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04/06/2015

The Fashion Struggles of a Transgender Woman Will Make You Stop and Think

In the months leading up to Caitlyn Jenner's debut, gender identity has been a focal point in the media. In an effort to give the transgender community a voice in that conversation and to help anyone going through this or on the other side of the change, we tapped Francesca Appelgate, who is shedding light on her own experience as a transgender woman. Read on as she shares what it was really like to shop and dress her new body.

 

 

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I have walked through the women's department on many occasions, hoping that one day I'd actually do a little shopping of my own. Well, that day has come . . . and I have next to no idea what I'm doing.

 

As a transgender girl in her mid-20s, I have little to no experience with shopping for women's clothes. As a teen, I always enjoyed helping my mom and sister pick out their outfits, but it doesn't do much in the way of developing my own style. Now, I should say as a disclaimer that my experience doesn't necessarily reflect all transgender people. Every transition, if one even chooses to transition, is unique to the individual. Some trans people have ample time developing their own style before starting their transition. Some run from it as long as humanly possible. I was definitely more of a runner in this respect. After years spent in denial and a few more years of working up the courage, I finally decided to officially start hormone replacement therapy or HRT near the end of 2013. For those not familiar, HRT is essentially a medically induced second puberty that reverses many of the male physical traits and replaces them with female physical traits. At the onset of this transition, I had a basic idea of what to expect. With that came the knowledge that I would eventually be buying new clothes and building a wardrobe I could finally call my own.

 

But as most know, puberty takes a while and is near impossible to forecast. It was that unpredictable nature of puberty 2.0 that called for a plan to carefully ease my way into a new form of gender and personal expression. I decided that I would buy new clothes at the turn of each season, a handful at first, and more as time went on. This would involve assessing my physical process and buying clothes appropriate for my body at that time.

 

It sounded simple enough, but boy (girl?!) was I wrong. Initially, one of my biggest hurdles was mustering the courage to shop the women's section in the first place. Early on, I obviously didn't pass as a woman, which made browsing for and trying on new clothes very difficult and, in some cases, downright terrifying. I was deathly afraid of being seen as some sort of deviant or pervert. The fear of a confrontation with someone, no matter how unlikely, made stepping into a women's changing room essentially impossible (and don't get me started on bathrooms).

 

Once I (mostly) got over this fear, my problems shifted to finding clothes that fit my body, my style, and my limited budget. At this point, I quickly discovered three things:

 

Next to nothing fits me.

 

I have a limited idea of what my style is and even less of an idea of how to incorporate that into women's clothing.

 

Clothes are expensive.

 

The fitting situation has gotten better over time, though it can be tough to find something for these shoulders of mine and shoes are a nightmare (size 11 wide with a high instep? Thanks for nothing, genetics!). I've also come to understand that women's clothes simply fit differently. Whether it's formfitting or oversize, you always have to consider how they complement your body specifically. It's not that this isn't a concern for men, but I felt I could get by with less effort when I dressed like a guy. I guess you could chalk it up to some sort of double standard, but I definitely feel that the amount of time I spend putting together an outfit has increased tenfold. That's made all the more difficult by a limited wardrobe and an even more limited budget.

 

For a long while, many of the new clothes I bought just seemed to look silly on me, even when I initially thought it looked good or friends complimented my outfit. It was incredibly discouraging. But then I realized something . . . I had spent 20-plus years of my life presenting and learning to dress as a male. A significant reason that my new clothes felt silly on me was because those decades of social training were still buried deep in my psyche and continued to, at least partially, govern my decisions. Combine that dysphoriaand the body issues so many women deal with and you've got yourself a vicious cocktail of obstacles to overcome right from the get-go.

 

The realization of these mental hurdles, along with further physical changes, has helped me overcome many of my earlier apprehensions. I still have a long way to go before I'm fully comfortable, but the progress is palpable and I feel amazing! Beyond working to develop my own wardrobe, the biggest challenge is passing publicly — by passing, I mean being seen as a woman without any suspicion to the contrary. My body, makeup, hair, voice, and clothes all come into play here. Since my hair isn't very long yet and I don't always wear makeup, I rely pretty heavily on my voice and clothes to pick up the slack of my still-developing body. But it's the clothes people see first, so they are truly critical when it comes to passing. At this stage, I don't pass all of the time. People still misgender me about half of the time, and I'm pretty sure the majority of the other half is just being polite (though I could be underselling myself).

 

While being misgendered feels pretty cruddy, my real concern stems from a fear that someone will do something to harm me. I've yet to run into a situation personally, but it happens far more often than it should, and I take every precaution I can to assure my own safety. My wardrobe is my armor in this battle, and I need as many allies as I can get. I've received many clothes from friends who no longer needed them and even attended a Fall fashion swap last year where I picked up a few items in exchange for things I no longer wore. I'd love to see more events like this, especially geared toward trans people who so sorely need the help. It'd also be wonderful if more stores were openly trans-friendly, with specialists geared toward helping members of the trans and nonbinary community to find clothes right for them. This would do wonders in easing some of our fears and apprehensions. In fact, why not be rid of men's and women's departments altogether? Alright, I'll admit that's a bit of a lofty goal, but it would be pretty wonderful if clothes were less gendered. A dream for a not-so-distant future perhaps? Maybe. For now, I'll keep working toward my dream of passing through the women's department as just another woman.

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