How a Former Olympian Became an LGBT Icon of the Fashion World

After facing discrimination in sports, Casey Legler made a surprising career change.

Casey Legler. (Photo: Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images)

Mar 15, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

Casey Legler isn’t your typical high-fashion model. In an industry in which most start their career at age 16, the Ford model was signed to one of the world’s top agencies at 35. She had a pretty good reason for the late start: Legler was a little busy training and competing as a swimmer for the French Olympic team. But most unconventional of all, Legler is a woman working as a male model.

“I was put in men’s clothes because I fit in men’s clothes,” Legler told the Australian Broadcasting Corportation in a video posted this week. “The only thing that’s particularly unique is that I’m biologically a woman.” She says stylists and designers “were familiar with dressing girls, but they weren’t expecting me. The idea of taking my picture became like, ‘Do we put her in men’s clothes?’ ”

Legler has since modeled men’s blazers, vests, jackets, pants, and hats in Vogue editorial spreads, print campaigns for All Saints and Diesel, and on the runway. But it took the experience of discrimination in the sports world to turn Legler toward fashion.

“One of the reasons that I quit swimming is that at one of my last big national meets—at this point I had come out [as gay]—I got asked to change in the handicapped locker room, and was invited out of the women’s locker room,” Legler told ABC.

The fashion world isn’t particularly known for being inclusive. But after agents from Ford saw Legler wearing men’s clothing in a shoot by Cass Bird, a friend of hers, the now-37-year-old New Yorker was immediately signed—as a male model. Legler brushes off her success. “This is genetic luck—that’s actually all that is, right?” she says.

Her androgynous image is doing more than just selling men’s clothing—Legler has become an inspiration to teens in the LGBT community. She recalls being stopped by a teenager on the street in Brooklyn who teared up and told her, “Thank you for doing what you’re doing. You're making it OK for me to be here.”

Legler is often compared to the Bosnian transgender model Andreja Pejic, who previously went by the name Andrej Pejic and was billed as an adrogynous male model before coming out as a transgender woman in 2014, according to People.

Even off the high-fashion runways, mainstream beauty brands are embracing LGBT models in their ad campaigns. The Brazilian transgender model Lea T became the new face of the global hair care brand Redken late last year, and the transgender teenager and YouTube star Jazz Jennings was announced last week as the new face of Clean & Clear’s #SeetheRealMe campaign.