Healthista takes a look at the growing choices in underwear and clothing for trans and non-binary people – by Serena Dwyer-Jones
Carmen Liu is a 27-year-old trans woman who felt it was high time someone created an option that gave trans women the ability to truly comfortable in their underwear. British-based Liu, originally from Lancashire and now living in London, has started her own trans-focused line of lingerie known as the GI Collection.
GI stands for ‘Get It’; a reference to the general lack of understanding faced by members of the trans community. Liu’s mission is to help ensure that all transgender people have access to the things they need for many years to come.
In the spirit of this, the GI Collection’s website also offers useful information, workshops and access to trans-friendly services.
Incredibly, the GI collection’s pricing starts at just £20 (which is insane for how good it looks). According to Liu, the unscrupulous pricing and careless workmanship within this market was a great motivating factor for her business to do better.
‘I often get frustrated with the financial exploitation of the trans community, especially when it’s for products you use daily’, she says. ‘It was so important to me that all my products and services are affordable to help relieve some of the financial stresses of transitioning.’
During her transition in 2014, Liu began searching online for trans-focused products. ‘I was surprised at the lack of products out there for us,’ she says.
During her search online, Liu came across a hideous product known as a ‘gaff’. A gaff is a piece of material intended to smooth and support the pubic area. According to Liu, wearing one is a painful, worrisome and uncomfortable experience that no woman should have to endure, ‘I am yet to meet even one trans woman who has had anything good to say about them.’
For Liu, creating her own option a was life-changing experience, ‘I can get on with my life without the worry of what is happening down there. The first time I wore my lingerie I was crying. To this day I still look at myself in the lingerie and it puts the biggest smile on my face.’
This summer, we celebrated 50th anniversary of Stonewall across the UK with Pride parades, festivals, parties, protests and community events.
50 years ago, the fight for LGBTQ+ equality was led by gender non-conformists: transvestites, drag kings, drag queens, feminine men and butch lesbians.
Liu’s achievement, and the growing availability of trans and non-binary clothing we’re about to round up below, shows what a long way we’ve come since the now infamous raid at the Stonewall Inn back in 1969 where people were physically assaulted, wrongfully arrested and even led to bathrooms to be forced to ‘verify their gender’.
And, while the fight for gender equality is by no means over, in 2019 we continued to take strides towards it, with gay marriage finally being legalised in Northern Ireland. And starting this September, students attending Welsh schools will be given access to cheaper and more gender neutral uniforms.
Indeed, androgyny is certainly nothing new. Music and fashion icons such as Grace Jones, David Bowie and Prince prove that.
But while issues concerning how we view gender may be ‘trending’ in recent years, there’s a longer history than most of us know.
If we look to Ancient Greece and Rome, there are many accounts of women dressing as men to vote, fight, or study.
On the other side of the spectrum you can find Roman emperor Elagabalus, who preferred to be called a lady (never a lord) and sought out means of reassigning her sex.
In Japan, accounts of trans people go back to the Edo period (1600’s to late 1800’s) and historically, Jewish law, or halacha, has always recognised gender ambiguity.
Style is an important part of self-expression and can be utilised as a wordless declaration of our individuality, an articulation of our passions. Love the 1950’s? You’re in luck, Miss Patina and Joy the store are only 30 mins away! Enjoying that new TV show? Primark will likely have T-shirt for just 3 quid.
But clothing can also be limiting, many of us can relate to staring longingly at our ideal outfit on a store mannequin only to think ‘I could never get away with wearing that’.
Imagine feeling that way about the clothes that make you feel the most like yourself. If you grew up being told that the 50s are for weirdos, not for you. If Primark only made that shirt for people with three arms. Imagine if every time you stepped into the dressing room, the dress that you loved so much on the hanger was too large in the chest, too small in the bum and made everything you love about your body look awful (okay, that one happens to me).
When clothing feels right it can be an uplifting experience. When it feels wrong, it’s like a costume that just won’t fit, it can ruin our whole day.
