There exists in the hypothetical style-iverse, a utopia (queer or otherwise) where we’d be able to walk into somewhere and find the garments that speak to who we are. Stunning, life affirming clothes, readily available without ever having to endure those moments of societal incongruity, never having to walk out of a clothes shop with a cloud over your head, feeling unseen by the world...
(Left: Clothing by Haute Butch. Right: Gender Fluid Designer Harris Reed.)
But the fully spectral fashion world is still finding its feet and while the push towards fluidity and androgyny gains traction, with Harris Reed being celebrated by fashion’s elite for their collections that are “fighting for the beauty of fluidity”, and smaller brands like Haute Butch, Wildfang, and TomboyX making masculine-inspired, androgynous clothing, the fact remains that many AFAB people walking down the high street are still buying cis-men’s clothing and dealing with boob gaps and the other hurdles thrown in the path of the AFAB masculine dresser.
(Drag King Phil T Gorgeous)
Alex Campbell is one such person for whom the path to sartorial happiness didn’t run smoothly for a long time. “I’ve always had a complex relationship with fashion because growing up as far (as I knew, straight until I was 19) I just always felt awkward, I’m incredibly tall for a person with a uterus, (6’3’) so I was always taller than the other kids and that always drew attention and I didn’t like dressing the way all the other little girls dressed. My mother would desperately try to get me into dresses or make me clothes that were incredibly girly and feminine and were horribly jarring for me.”
Alex is now well known for their stage persona Phil T Gorgeous, a stalwart of the drag performance scene and an undeniably snappy dresser with a killer wardrobe. Adopting a more male wardrobe had several hurdles. And unfortunately, nothing gets in the way of male tailoring like a pair of boobs. “I deeply resented having breasts, deeply resented the fact that they threw off the line of the clothes that I wanted to wear but [when i was younger] grudgingly accepted that this was what life was meant to look like”. The struggle of finding clothes that worked for who they were became more difficult
“I only ever shopped in men’s clothing stores. I would have selected the male gender in dropdown boxes online, but I couldn’t get clothes that I liked in Ireland at the time [the early noughties]. I had size 40G knockers, so my boobs were absolutely massive and to be fair I was also carrying a lot more weight. At my heaviest with my giant knockers there was no clothing that was going to achieve a make aesthetically while still accommodating the size my chest was. I started wearing incredibly loose fitting clothes, I slumped my shoulders to mask the breasts. I found that mental health struggles tended to kick in in terms of dysphoria in trying to achieve an aesthetic that was a body dysmorphia thing but not linked to just feeling fat.”
(Alex Campbell, who has now found their sartorial signature after years of feeling unseen and out of place)
An acceptance of the masculine side was also something that didn’t initially click for Faux Joli, the drag alter ego of Aaron McDonald, who also makes genderless clothing under the banner Maison De Joli. His early looks were more preened and feminine before he let the masculine blend back into his looks both as Aaron and Faux.
“All my feminine energy went into doing drag, I was set on this very real look. Really small waist cinched in, big hip pads, completely shaved, I would never show anyone body hair or anything because I had this really hyper-feminine image in my head and that’s where I loved to present my really girly glamorous looks. I didn’t put any effort into my boy wardrobe, I used tower converse, jeans, and a t-shirt every day and I would never wear anything that was a bit more out there."
(Faux Joli, who evolved her style into a more androgynous look)
“Over time I’ve started to dabble on the more androgynous fashion for my boy self and also in drag, I have really become really fluid with what I wear and how I present myself. I no longer have this idea of when I’m in drag I need to be girly and when I’m drag I need to be manly. It’s very fluid now. I wear a lot of my drag pieces out of drag if I’m going to a party and then in drag, I wear a lot of my boy clothes. It’s become, my love for fashion has become equal with my love for drag, as Aaron. There’s not really a separation between the two anymore”
Though Aaron’s known for his glam style and crafting of fitted catsuits and gowns for both faux and others, he’s found a new passion in the structural nature of suit making. “I’ve learned a lot about tailoring and pattern drafting in the last year but I’d always had the idea in my head about being able to make a suit, and now I can and I love it! It’s one of my favourite things to make now."
(Maison De Joli creations)
Though ciswomen have been able to pop on a pair of jeans and a shirt without ruffling the feathers of society long before femme fashion for men became acceptable, men’s clothing for transmasculine people has always remained less celebrated. For Alex, finding their feet in a time and place where there wasn't much space for them in society was challenging.
“Butch was not a popular thing when I was younger, you would generally be hated by gay men and be looked a with disdain by femme women who were into femme women. It wasn’t a comfortable space for butch women but I tried to shoehorn myself in as best I could. I remember being aware of the fact that I never really felt like when I dressed myself, I looked the way I wanted to look.”
Finding performance allowed them the passport into the comfort and self-realisation they craved. “Drag allowed me a significant measure of self-expression because I wore a binder for it and I could flatten out my chest and then I could fit in clothing that suited the aesthetic I wanted. My physique could be moulded to a certain degree to meet the desired effect and that’s when I discovered my joy of the ever-changing fashion choices that I was making.”
Alex’s journey brought them to a more fundamental conclusion that had evaded even their own description most of their life. “I ended up discovering that I had been very much trans and non-binary my entire life but I just never grew up with any kind of language to articulate that, I didn't understand it, I didn't know how to explain to people why I felt like I didn't fit in and to a fairly sizeable degree I didn’t feel like I was “trans enough”.
Alex elected for top surgery to bring themselves to a place that represented who they were and the transformation in comfort and happiness has been profound. “For the first time in my life ALL of the clothes that I adore, fit me perfectly. It is the most euphoric thing to be able to put on a shirt and have it sit across your chest in exactly the way you want it to!"
(Phil at Pride 2021)
Because of the way they can wear their clothes, the world sees them now in a way that befits the person they’ve always been but were unable to project. “I’m wearing the same clothes I wore five years ago when I used to be intermittently misgendered, now the entire world reads me as male, and it’s not until I open my mouth that that changes!”
(Left: Clothing by Wildfang. Right: Underwear by TomboyX)
The importance of the right clothing to represent ourselves can never be understated, finding a fashion niche can be more difficult for people who identify as transmasculine but if the high street catches up to societal evolution, and more brands making masculine clothes for AFAB people find their space, we can reach the utopia where everyone’s fashion choices will be able to pay homage to their true selves.