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The search for style as a trans man

Robyn Exton

Apr 22, 2022

The search for style as a trans man
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  • Building your style as a trans man is difficult. The simplest reason why is that we aren’t able to follow the same process as cisgendered people. 

    For cis folks, style tends to be an accumulation of looks and aesthetics they are attracted to over time. They see references in advertising, social media, and friends, and are able to then hunt down particular items through brands, whether online or in retail. When they find what they like, they select the right size, purchase, and voila. (Of course, the item doesn’t always work out, but a significantly high percentage of the time it does). 

    But if your body doesn’t ‘fit’ the binary, you aren’t afforded the same privilege of simplicity. You may love a particular look–when I was twelve, I was obsessed with the way my breakdancing teacher wore baggy Levis–but upon trying them on your own body, the fit is so acutely off that you have to sacrifice style in the pursuit of something that even vaguely works with the proportions of your body. 

    The reason behind this is pretty simple. The entire fashion industry is built off of the average statistical proportions of cisgendered bodies. When mainstream fashion is designing menswear, they’re going to build off assumptions around height, shoulder width, hip width, and leg length that don’t map on to trans or nonbinary bodies. 

    Think about it: I am a 5’3” trans man. When I go onto most websites to try and find a shirt, for instance, I’m met with a 6’2” cis man (with no hips, a longer torso, and wider shoulders) wearing a size medium. What do I do with that information? How can I possibly map myself onto that? Given that a medium is the right length for him, it’s probably too long for me, but he also doesn’t have hips, so if I get a small it will definitely be too tight at my hips. It’s a lose-lose situation, and incredibly disheartening: clothes aren’t designed with our bodies in mind, nor is the information to communicate about sizing and fit tailored to us. 

    The impossibility and helplessness in this shopping journey is why I started Both&, and why I’ve spent years interviewing and surveying thousands of folks in the community, gathering data, insight, and feedback about what works and doesn’t work when trying to find clothing that fits and feels like an accurate representation of self. 

    Some major takeaways and tips I’ve gathered

    1. A lot of folks in the community have found thrifting to be a better option when it comes to shopping. First off, in-person thrift stores tend to be less binary in their distinction, which makes the shopping experience feel more welcoming. Secondly, older/vintage clothing is made in fabrics that tend to have more weight and structure to them, which helps with many of the pain points AFAB, masc-presenting folks deal with. 
    2. When it comes to shirts, key fit and fabric qualities to look for are a boxier shape (longer shirts are narrower and bunch at the hips) and a heavier weight fabric, as it clings less and holds structure better. (These design aspects, among others, are the core components we’ve built into our collection). 
    3. The biggest problem with pants is the relationship between waist and hip-width to leg length. The style hack most folks I talk to use is finding a straight leg fit and wearing the pants at the high hip (to minimize the curve from waist into hip). To deal with length, cuff the hem, which has become a style in and of itself. 

    I wish there was an easy ‘how-to’ guide for building your style as a transmasculine/nonbinary/gnc person. Unfortunately, asking that question is almost starting from the wrong place. Before we can have true autonomy over style, we need to have clothes that fit. At the end of the day, style is a luxury that presupposes patterns and grading systems that work with our bodies. Of course, there are hacks, exceptions (many folks will find something that works moderately well from a brand and order multiples, just to have something that sort of fits), and ways to get creative. You can always cut up clothes, tailor them, or layer them. You can embrace a baggier style rather than resent it. But truly crafting a style that feels like an accurate representation of yourself, a true celebration of who you are, needs to begin with fit. 

    Thus far, the industry has entirely missed this point. They think gender identity and presentation is something that can be ‘dealt’ with on the surface, by throwing a nonbinary model into an advertising campaign or rebranding a sweatshirt as ‘agender.’ This isn’t real innovation, and it doesn’t really serve our community. 

    So what do you struggle with, what do you wish existed? Only by asking these questions and really listening to the needs and desires of the community will we be able to build a system and space in which building your style as a trans/nonbinary/gnc person becomes what it should be: fun, creative, and empowering.

    Please reach out to us directly and get involved in our community-sourced design process by engaging with us on IG and Tik Tok @bothandapparel, taking surveys available through our website www.bothandapparel.com, or emailing us at hello@bothandapparel.com. We can’t wait to hear from you 🙂

    Robyn Exton

    Robyn is the CEO & Founder of HER the world's largest brand for LGBTQ womxn & queer people. Also runs London Queer Fashion Show. Find her on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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