For people who identify as non-binary, or wake up identifying differently from one day to the next, traditional shopping can feel judgmental and anxiety-inducing. Having no choice much of the time but to shop in either womenswear or menswear sections, it’s quite common to face choices that may fit one’s gender presentation, but not one’s body—or vice versa. A standard misconception is that all non-binary people are on the androgynous side, but this simply isn’t true. Just because many a woman has rejected the oppression involved in being forced to wear pink, doesn’t make “gender neutral” a rejection of all traditional signifiers of being female, as many retailers seem to believe. In other words, if jeans and hoodies can be gender neutral, skirts and lingerie should have the same morphing power.
While it’s true that the line between the traditional male and female binary is becoming increasingly blurred, and more designers are choosing to create gender neutral lines, there’s still a ways to go! Even among the most gender fluid fashion items, that persistent menswear/womenswear binary often lives on. For many female-bodied, male identified people, a rejection of the male-female fashion dichotomy means heading straight to the menswear section. But ‘gender neutral’ hoodies, sweatshirts, and t-shirts though they may offer, there is a long way to go toward clothing that actually fits well, and markedly even more room for growth when it comes to femme fashion designed specifically with the male-bodied in mind.
If you really think about it, it’s no surprise that femmey/feminine anything continues to get consistently deprioritized in the face of arguably “easier” to create butchy/masculine wear—regardless of whose body it’s actually intended for. This, of course, extends far beyond fashion…to life. A gender advocacy centre I worked at for the better part of six years (which had, like many such centres, once been a women’s centre), had a clearly biased focus. Controversial though this may be, positions of influence appeared reserved for f to m trans people, who largely exuded a very masculine energy, perhaps at least in part as a reaction to the centre’s former identification as “for women.” The result, however, was a problematic environment in which m to f people were scarcely if ever welcomed, and cis women’s still-very-valid issues were often overlooked.
Parallels with the fashion world are no coincidence: non-binary though a designer may identify, the fact remains that we live in a world where girls who dress like boys are usually referred to as tomboys rather fondly, while boys who dress like girls are generally subject to significantly more stigma, perhaps because we as a society still believe masculinity to be a show of strength and femininity to be a show of vulnerability or weakness. Womenswear, as an unfortunate rule, tends to be more showy, flattering, flamboyant, colorful, soft, sexy, and revealing, while men’s clothing tends to be made up of bland, muted colours, and give off a rather shapeless, utilitarian, emotionally unavailable vibe. Coincidence? I think not. Male-bodied non-binary people should not have to shop exclusively in the womenswear or menswear sections, and neither should anyone else who doesn’t love up the false binary power still at play in the world as we know it.
Can you imagine living in a world where clothing for the male bodied (the kind that shows off curves)—or really any flattering clothing for non-cis bodies more generally—was easy to come by? I like to think we’re getting there, at our snail-like human pace. One thing’s for sure: WickedMmm is an exciting place to start.
I’ve had reasonable luck by looking in the female aisle but being very selective about it. Femme clothing has a lot more variation than what I’ve been used to seeing in the male aisle, so I’ve had to leverage that variety.
One central thing has been to pay attention to how a top will rely on breasts, either for structure or for cleavage. Since I don’t have breasts, tops that rely on them will, well, fall flat, and not in a good way. Fortunately though there’s also a lot of femme clothes that neither emphasize breasts nor rely on them for structure, and those tend to fit me much better.
In retrospect it makes sense, since many women either have small breasts or don’t want to emphasize them, but it’s very much not something I was used to thinking about, hehe.
The other big thing I’ve found out is that fit matters. Femme clothing tends to be much more form-fitting, in contrast to masc clothing that kind of just drapes over the body. That means that it’s much more likely to fit wrong on any given body, and the risk is doubled on my male body!
When I shop for clothes, I need to try things on in the dressing room, and I will easily reject five out of six items on bad fit alone, even if it looks good on the shelf. The usual culprit is insufficient length – sleeves that are too short, tops that turn into accidental crop-tops.
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I’m a Montreal-based freelance writer: journalist, poet, storyteller, erotica-writer, blogger, copywriter, and lover of clear communication. Words are my favourite thing in the universe. Nothing gets me hotter than the right choice of words. Nothing. I did my BA and MA in Creative Writing and English Lit at Concordia University. I was a full-time community organizer at Montreal's Centre for Gender Advocacy for 6 years, and did a lot of popular education and solidarity work around violence against Native communities, reproductive and sexual health, sexual assault awareness, intersections of race and gender, and even co-founded a Men and Feminism collective while there. What else? I’m a lover of men and give a lot of thought to what makes one (a man). Need writing or editing services? Contact me at email@example.com, or find out more at www.khamalacopy.com