The idea of raising (and dressing) kids in a more gender-neutral, gender-nonconforming, or gender-fluid fashion isn’t a new one. Swedish brand Polarn O. Pyret, cofounded by Katarina af Klintberg and Gunila Axén in 1976, was built to “permit children to grow up as people, not boys or girls” and has been clothing children for more than 40 years.
But the idea of shedding traditional gender signifiers in one’s style has taken on greater cache in a world where 38 percent of Gen Zers (the generation born 1995-2010) ‘strongly agreed’ that gender did not define a person as much as it used to and 56 percent “know someone who goes by gender-neutral pronouns such as ‘they’ or ‘ze.’” The commitment to letting kids be kids (and not assuming boys will be ‘boys’ or girls will be ‘girls’) has become increasingly important to families—and fashion retailers are responding.
Major Chains And Brands Are Already on the Gender-Nonconforming Clothes for Kids Train
Target has seen unprecedented success with its gender-neutral-friendly Cat & Jack apparel line launched in 2016, and brands like H&M’s Eytys collaboration and nununu’s Celine Dion collaboration celinununu both launched lines with gender-neutral kids’ clothing this year. Even so, large gender-neutral-friendly brands such as Zara, H&M, Asos, and Muji who boast neutral lines still tend to divide their brick and mortar and online retail spaces by boys’ and girls’, and men’s and women’s. The tendency is also largely to market traditionally male clothing as neutral, which is an oversimplification of the issue, one that threatens to invalidate femininity and exclude trans, gender-fluid, and gender-nonconforming people.
“It might not seem like a big deal, but these messages influence society and affect our children. They widen the gender gap. Because, yes, we still have a major gender gap issue. It’s still not socially accepted for men to cry, and there are way too few female leaders in the world,” state Torny Hesle and Ingrid Lea as part of their Just Kids Campaign aimed at H&M that advocates for gender-nonconforming fashion and marketing. “As parents, we tell our children that they are free to be whomever they want and wear whatever they wish. But they learn from society…. Girls shouldn’t have to cross the border to the boy’s section to buy a NASA T-shirt. Boys shouldn’t be told that their unicorn sweaters are for girls.”
Too often in real-world practice ‘neutral’ fashion looks like girls wearing non-feminine clothes (primary colors instead of pink, stripes instead of ruffles) or casual clothes like T-shirts and hoodies, but as Hesle and Lea imply when they say boys should sport unicorns as freely as girls do spaceships, the movement is so much more than that. It is not about erasing femininity or masculinity, but about kids of all proclivities not having gendered assumptions made about how they want to look, while also feeling safe, supported, and accepted to wear what they choose whether it be a skirt, a tie, or both at the same time.
“My child dresses in a gender blended way,” says Brooklyn parent Sara Kravig Grable. “Young kids are often programmed into traditional modes of thinking by accident, just by recognizing and absorbing the culture around them. I routinely have conversations with three-, four-, and five-year-olds who are confused about how a boy can wear skirts and like pink. I give them matter-of-fact responses than anybody can like any color and wear any type of clothes.”
Hand in hand with the progressive messaging about gender, many such brands tend to focus on sustainable materials and production, and fair and ethical labor practices. For those of us raising gender fluid kids, or who have a commitment to reinforcing new norms, are curious, or even just plain and simple appreciate some damn adorable children’s clothes (that happen to be gender nonconforming), read on for Mamas Uncut’s list of clothing brands worth considering.
The Best Gender-Nonconforming Clothes and Brands for Kids
One of the challenges for families trying to go gender-neutral can be the cost of oh-so-precious, but oh-so-pricey cool kid clothes. Or as single-mom Aleza S. said, “I looked at some of those brands, but no way I’m spending fifty bucks on something the kid will outgrow in three months!” A $75 romper for a kid who is going to grow out of it before your next paycheck even arrives is no joke, and that’s why many of the parents we spoke to swore by Primary.com, where clothes are shoppable by size and color/pattern (but not labeled boys’ or girls’) and everything is priced under $25. As the name implies and as cofounders Gayln Bernard and Christina Carbonell proclaim, it’s a place to find a “rainbow” of “awesome basics” in “hand-me-downable,” long-lasting quality that will outfit kids from hats to socks.
Since Cassandra Rhodin’s first collection of sly and smart prints in 2006, Mini Rodini has grown to be one of Scandinavia’s fastest growing children’s wear brands with shops in Sweden and London and a site that ships around the globe. Rhodin, an illustrator, imbues her collections with classic line-drawn illustrations, a sense of humor, modern street smarts, a dollop of childhood nostalgia and a retro color palette. Animals from tigers (Love those undies!) to mercats (that’s a mermaid cat, not to be confused with meerkats) to crocodiles (Croco beach bag, please!) to sea monsters (totally cool swimwear) to parrots (Who doesn’t need a pair of parrot dungarees?) inspire much of the knits, swimwear, denim, jackets, and accessories, but there are also a handful of stripes and dots and playful slogans like Tutto Bene and Pop Corn. Made with organic, upcycled and recycled materials, Mini Rodini pieces range from $39 for onesies and tees to $45 for shorts, $75 and up for dresses and one pieces, upwards to $159 for jackets. For a gift or a splurge or for those of us with big pockets, there is a whole lot here to love.
