Clothes, Trans Women, and Their Unique Style Evolution

Clothes, Trans Women, and Their Unique Style Evolution

By Joelle Bayaa-Uzuri

Every so often, I take a trip down memory lane, through my photos (I am one of those people that loves to photograph and capture as many moments of my life as possible).  Working in the fashion industry, I immediately direct my attention to my outfits; comparing my past style to my current one.

While I had no idea what I was doing, how I wanted to present myself, or what my style was, I had been fortunate enough to be able to both work in an industry and surround myself with people that have positively helped me grow and develop my style and fashion.  This is, sadly, not the case for many trans women.

Adolescence for most young, cisgender women (falling between the ages of thirteen and eighteen) is extremely significant developmentally.  These are the years where they develop a sense of who they are, and are given the space, opportunity, and freedom to experiment with their personal and fashion expression.  They’re able to safely try different style looks and fashion trends and are given proper guidance through mothers, grandmothers, and other maternal role models and mentors. Unfortunately, trans women aren’t afforded these things.

While adolescence usually falls within a cisgender woman’s teen years, a trans woman’s developmental cycle is a little different.  Trans women’s “adolescence” (often coined as their ‘transition’, or the period when they begin identifying as their internal gender identity and takes steps to represent and present it externally) varies greatly, but roughly falls between the ages of 18 to 44, with the median age being around 31.8, according to the “Injustice at Every Turn” study.  Because their transition is often later in life, it is usually not like a natural developmental process, and more like a ‘crash’, often clashing and at odds with their current life. Most trans women, upon identifying as trans and beginning their transition, are often left without a family unit or support system, monetary means to financially support them, or any real, tangible examples or role models to follow through their transition.  What happens next is that trans women, left with no guidance or help, tend to cling to the nearest representation of ‘trans women’, which usually is the media’s portrayal of trans women.

The media portrays trans women not as ‘real’ women, but as fetishistic objects who are only caricatures of women.  Trans women are usually only referenced as some part of a ‘devious, sexual fantasy’, and as merely a part of the cisgender male gaze; either as part of adult film fantasies, as sex workers, or as some secret that is meant to be private.   Their style is usually displayed as overtly sexual, and not conventional.

Because trans women aren’t taught or shown anything to the contrary and are not afforded safe spaces nor the money to be able to experiment and evolve their style, they are oftentimes left on their own to try to piece together what it means to be a woman and be trans, what that looks like, and how to dress and present themselves.  This is usually done at the expense of their privacy; most times in the non-forgiving public gaze, which is mostly transphobic, sexist, and not too forgiving or empathetic to the plight of trans women.

“…the landscape today looks a lot different than it did ten years ago, and that can only mean good things for the future.”

While the road and journey of many trans women still seems bleak, there are cracks and little rays of sunshine.  As the LGBTQ community continues to gain visibility, trans women are stepping out and into the spotlight; proving that the media representation is far from the truth.  Women like writer/director Janet Mock and actress Laverne Cox have been able to display trans women as being sexy, yet sophisticated; classy and fashionable. Social media, the preferred communication medium today, has also helped in not only giving trans women more access to style and fashion inspiration but also in showing a variety of trans women.  Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have connected isolated trans women across the world to their larger community and also helped trans women struggling to find their style and their look.

I can’t say when we as a culture will get to a point when we fully empathize with the journey trans women go through, but the landscape today looks a lot different than it did ten years ago, and that can only mean good things for the future.  

5 Replies to “Clothes, Trans Women, and Their Unique Style Evolution”

  1. Great read for the trans community. Any advice as to where Trans women can Shop or look for fashion??? I have the hardest time finding cute shoes in my size..

    1. Hi Tammy!!! Thank you so much for the love!

      As far as shopping goes, I would actually say go to resale shops, or thrift shops. It’s a great way to shop on a budget, and experiment with looks and see what looks suit you more. I completely understand about the shoes; I have a very hard time finding shoes above a size 10 (I wear an 11), so I usually search Amazon or Ebay, but resale shops can be good for those as well. The trick with the resale/consignment/thrift shops is to give yourself a little time to look, and be open to the findings!

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