Lena Waithe’s description of shopping for menswear makes a case for genderless design

Lena Waithe has impeccable gender-fluid style.
Lena Waithe has impeccable gender-fluid style.
Image: Reuters/Patrick T. Fallon
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In September 2017, Lena Waithe became the first black woman to win an Emmy for comedy writing, taking home the award for her work on the “Thanksgiving” episode of Aziz Ansari’s Netflix show, Master of None. It shows her character, Denise, grappling with her family’s reactions to her being gay, told over the course of years of Thanksgiving gatherings. Her mother struggles to embrace her daughter’s identity, including her choice of clothing: Denise likes baggy jeans, sweatshirts, and sneakers, not high heels and dresses.

Waithe’s own personal style is similarly gender-fluid, she explained recently in a radio interview on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross. She was there to talk about her new show, The Chi, which premiered on Showtime Jan. 7.

“Do you shop in men’s departments?” Gross asked.

“I do. I do,” Waithe replied, before elaborating:

I try to sort of make the male clothes fit my aesthetic. And I think I can kind of make clothes that are made for men almost appear as if they were made to be worn by a woman.

I think that’s always my mission—to make things—you know, to bend them and to make them fit my style and my swag. And I’m really happy people tend to like my sense of style. But I honestly—I really do dress for comfort. I may look stylish, but I’m always really comfortable. And I like sneakers, obviously.

Gross said she could relate. “I sometimes shop in boys’ departments,” she said. Because of her slight stature, she said, she also shops in girls’ departments.

There are many women out there who skip the women’s department like Waithe and Gross—for a range of reasons. As Business of Fashion recently reported (paywall), women are playing a role in menswear’s growing sales. That’s not just because they make most household purchasing decisions (though they do). Women are also buying men’s clothing to wear themselves.

Brigitte Chartrand, the womenswear buying director at e-commerce site Ssense, attributed the rise in women buying menswear “to the sense of gender fluidity that plays a part in defining many of today’s most admired menswear brands,” BoF writes. Ssense’s female clientele happily shops men’s streetwear labels like Off-White and Gosha Rubchinskiy.

Streetwear is a good representation of many of the driving currents in fashion today, including an emphasis on sneakers and more casual clothing. These are trends that touch the way both women and men are dressing.

Gender-neutral fashion has been growing too, along with the recognition that sex and gender aren’t perfectly binary. There’s presently less need for hard distinctions between whether an item was made for a man or woman, particularly when you’re talking about a sweatshirt or bomber jacket.

Gender-fluid dressing isn’t poised to replace strictly gendered clothing anytime soon. But genderless clothing has a growing customer base, and brands are wise to cater to it. Of course, as Waithe illustrates, with a little creativity, you make things work no matter who they were designed for.