Last week I went to a formal ball. It was an LGBT Pride formal ball, so allowed some degree of alternative gender expression, but the dress code was still 'cocktail dress or suit and tie'. As you may be able to imagine, shopping for this made me somewhat gender dysphoric as my gender expression is usually firmly casual and in the overlap between clothing genders (think t-shirts, jeans and hoodies). Nonetheless I was determined to go and actually enjoy dressing formal and knowing that there would be queer women there dressed in suits helped me to be comfortable with the idea that I was still dressing in the overlap (especially once I'd applied eye makeup and nail varnish
to bridge the void between suits and dresses a little further).
In order to defeat gendered space related anxiety, I went shopping with forthwritten
, a nonbinary friend going to the same ball. We managed to turn anxiety inducing gendered shopping into a transgressive genderqueer jape as we raided every department in the shop. I can heartily recommend clothes shopping with a trans* buddy, it makes shop assistants arbitrarily (mis)gendering you a two-against-one situation :)
Trying to buy me a suit in the M&S mens section was an interesting experience. When measured, my neck size was 14", while their smallest suits were for 16" collar and cut assuming bulky shoulders and arms (despite being 'slim fit'). There was no way I was going to pay £99 for something that looked boxy and ill fitting on me. Meanwhile their 14.5" 'slim fit' shirts fit my top half reasonably well but were pretty tight around my waist and hips.
But while we were browsing the boys section finding forthwritten
a rather dapper suit cut for '11 years', I couldn't help noticing that an awful lot of the clothes we were looking at (and sniggering at - M&S seem to be helping you dress your children as mini hipsters or baby lesbians) appeared to be in my size. Now I'm 32 years old, 5 foot 10 (178cm), weigh 10 stone 2 (about 64kg, 142lbs) and have a 31.5" waist (80cm), so I have never even vaguely considered going to look in the children's section for clothes, but this stuff looked like it was just my style and just my size. So I was tempted to try it on... And lo and behold some '13-14 years boys' jumpers from Marks and Spenser's fit me impressively well
. If anything they were fitting me better
than any clothes usually do.
In the end I supplemented mens shirt and trousers with a '13 year old boys' suit jacket that was slightly
too tight on the chest to do up and slightly too short in the sleeves, but fit my shoulders perfectly, sat on me very well when open
(albeit making me look like a hipster) and looked great combined with the 14.5" collar slim fit mens shirt I'd bought with the cuffs sticking out below the jacket sleeves (the 13-14 year old boys shirt fit me perfectly in collar, shoulders and chest but was also too short in sleeves). Having looked online, the same jacket is available one size larger on the M&S website (14 years), but I was shopping 2 days before the event so didn't have the option of that. I also ended up buying two of those impressively well fitting '13-14 years' jumpers in different colours
So this was quite the revelation for me, that I could not only shop in the mens and women's sections of the shop but also in the children's section too, despite being quite a lot taller than a child and having a 20.5 'ideal' BMI. It's got me to thinking about why that is... Mainly it's because I have an unusual androgynous/transgender body shape. I have pretty much no muscle mass (in fact I have hypotonic muscles due to dyspraxia), a pretty much flat chest and body fat that goes on my waist and hips long long before it gets anywhere near my chest, arms and shoulders. Having gone home and measured based on size charts, my chest is 34.5" measured under the arms, my bust is 35" (yes, not much difference), my neck is 14", my waist is 31.5", my hips (aka 'seat') are 35.5" and my inside leg is 32" (I'm using imperial measures here because the clothes sizes do too). I *think* my sleeves should be about 32 to 33" from back of the neck to wrist (as suit/shirt size guides seem to go) although this is difficult to measure on yourself, about 20" armpit to wrist.( Sizing table mainly for my own information... )
So it's really no surprise that I keep finding mens tops I buy bag up around my armpits or neck, or fit lopsidedly on my shoulders. Or that when I buy size XS or S (depending on the shop) t-shirts from 'young fashion' outlets like H&M or Topman, that are cut to fit my shoulders well, they tend to be tight around the hips and waist and so somehow manage to make me look like I have a potbelly even though I'm happily in the middle of BMI ideal (and frankly even when I was underweight they weren't very flattering for my fat distribution). Meanwhile women's tops assume that I have rather more of a bust than I do or have annoyingly short sleeves despite fitting my shoulders well.
Which leaves me in the odd situation of discovering that boys clothes from some shops that are designed for 34" chest 13 to 14 year olds fit my shoulders and arms really well, are cut to assume a relatively flat chest but seem to leave a lot more bagginess around the waist than mens clothes with that chest size do. Essentially boys clothes cut for my shoulders expect you to be a little bit chubby around the waist but have no muscle mass on your shoulders and arms, while mens clothes cut for my shoulders or neck expect you to be rake thin or have muscles you want to be showing off (which I *really* don't). As a friend said, "I've been enjoying shopping in the boys department since they started making 11 year olds in my size".
So ultimately this proves that everyone's body shapes are different, transgender people doubly so! It also means I'm more aware of my actual measurements, so I can approach shopping knowing my actual sizes (especially as each chain store has a sizing guide on their website), and I now have yet another department I can look in for clothes that suit my style and body shape, so more choice! ...and I could be saving a fortune
in VAT ;)Update:
Having heard this story, my mum has amusedly related to me how my parents could never get me to wear M&S children's clothes when I was a kid because they were sized too big for me and I didn't want to wear 7-8 years clothes when I was 10 or 11. Clearly the tables are turned now and that oversizing is finally working to my advantage! ;)