more than a little sexy). 

For more on the Future of Gender in Fashion, read how TikTok is already gender-free, find the best genderless brands to shop, and why the right pair of underwear can literally change your life.