Clothing changes how we see ourselves and how we let others see us. For a trans, or non-binary person, the experience can be so much more complex. There’s dysphoria and the anxiety that comes with it; the sense that your body is the wrong shape and that there’s nothing you can do to fix it. (Gender dysphoria is a form of depression that can occur when a persons birth assigned sex or gender doesn’t match their true gender identity.)
You’d think the antidote is the mainstream and growing world of gender-neutral fashion but while the designs may be appealing, prices start at £500 and sizes end at a debatable definition of ‘large’.
If you’re poor (or just not rich) or plus-sized, none of these are a viable option:
To get a better understanding of the inner-workings of trans-friendly and non-binary fashion, I also got in contact with LGBTQ+ friendly tailors King and Allen.
King and Allen plan to remove the label of ‘mens’ and ‘womens’ suits in favour of giving their customers an option between more form fitting and looser cuts that are traditionally associated with feminine and masculine. King and Allen aim to ‘fit the person, not the gender’.
Services like King and Allen’s can be particularly advantageous to the savvy suit-wearer who is looking to break conventions, not the bank. ‘If you’re transgender or non-binary and you go to the high-street, you have to make a choice that you shouldn’t have to make, which is do you go to menswear or womenswear? You have to compromise somewhere, and with us you don’t have to compromise,’ says Jake Allen.
Allen and King have always known the transformative power of a suit. When asked to give an example of how the right clothing can change your life, Allen said: ‘When they have something that fits them perfectly, they feel more confident, they walk taller. They behave in a different way. You perform better when you’re feeling more confident at work. It’s amplified when it comes to transgender and gender-neutral people, because there’s nothing off the peg.’
We had a lesbian couple in, they’d been putting off their wedding because one of them didn’t have anything to wear. One of them was a dress-wearer and the other one knew she wasn’t a dress-wearer and so she didn’t know what to wear to their wedding. And so, they put off their wedding for two years. Until they found us.’
While gender neutral and trans-inclusive clothing may not yet have a place on our local high street, there’s still hope online. Though most designers and brands will charge an outrageous rate for trans or non-binary clothing, there are plenty of places online willing to offer you high-street prices for the perfect outfit.
Here are some incredible and affordable brands that are looking to break that barrier:
Periods. They’re not just for women. Thinkx is a brand of machine-washable pants designed for anyone on their period. Thinkx pants allow the wearer to go up to 8 hrs tampon-, pad- and menstrual cup-free by absorbing the flow into their lining.
But don’t things get a little squelchy? Nope. Thinkx have four layers of material to absorb your flow and protect you from any odour or leakage.
The company offers a good variety of styles that are each available in light, medium or heavy absorbency, because (while frills can be great) not all of us want our pants to be ‘pretty’ and not all of us have the same flow.
Abprallen are not afraid to make a statement. Whether it’s with a badge for an ally or a not so simple t-shirt, they’ve got you covered (literally). According to Abprallen, their apparel and accessories are ‘for underdogs, misfits, queers, and outcasts’.
The East London independent clothing venture aims to improve queer visibilty and support queer artists by using a system they call ‘tip your tailor‘.
Andro clothing is a UK-based Affordable handprinted clothing company that is ‘sustainably sourced, proudly queer and printed with passion’. Androgynous designs tend to favour a masculine style, however Andro Clothing’s minimalistic designs are a perfect blend of both feminine and masculine, creating a truly neutral effect.
Genderfreeworld are a Hove-based online fashion brand who have done away with the male/female template in order to offer their customers more freedom to shop for their perfect fit. Their shirts instead come available in four body shape templates: Alex, Billie, Charlie, Drew.
Here to remind us that not all girls want pink and boys are allowed to wear frills too, they also offer briefs for tomboys, lacy pants ‘for people with packages’ and unisex boxers.
Best of all, GFW’s clothing is made in Britain and created ethically with long lasting materials.
Offend My Eyes is an unapologetically bright and queer-friendly online store and pop-up that supports the community across the UK. Their hand-drawn pop aesthetic is designed to fit all bodies of any shape, orientation or gender, with sizes ranging up to an impressive 8xl.
They have worked with notable Drag performers and online influencers such as ‘Amber Cadaverous’ and ‘Desmond is Amazing’ to bring their shoppers exclusive and creative artwork. On a quick browse through their site, you will find dresses for everyone, laptop cases, drag queen merch and so, so much more. You can catch their latest pop-up here.
