by Corey Rae
When I started my transition from male to female at the age of 15, my personal style became a difficult thing for me to deal with. My mom, however, has always been stylish. Having worked as a hairstylist for more than 30 years, she has an attuned natural understanding of the notion of style. I was luckily one of my mom’s most loyal (and possibly annoying) customers. And even luckier, I was born into a supportive and loving family. I’m grateful for them everyday.
Like any 15-year-old, I was discovering myself and my own personal expression. Add to the mix that I was also transitioning. With the encouragement of my mom, I decided to start growing my hair out when I entered my junior year of high school. That was the first step in seeing myself as a transgender person. Then, I started wearing more flamboyant and eye-catching colors in the fall months, like a bright orange V-neck. At that point, it was clear I was beginning to get a sense of my own taste, and my mom asked me if I’d want to start wearing some of her clothes. So I did: I started with her jeans, and then her shirts, which led to wearing her cardigans and jackets. Though I didn’t exactly choose these clothes, they were important in my process, as they helped validate my gender and gave me pieces to experiment with.
That spring, my mom and I bought a few bras together, and I started wearing mascara. I felt amazing. Through the clothes I was wearing, people were able to see that I was, indeed, a girl. Into the summer months, my mom and I went to buy me warm-weather clothes of my own, thus graduating from her closet. The summer wardrobe can be a trickier step when it comes to a transitioning body—showing skin or not showing skin, it’s tough. My summer style was simple: tank tops tucked into skirts, or tank tops over shorts.
Over the course of the next year, friends gave me old clothes, shoes, and accessories. Looking back, I’m grateful for all of this support—though none of what I was wearing felt exactly right for me. I knew I needed to dress more like myself, like the girl I had been imagining myself to be all these years. But I didn’t quite yet feel comfortable doing so at this stage in my transition—an important thing to note for oneself, that your own style is also a transition, and it takes time, stages, and requires cycles of evolution.
Near the end of my senior year of high school, I started to buy my own women’s clothing, in preparation to go off to college (though my personal style didn’t come into fruition until my senior year of college). I definitely had “good style,” in that I looked put together and “passed” as female—my mother made sure of that. But I never felt 100% comfortable. I wanted to be myself.
In college, I started to take risks most people, trans or not, would never dare to take. I became famous at my school for wearing lace shirts with no bra, a long, baggy tank-top as a dress, paired with platform snake-skin sneakers, leather knee-high boots with a leather skirt and cropped turtleneck, the list goes on—and you get the picture.
Once I calmed down from the attention these outfits got me, I opted to focus on clothing that was much more subdued, while still being a statement, and truthfully a bit more flattering—not merely sexually asserting. Because I am a MTF transgender person, de-emphasizing my shoulders and my ribs became my personal concerns, post-operation. I finally found tops that were both trendy and sexy, but more flattering for my body type. Realizing that I could decide what was flattering to me was a huge step. I am still learning and coming into my own, but the realization that “good style” could be uniquely mine, has kept me interested and very engaged in being creative with how I present myself.
Before I had sexual reassignment surgery (the day after my 19th birthday), getting dressed every morning was painful beyond words. Having to wake up every morning and dress the body I didn’t identify with was saddening, and definitely not the best way to start off the day. Dressing for my transitioning body didn’t get any easier. I offer this essay about my experience to help anyone who is beginning their transition, on the journey toward full personal expression. As part of my mission for trans-acceptance, and overall confidence and comfort, here are my top tips for flattering MTF fashion throughout the four seasons.
Note: Not all MTF trans people necessarily want to look high-femme, of course. My tips are based on my own experience and perspective.
Try on a pair of black riding boots. I love them because they slim out and lengthen your leg, but are also a great basic. They will always be in style, and match with most clothing, no matter the color. You can also wear them into the winter as long as it’s not raining or snowing.
I recommend buying a few pairs of leggings, big comfy sweaters, and long- and short -sleeve shirts. For most MTF individuals, hiding a bulge is the biggest issue when it comes to fashion. If this is your main concern, buy shirts long enough to hide the bulge and still make you feel cute and comfortable. Pair with Uggs or riding boots.
People are starting to ditch their winter cover-ups, which have been hiding their bodies for months. What’s a trans-girl to do? I recommend buying looser-fitting dresses (but not too flowy), skirts, and thicker-strap tank tops, as they help cover more of your shoulder width. Also: you may want to make sure the scoop neck of the top isn’t too high or low, based on the shape of your chest. I would shy away from ¾ -length sleeved shirts, as they tend to lengthen your arm. If you’re worried about passing I would go with short-sleeved V-necks or scoop necks.
Let’s talk bathing suits. It seems to me that buying and wearing bathing suits can be difficult for most people, including ciswomen, and the key is finding a suit you feel comfortable in—depending on your body. Probably the hardest time to cover up your transforming body is at the pool or beach. A lot of people talk about “tucking.” I’ve never tried it, nor have I ever wanted to. I didn't want anything to pop or go wrong; and it was also way too much work for me. I had enough to worry about as it was when I was transitioning.
As far as other summer threads, I suggest t-shirts with looser armpit holes so you don't show sweat marks as much, and they’re also much more comfortable. If you’re on hormone treatment, you'll be sweating more without the winter cold to cool you down.
And as for shoes, a great pair of sandals is a must for summer. Havaianas flip flops are very girly, and very comfy. Also, a great skin-toned pair of gladiators will make your summer. I suggest checking out Sam Edelman as they're comfy, cater to wider feet, and last forever.
After a recent weekend on the beach, I was reminded how painful it was for me to live my daily life until I had my surgery. Most transgender individuals who are in transition experience this: they have to get up, clothe their undesired bodies, and try to put a smile on their faces to make it through the day. Hiding ourselves, or not feeling comfortable in even the most comfy clothes, is painful and depressing.
As we share our stories, we learn that we are not without community, and that we are here to help each other in our individual transitions. Together we are a movement, and it’s time for the world to start giving us the respect we deserve, respect for being brave enough to be our true selves.
Corey Rae is a 23-year-old up-and-coming transgender icon who is changing the way society views the transgender community. She is a California-native, though she was raised mostly in New Jersey. Corey graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Relations with a minor in Sociology from Hofstra University in 2015. She has a strong academic and personal background in LGBT issues. With a passion for public speaking, honest communication, and working with others, Corey has her sights set on becoming a prominent face of the transgender community, a spokesperson for human rights, and more specifically, transgender acceptance. One of her central goals is to change public perceptions of transgender stereotypes.