The tricks to getting dressed when your gender is ambiguous

March 9 | Guest post by SonyaG
The picture is of my kiddo having fun trying clothes on for my wedding

Given my strange gender identity, this means that my outside rarely feels like it's reflecting myself. It can be frustrating. And depressing. Occasionally debilitating. (I can't even imagine what trans people go through.) This means I had to develop a few coping mechanisms just to be able to get out the door every day.

Appearance and clothing are still extremely divided into male and female, and dressing differently can be frowned upon (although there has been improvement in the last years.) And I missed too many things — work and school and outings — because I was late from having ended up in tears surrounded by piles of clothes that were just NEVER RIGHT.

I am not posting to give deep philosophical advice on gender identity confusion (that's over here if you want to read it). But I want to share a few tricks on the practical aspects of living in the grey zone.

So here are my tips for getting dressed when your gender is ambiguous…

Don't try to label yourself

Most days, I can't define my own self. And that's fine. When I discovered the whole gender binary thing, I had something of a relapse, clothing-wise. Asking myself if it was a boy day or a girl day (and gosh, the elation of thinking this!) actually hinders me. If I over-think things, I never get out of the house.

Develop your own style

I can't stress this enough. Who cares what fashion gurus, or your co-workers, or societal norms think you should wear?

Don't try to plan in advance

For a while, before I really understood the issue, I tried to set my outfit out the day before, because I thought my problem was fashion-related. It actually made things worse. For me, just grabbing whatever feels right morning of, no questions asked, works best.

Learn what aspects of dressing like the other gender work for you

I've posted before on wearing men's dress clothes. I like the dapper-boi look and it works with my body type. I can't find men's pants that work with my hips and always end up uncomfortable or ill-fitting if I try. So I focus on shirts and ties and don't waste time with pants.

A great hair-cut can do wonders for you

One that is especially versatile is best for me! Silly fact; my hair part has a girl side and a boy side. So even a pony tail can feel right while no-one else knows anything is different.

"How to get dressed" greeting card from Etsy seller ThePresents

Focus on the little things

Maybe you are just starting this process. Maybe you don't, or can't, rock the gender-boat too much. Accessories can give your mood a boost. For example, you might find a sense of victory in a small change like a man's belt or hat, ultra dainty feminine jewelry, or a touch of nail polish.

Don't overcompensate

I hate dresses. I absolutely abhor tights and nylons. Yet very very occasionally (usually for extremely formal occasions like my wedding or prom) I have gone full femme and felt beautiful and glamorous. That threw me for a loop into a strange confused feeling of somehow disrespecting my masculine side… until I figured out that these are occasions that I feel I am playing dress-up. I don't wear ball gowns on the regular, so it is like being a kid and pretending to be a pretty princess girl and that's okay and fun, too.

Respect dress codes

If you are paying me, I'll wear what you want. (See, playing dress-up, per the previous point.) If there are other deeper issues than a silly "girls in skirts" rule, I will find another job. A fugly padded visor in a fast-food place, steel-toed boots in a butcher shop, a full disposable zippered jumper in a paint-shop, a skirt and tie as a waitress, ugly-ass white nurse shoes… I have worn many ridiculous items over the past two decades, none of which reflect who I am, they reflect the appearance my boss wants for the company.

Decide how much time and effort you are willing to put into it

This is actually a huge important point. I can (and usually do) pull off a smashing androgynous look. But that shit takes time. I have to iron a shirt, find exactly the right pants, fiddle with a tie knot, carefully think on accessories etc. If I am feeling lazy (or late), just throwing on any women's clothing looks decent and takes two minutes. And some days, that is more important than looking non-binary.

Accept that sometimes nothing will feel right

It sucks. But it happens to everyone — gender weird or not. Just don't look in the mirror too much and wear something comfortable. Be forgiving of yourself. Tomorrow will be better, hopefully.

So, this is my experience and personal tips. I hope maybe I can help someone a bit. Do you have any others?

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  1. I don't have any tips, I'm relatively new to this myself, but I just wanted to say that what you describe under the section "Don't Overcompensate " was really helpful, I hadn't thought about it that way.

    I had my hair cut short recently (after 10 years of ponytails) and I feel so much better for it- partially because I look a bit more androgynous at first glance. So I can recommend that for those who can!

    4 agree
  2. This is so timely. I only recently (as in the last few months) realized I am demi-femme. Sometimes I really feel very feminine and other times I feel very fuck gender. I totally agree with the haircut thing. When I wore my hair long, I always felt like – for lack of a better word – an imposter. It was the one thing that always seemed a bit out of place so I would often wear wigs or falls. (Don't get me wrong I still love wigs and they are super fun. But I no longer try to hide in them.) Once I chopped/shaved most of it off and dyed it, I felt sooooo much better. Plus, now I have a lot more fun with my hair instead of giving up and shoving it into a clip.

    Re-examining my style has been an interesting journey. For the longest time I dressed hyper femme and I was usually 'dressed' if I went out (ie. dress, elaborate makeup, and heels to run errands). Now I am experimenting more with androgyny. I find myself ditching bras 2/3 of the time to give myself a flatter chest. So even if I wear a dress I still look a bit androgynous. Lately my style vacillates between dystopian future survivalist (torn pants/shirts and combat boots) and androgynous wizard (long skirts, hooded sweaters, and lots of weird jewelry).

    4 agree
  3. I was fourteen or fifteen before I realized that my resolve to deliberately wear unfashionable clothing was pushing me around as much as other kids were pushed around by fashion. It was a great relief to not care one way or another. Gender-dressing is the same way. Whether you think you "have" to look male, female or carefully in the middle is a trap. You don't "have" to do anything except cover the bits that legally can't be shown, dress appropriately for the weather, and as you say, wear the uniform you're paid to during working-hours. And it's liberating to admit that you like something that doesn't fit your officially declared self-image, that you don't have to trade one stereotype for another, just be comfortable and put on whatever you enjoy on that particular day.

    2 agree
  4. As someone who worked through a lot of angst on dressing masculine-of-center without much knowledge of anyone else doing the same thing (the Internet was young and I wasn't very good at using it) THANK YOU for writing this. What you articulate about "playing dress up" rings very true for me. I can enjoy wearing glam dresses to the opera, but I was miserable when "dressing professionally" for work meant a masquerade in heels and makeup. My tie collection and I are very happy now.

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