Spectrum are a binder company based right here in the UK. What I love about Spectrum is their commitment to inclusivity, with sizes ranging from xxs to 4xl and a range of colours from bright and colourful, to simple and discreet. They also provide a range that is accommodating to a variety of skin tones. The binder brand are also looking to venture into shirts and shirt making, based on submissions from the public.
If you’ve never heard of a binder, it’s a tool used to curb dysphoria. It helps by flattening breast tissue to create a male-appearing chest. If you’re looking at this article having never worn a binder and are interested in wearing one, I would like to offer some advice: Never, never, ever pull one over your head. It may look like a crop-top but it is most certainly not. The material is designed to compress your body, so there is a risk of damaging your shoulders or even breaking something. To wear a binder that does not have a clasp or buttons, pull it over your lower half and up towards your chest.
Spectrum also run a blog with content and resources for trans and non-binary people.
Androgynous Fox are a California-based clothing company that defies gender at every turn. To them ‘gender-less is more’ and there is no such thing as shopping in the ‘wrong’ section. Androgynous Fox do not employ models to show off their clothing, allowing the pieces to speak for themselves.
However this hasn’t stopped them from showing a whole rainbow of diversity on their Instagram page, where they share any and all merch photos sent to them by their skulk (a skulk is the scientific name for a group of foxes).
With sizes ranging from extra small to triple extra large, there is something for everyone – they even have babywear!
Wildfang is home to badass womxn everywhere. Womxn is a phrase that explicitly includes transgender women and women of colour. Their Wild Feminist collection has a pretty prestigious reputation, having been worn by queer and feminist icons Janelle Monae, Jackie Cruz and Evan Rachel Wood.
The best part? Their Womxn’s clothing has pockets! POCKETS!
While it’s a little on the pricier side of this list, that’s not saying much. DB Burdan are perfect for anyone looking to make a statement and look good doing it. Identifying as a queer brand that aim to use their clothing to tell a story about the wearer and designer alike, their clothing is designed for people who like to stand out with their fashion choices. Any person ‘who enjoys bold colours and bold statements with sarcastic humour’ will enjoy their clothing immensely.
Rodeoh have a style of pant no matter what your gender expression. Functioning as both harnesses and/or as packing (the practice of wearing padding or a phallic object in the front of the pants or underwear to give the appearance of having a penis or masculine bulge) pants for FtM (FemaletoMale) members of the trans-community, these pants are both flattering and sexy.
Rodeoh’s pants can also be worn by women for fashion and/or as a sex accessory.
One does not need to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community to know the struggle of finding a good reliable shoe. For our sisters with larger feet, the struggle can be that much harder. While it can be difficult to a come across shoes in a larger size without the words ‘fetish’ or Drag Queen attached, Long Tall Sally does away with all of that and is happy enough providing a simple but oft overlooked service in the UK market: feminine footwear from sizes 7-13.
TomboyX have an agenda. A ‘human agenda’ as they put it. They are most notable for their swimwear and underwear, which is designed to fit normal human bodies, regardless of size, shape, age or style preference and is all made from eco-friendly materials. TomboyX aren’t afraid of your curves and their designs allow the wearer to embrace and accentuate their body shape in a way that is both fashionable and functional without compromise.
Lucy and Yak’s loose-fitting dungarees are unisex and practically perfect for everyone- dress size be damned. Their collection cute and quirky designs range from simple elegant colours to bold 80’s inspired prints, meaning there’s something for everyone. My personal favourite is their rainbow dungarees. I’m obsessed.
Online marketplaces like Etsy are best known for their handmade, vintage and craft materials, a quick search on either will take you across a few affordable online stores that are more than happy to provide you with some fun trans-friendly and genderless options! A couple that I would recommend looking up are vintage.by.dd and marencelest.
Asos have made a valiant effort in including non-gender conforming clothing into their collection. As of 2018, the brand has begun selling unisex clothes under the Collusion label. While there are currently less than 300 items available on the whole site at the time of this articles release, we recognise that this could only be the beginning and can’t wait to see more.