Out of the Closet: Wardrobe Tips for the Gender Interesting
Welcome to this post on queer wardrobes! Hopefully it is interesting/helpful!
I’ve had a lot of experience with wardrobe planning – as a fat person, I always came at it from the angle of dressing your body type, what to accentuate, etc. However, since I’ve come out, that has changed pretty dramatically. Because such things as self-acceptance and body image are intersectional, accepting and becoming open about my sexuality had the interesting side effect of changing how I felt about my body. Where I had seen it as a problem to be solved with rules to be followed, I now feel more freedom to dress in a way that reflects me.
If (I reasoned) my coming out process already meant throwing out what a “good” Christian should be (i.e. straight), why shouldn’t I also make it an opportunity to offload the terrible idea of what a “good” fat person should look like, and even more to the point, how a “good” woman should appear. (Picture one of those step trash cans, but like for the soul. It feels really great to punctuate the tossing with a healthy slam of the lid ;).
I won’t lie, this has been quite a process and it’s one I expect will continue for a long time. But there are a few things I’ve learned thus far that I think might help others, even just on the level of understanding gender interesting people in their lives. As someone looking at clothing through a queer lens, I’m excited to share some practical tips and the sort of process I’ve gone through to arrive here.
1. Your personal style and gender don’t need to “match.”
This can be hard for non-queer persons to understand. If someone identifies with a particular gender, why wouldn’t they dress in a way that reflects what society deems appropriate for that gender? I have a few pieces of information to make this clearer.
Queer persons are by definition socially ‘contrary’. If someone is not straight or cis, this means their very core is not what society expects or understands. That person experiences society in a completely different way than you do, and you can’t expect them to view things as you would (they certainly could, but they’d have to tell you that’s the case). This means their understanding of gender and sexuality and fluidity is a lot more evolved because they live in the grey areas and know what it means to be "other."
Gender is valid regardless of presentation. Someone can feel that they are a certain gender or no specific gender at all, and this internal experience is completely separate from their external appearance. Unfortunately, society tends to expect adherence to norms as “proof” of gender. It's important to not only reject this idea, but also to appreciate the amount of emotional and mental work it takes to arrive at a place of comfort with one’s gender. And above all else, if you're an ally, please be supportive and encouraging to anyone you know who is going through this.
2. Listen to yourself about what is comfortable.
This is where I noticed the biggest difference after coming out. Clothes I had felt good in before now just felt… wrong. Like they were tied to this lesser person I had been showing the world before. And I had the experience of physically and mentally rejecting those items as symbols of that insincerity. As time went on, this expanded to general categories of clothing – for instance, I feel very uncomfortable emphasizing my curves/chest, so I switched to sports bras. I no longer wear dresses/skirts or very fitted tops. I mostly stopped wearing scarves/waist belts and feminine shoes. I now gravitate to more boxy silhouettes, simple pieces, and more plain accessories (watches, etc).
Some of these realizations came quickly and viscerally (a deep “no” inside when I put them on), and others developed more slowly (feeling less and less represented by bright, figure-hugging clothes). In this, it was important to me to listen to what my heart was saying. If it felt wrong, I took it off/removed it from my wardrobe. Over time, this has meant basically redoing my entire wardrobe.
Equally important however, was listening to what felt right. The first time I wanted to try on “men’s” dress shoes, I went with it, despite weird looks from salespeople. And it felt GREAT. Not because it was counter culture or daring, but because my soul said, “Good.” This listening to what feels right extends to things that existed in my previous expression, too. For instance, I have continued to wear and enjoy makeup. My use of it has changed a bit, but the overall experience is still a positive and creative one. I can accept this because I have rejected the social framework that says I have to be either/or. And I have to tell you, it’s wonderful to realize that you are too much for a box or a label.
3. Clothes are for you to own; they do not own you.
This is something most of us hear in terms of our size/shape – "clothes are made for 'the average woman', don’t get hung up on fit or feel like you are unworthy of them." These issues become compounded when we talk about queer/gender interesting persons because it can mean crossing over into clothing categories that are not even a little bit intended for their body shape/type.
In my case, I’m plus size and objectively curvey. My bust, hips, and thighs are large, my waist is small, and my arms are short. While this works fine for some kinds of clothes I enjoy (athleisure, draped pants), it doesn’t help me at all when it comes to things like button down shirts. They don’t accommodate my hips and the arms are extremely long. I can easily wear “men’s” shoes, as I am about a 7-8 in their sizes, but their belts will never fit me properly.
This does not keep me from trying, though. It takes more perseverance, but there is an undeniable liberation in mentally claiming an entire store as accessible (one section? pssht). And when I do find something that works, the excitement is much more heightened.
It can certainly be demoralizing to realize that it’s not just a matter of size, but that some clothes really are not made for you. But that only gets as much power as you give it. As a queer person, I recognize that almost everything society has to offer was not made for me (except fanfiction :P). But I’m here, and so are you. We exist, and we are the ones who can critique and effect change.
4 Donate as much as you can.
If you are going through a period of presentation change, and this results in a lot of clothes you’re removing from your wardrobe, please consider donating them. If at all possible, find a Pride centre/queer clothing exchange rather than just giving them to a general donation spot. While going through my own wardrobe, I was able to sell very good quality femme clothing at extremely low/no cost to persons wanting to express more femininely. This gave the whole process greater dimension because I wasn’t just removing certain items from my life, I was actively repurposing them to help someone else in a parallel journey.