As someone who's shopped 'til I've dropped in many stores, I was immediately intrigued when I heard about The Phluid Project. It’s a store/event space for the LGBTQ+ community and its allies, meaning that all those outdated gender norms you grew up with while shopping are thrown out the window.
So what exactly does a gender-free store look like? Well, I swung by the New York City space to get a sense of what shopping looks like when gender norms are erased. Here's how I felt about The Phluid Project:
Before you even enter, the message is clear.
Plenty of people stared at the windows and pointed at the "Gender-Free" message, admiring the colorful lettering across the windows. Inside, it gets even better: In addition to a slew of Instagram-ready items up to $300, the shop also houses an event space.
“We not only encourage people to shop without binary boundaries, but also build connection throughout our community space, sharing ideas and spreading knowledge through guest speakers and educational lectures,” founder Rob Smith said on The Phluid Project's website.
Of course, as someone who is an ally rather than a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I realized I wasn't the target demographic for the store.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community absolutely need more safe spaces, especially in retail. So I do realize that my shopping experience does not ultimately serve as a voice for those within the community.
The space even has an inclusive beauty station!
When it came to clothes, there was a wide range of items. These "Free Hugs" T-shirts were set out right by latex overalls.
In addition to Phluid's own brand, which mostly offers graphic T-shirts and matching sweatpants, the store also features a range of items by other brands such as denim jackets by Levi's, latex pants by Meat, and mesh outfits by Gypsy Sport.
The first look I tried on was a head-to-toe Phluid outfit, and it was COMFY.
*Side note: The lighting was good in the dressing rooms, but not so much for pictures, so bear with me!
The $35 shirt was a size 1 (or about a small) while the $89 pants were a size 3 (or about a large). Since Phluid has its own sizing system, I was concerned that I would have to go back and forth choosing pant sizes, but once I found that the size 3 was comfortable, I was set.
According to its website, a size 2 is close to a medium.
"Please note that our sizing is a work in progress, as we aim to create clothing for all body types," the website said. "We are currently developing and adding additional sizes, for more diverse and inclusive options."
When I spoke to a store associate via phone, they added that the size chart may change so that a size 1 is closer to a medium, since Phluid is planning on rolling out more sizes in the summer. Yay!
As the proud owner of several crop tops, I kind of digged this in-between length T-shirt.
I threw on a denim Phluid shirt ($85, The Phluid Project) in a size 2 to up my street-style game.
I was VERY impressed at how soft this fabric was! It honestly felt more like a T-shirt, even though it was still structured. At $85, it was a little pricey, but you could definitely pair it with multiple outfits.
The pants (size M) were by latex brand MEAT, and they were basically bow-tied torture pants.
After going from Phluid's magical cloud pants, putting on these latex pants was painful. The pants ($304, Meat) looked baggy, so it should've be easy to put on, right? WRONG. Honestly, the pair was BEAUTIFULLY made, but I will say that unless you have some baby oil on hand, avoid these pants. I'm still shook.
Aesthetically, it's great to see Phluid incorporating details like bows on latex pants, demonstrating that its customers don't have to play by society's rules in regards to gender norms.
The next look I tried was a Phluid $35 T-shirt in a size 0 and cropped sweatpants in a size 2.
Available up to a size 4.
Cropped wide leg ($79, The Phluid Project)
Black is basically the brightest color I wear (no joke), so wearing an all-white outfit was definitely a change. I'm not sure if I'd spend $79 for these cropped sweatpants, but they were soft! I sized down in the capris since they were roomier.
When I saw the world's most distressed denim jacket in a size medium ($128, Levi's), I HAD to try it on.
This store REALLY challenges you to get out of your comfort zone. Do I think that a jacket covered in holes will keep me warm in these frigid New York City temperatures? No, but it will keep me stylish, and that's what is important.
The next look I tried on was a skort (yes, a SKORT), a matching mesh top, and a red Phluid tank top.
I've longed for skorts to be made for adults, so I was thrilled to find this one by Gypsy Sport ($198, Gypsy Sport) in a size medium. It was mesh underneath, so it's not super functional, but it was definitely 100% fashion. Plus, I could see myself layering the mesh top ($138, Gypsy Sport) on other outfits, though!
The final outfit I tried on was a recreation of a look I saw on The Phluid Project's Instagram, since I LOVED the pink lightweight jacket.
I added this short-sleeved sweatshirt in a size 2 ($59, The Phluid Project).
Again, it had the softness of the sweatpants, but without all the bulk of a sweatshirt. I was pleased! I paired it with pants that were the same tapered joggers, but in black.
Final thoughts: From the very helpful employees to the bold colors to the excellent music selection, The Phluid Project is definitely starting out strong.
By offering items in a variety of fabrics, textures, and color schemes, The Phluid Project makes it clear that regardless of your gender identity, you have the right to wear what you want. And even though I was somewhat intimidated by the size chart, once I figured it out, it was simple and easy to use. Plus, the store associates were VERY helpful and gladly explained the size chart to me, and were eager to answer any questions I had.
The only concern I had was with the price. Although the Phluid sweatpants were softer than run-of-the-mill items, they seemed pricier than sweatpants you'd normally find at a fast-fashion store.
However, most importantly, as someone who is an ally but not a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I realize that this store was not created for me. It was created for those in the community who need a space to feel accepted and experiment with their clothing choices without the challenges they might face at other stores. Hopefully, it'll open more locations throughout the country, so everyone can get The Phluid Project experience!
Visit The Phluid Project online or check out the store at 684 Broadway NY NY 10012!