If the Suit Fits: A Guide to Unisex Shopping

Christina Parrella

Like most fashion trends, the current impulse to don clothing that's suitable for either gender isn't exactly new. In the 1930s, Hollywood anti-starlets like Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn redefined conventional ideals of sexiness by suiting up in tailored shirts and pants and casually knotted neckties. Thirty years later, when it was still controversial for women to wear pants in public, Yves Saint Laurent shocked the fashion world with Le Smoking suit, the first woman's tuxedo. And then in the '70s, a handful of stars including Diane Keaton, Bianca Jagger and Patti Smith embraced an androgynous aesthetic, opting for slacks, neckties and tuxedo jackets. Smith, who credits Keith Richards and Bob Dylan as fashion inspirations, regularly borrowed pieces from her photographer and muse (nay, doppelgänger) Robert Mapplethorpe.

On the flip side, male musicians have led the pack in bucking fashion tradition. In the 1950s when men were performing strictly in suits and ties, Elvis wore tight rolled pants, bright ruffled shirts and even eye makeup. A decade later in the '60s and even into the '80s, tight jeans, cropped T-shirts, flouncy blouses and scarves were a common sight on rockers such as Robert Plant, Mick Jagger and Steven Tyler. Jagger pushed the boundaries even further, sporting heavy eyeliner and sequined jumpsuits that were cut low in the front and painfully tight. And in such a masculine genre of music as rap, performers such as A$AP Rocky, Pharrell and Lil' Wayne have recently traded baggy pants for tapered leggings, leather skirts and dresses. Kanye West rocked a colorful woman's Céline blouse during Coachella and later caused a buzz for performing in a leather Givenchy kilt at the 12-12-12 concert.

Today, unisex fashion is hardly subversive. Done right, it remains one of the most effortlessly glamorous looks for both genders. From Barneys to Rag & Bone and Uniqlo, a good selection of quality unisex offerings can be found everywhere in NYC. Read on for more information.

Courtesy, BLK DNM NYC

237 Lafayette St.,212-966-6258
Launched in 2011 by former Diesel CEO Johan Lindeberg, BLK DNM specializes in quality denim with a myriad of washes and modern cuts for men and women who are drawn to classic downtown style. The collection also extends to wide-cut sweatshirts, tailored tops and mod-style outerwear for women, as well as motorcycle jackets tweaked to cropped perfection.

Photos: Valerio Mezzanotti

Rick Owens
250 Hudson St., 212-627-7222
As fashion's very own prince of darkness, Rick Owens has an approach rooted in simple avant-garde design that's anything but understated. Worn by fashion-forward rappers such as A$AP Rocky and Kanye West, Owens' clothing creates striking silhouettes with pieces that hang, scrunch and drape in free-flowing form. Such items include asymmetrical dresses, extra-long jackets and stretched wool coats that bunch at the sleeves. There's also solid line of unisex apparel such as leather leggings, mesh tanks, high-top sneakers and cotton stretch pants.

Courtesy, Acne Studios

Acne Studios
33 Greene St., 212-334-8345
This Stockholm-based brand's main theme is refinement. Using bold colors, classic lines and boxy silhouettes, the Acne line sits somewhere between aptly tailored and oversized, especially when it comes to outerwear. Some women's pieces borrowed from the boys include super-long tuxedo jackets, coats that billow at the sleeves and ankle-length trousers, which are also prevalent in the men's collection.

Photo: Alexander Thompson

Rag & Bone
Multiple locations
Heavily influenced by British tailoring, Rag & Bone plays up the idea of uniform dressing with essential unisex pieces like tailored button-downs, single-breasted trench coats, detailed suit jackets and leather-trimmed trousers. The brand also successfully blends classic construction with understated modernity in the form of slouchy pants, wool tailcoats for women and a slew of colored jeans that fit like a glove.

Courtesy, Alexander Wang

Alexander Wang
103 Grand St., 212-977-9683
Guided by a strong industrial aesthetic, Alexander Wang produces timeless yet audacious clothing for both sexes. Expect a lot of relaxed silhouettes in the form of tapered tuxedo pants, hooded overcoats and jersey tops with raglan sleeves. Wang's T by Alexander Wang line features an assemblage of open knits, distressed denim, gauzy essentials and head-to-toe leather options—all which showcase the line's streetwear sensibility.

Photo: Phil Kline

Steven Alan
Multiple locations
This multi-brand retailer carries a collection of on-trend pieces from various local and high-end designers as well as its own house line. Here you'll find stacks of stovepipe denim, long linen shirts and straight fitting shirtdresses and jackets. All the pieces here are exceptionally well made using various blends and textured materials. Alan's own line offers sleek, classic apparel and accessories including his beloved line of shirts, cardigans, cropped twill trousers and unisex eyewear.

Photo: Alexander Thompson

American Apparel
Multiple locations
Although American Apparel's CEO Dov Charney continually courts controversy with raunchy ad campaigns, American Apparel remains a leading basics line, inventing and successfully marketing low-maintenance style. Full of brightly colored T-shirts, leggings, sweats and hoodies, the chain sells threads that are both formfitting and baggy. Its most popular item, the deep V-neck T-shirt, is available in a variety of styles, colors and blends.

Courtesy, James Perse

James Perse
Multiple locations
A leader in loungewear, James Perse offers standard unisex pieces that are seamless and comfortable. A main draw of the brand is its cotton T-shirt line, available in a rainbow of colors, as well as its thin jersey tops, soft fleece pullovers, relaxed button-ups and bottoms.

Photo: Jen Davis

Multiple locations
When it comes to wardrobe staples, this colorful Japanese chain carries it all, literally. The clothing here includes classic cut sweaters, T-shirts, cardigans, long-sleeved shirts, coats, pants and vests in dozens of styles and colors. The inexpensive line, which lends itself to both sides of the closet, is also known for its affordable variety of denim (including jeggings for men!) and luxurious cashmere.

Oak. Photo: Alex Lopez

BarneysMultiple locations
Oak55 Nassau Ave., Brooklyn, 718-782-0521
Opening Ceremony35 Howard St., 212-219-2688
Both guys and gals can benefit from a shopping session at one of these retailers. At Barneys, there's an abundance of international brands that offer a feminine twist on masculine shapes. For example, Comme des Garçons has slim-fit cardigans and baggy wool pants for men that are gathered at the ankle with a bow. The high-end retailer also carries Patti Smith's favorite label, Ann Demeulemeester—a gently deconstructed line offering abbreviated tuxedo jackets, neat one-button coats and chunky combat boots. Oak carries a collection of leather messenger bags, biker boots and slouchy harem pants for men. Opening Ceremony is stocked with loose sweaters, textured pants, hooded pullovers and leggings for guys. The multifaceted retailer also carries the exclusive Yoko Ono collaboration, which features slim pants with cutouts and a two-tone pink blazer for men.