Jackie Sage launched Kid + Kind in 2014, with a vision for modern playwear focused on gender-neutral graphics and ‘seasonless’ pieces in muted roses, blues, greys, and natural colors that can be worn all year round and easily mixed and matched. The clothes are sweet but not saccharine. The baby shorts/bloomers in various prints are particular favorites, but every single pant (starting at $38), sweatshirt ($58), and romper ($48) looks comfy enough to curl up and take a nap in. And while prices aren’t cheap, savvy shopper should keep an eye out for sales, when prices drop by 50 percent or more.
You may have caught Rags creator Rachel Nilsson on the entrepreneur reality show Shark Tank or seen her Rags (essentially a hip little slip on/off, snapless romper for kids 3 months to 6 years) featured in the pages of Vogue or Forbes. Like all the best mom brands, Nilsson has a personal story about the genesis of her brand, which she began from her parents’ basement. “I sewed the first Rag out of my husband’s t-shirt! It was sooo comfortable for Harry,” she writes on her site. “I immediately shared the Rag with my Instagram pals and the response was crazy. It started selling super fast and I found myself sewing around 200 Rags every three to four days.” Her brand has since grown to include t-shirts, accessories, and licensing partnerships with Disney and Star Wars, but she’s still mostly true to the simple Rag that made her a success—and pretty much every single one, whether a botanical print, a tie-dye, a Darth Vader head or an ice cream cone, would look equally cool on any kid. Most Rags are around $45 and t-shirts around $30.
Brooklyn-based Matt Aprile had over 15 years in the fashion industry as VP of Design for Ralph Lauren and others before launching indi. “We started indi as a way to offer beautiful clothes for our little ones that represent the values we stand for—and the world we want them to grow up in,” says Aprile on his site. Beautiful, indeed! The stunning indigo-dyed pieces are the product of artisan printers, dyers and embroiderers to which the company is committed to paying fair wages. The brand also reallocates 20 percent of their production costs to invest in Calcutta, India’s Girl2B and other community partners serving child education and economic empowerment. This small and sustainable model is not inexpensive, but each piece is unique due to the handwork involved and of very high quality without being precious (ie not too rarified for real kid use). Sizes are suitable for toddlers and kids ages 3 to 8 years old. Tees ($38), pants ($42), rompers ($72), dresses ($47-$72), denim jeans ($98), and sweaters ($128-$198).
Rebecca Youngerman, a nonprofit consultant and fellow mom, turned me onto Terry Cohn’s Little Pinecone Etsy shop, where Cohn has been sewing fun organic prints of veggies, woodland animals and geometric shapes into all things cotton and adorable for the zero to 24-month-old set since 2015. Baby bib/bandanas ($12), hats and mitts ($14), blankets ($41), shorts and leggings ($22-$26), shirts ($28), rompers ($34-$38), dresses ($44-$46), reversible jackets ($68).
Japanese inspired t-shirts, t-shirts and t-shirts, oh my!
This mom and pop Canadian business from Ryan and Miranda McCullagh takes it name for the Cockney rhyming slang for a suit, and espouses a gender- and age-neutral, ethically-made philosophy for onesies, t-shirts, leggings and accessories (think burp bibs and hats). The brand is inspired by Japanese animation characters on mostly white, black and grey knits. There are a whole lot of kawaii (cute) pandas and rainbows, but our favorites may be the kawaii foods (pizza slice or taco? So hard to choose). T-shirts ($22-$25), pajama sets ($46-$50), leggings ($25-$27). Another similar brand, but one based in the United States is Mochi Kids, by designer Amanda Stewart, who screen prints every Mochi Kids item just for you. Like Whistle and Flute, Amanda draws inspiration from the Japanese kawaii style of illustration and a very simple color palette for white, black, grey and yellow. Similarly her designs are meant to be both gender and age neutral. We especially love her track short prints in Confetti and White Rice ($30) for the summer.
This London brand for littles ages 0 to 5 has been around since 2016, and is a favorite in the United Kingdom, where like Scandinavia, gender nonconforming fashion for kids and adults has had more mainstream traction than in the States. Turtle Dove’s pieces are entirely organic and printed with non-toxic inks. They company claims their clothes are “a mindful antidote to fast fashion and fast living.” Not really sure if the clothes will slow down the pace of your household, but the mostly monochrome collections will sure ensure your toddlers look a stylish modern baby while speeding by. All prices are in British pounds, but the company does ship worldwide for a delivery fee of £10 (about $13) or free with any purchase of £60 (about $76) or more. T-shirts and leggings from £14, rompers and shorts from £20, skirts from £24, dresses from £28.
When Amandine Liepmann’s daughter fell in love with dinosaurs, Liepmann sewed her a dino dress with spikes down the spine and sparked a community-wide conversation about the lack of STEM-themed (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) clothing for little girls and the conversely gendered clothing patterns and colors for boys. Mitz was born out of a commitment to clothing for kids ages 0 to 7, using gender-neutral prints and comfortable, kid-approved styles all inspired by educational themes. Like Primary, we appreciate the playability of the clothes and the affordable price point, with nearly everything below $25. The original T-Rex Kids Dress with Black Spikes ($24.95) that started it all is still a standout, as are the Retro Rainbow Leggings ($19.99).
What do you think of these gender-nonconforming clothes for kids? Did we miss your favorite brand? Let us know in the comments!
Teri Duerr is a writer and editor (and mother of two) based out of Brooklyn, New York.