Fashion is bought. Style is what’s made with it. Personal style choices and the act of choosing how to present ourselves is that of taking a mutable and intangible thing and visualizing it, making it palpable.
Developing that sense of personal style is a life-long endeavour. What you wore when you were 16 and really into My Chemical Romance might not hold up in 2019.
Or maybe it does?
“I’ve been through the weirdest phases,” Mahlet Cuff says. “In high school, I went through an emo phase. I wore all black, and my friends thought I was a weirdo. I used to wear creepers. I still have them, actually. I’m gonna have to bring those back. They’re still cool.”
For some LGBT2SQIA+ folks, the process of finding and feeling themselves in clothing is a feat. While clothing designers are taking gender-neutral aesthetics into consideration more and more, the price point and the sizing systems aren’t considerate of either the budgets or varied body shapes within the greater transgender community.
“It’s so weird, because you’re in, like, four different departments just trying to find a black T-shirt that fits and doesn’t cut off mid-waist or cut off the circulation in your arm,” Jude Hayes says. “And as far as retail spaces go, I think it’s a lot to ask to completely ungender every retail space.”
“There’s a really interesting balance in regards to consumer culture and wokeness, and the marketability of wokeness. But there’s this tiny intersection where you do get people who are genuinely trying to help and working their asses off to make a space that is comfortable.”
Jill Zdunich / Shop Take Care (she/her)
When Jill Zdunich opened Shop Take Care in Osborne Village in 2017, she was determined to create a space that operated outside of binary gender norms as much as possible. Zdunich thought that the best way to achieve this was to colour-code her inventory, regardless of the style or size.
“I wear a lot of men’s clothing, and I’m always (told), ‘Well, that’s the men section’ or ‘Those are men’s jeans’ or ‘That’s a men’s shirt.’ Really? I can read, thank you for telling me, but I’m still going to purchase this,” she says. “I will never, ever allow that kind of thing here.”
“This is hopefully, like, one 800-square-foot piece of real estate in the world where you don’t have to care or worry about that … Clothing is a part of who we are. It’s how we express ourselves, and I don’t care how you express yourself. If I can help, great, that’s why I’m here.”
Giving back to the community is a priority for Shop Take Care. The store donates as much as 5,000 articles of clothing a month to local LGBT2SQIA+ organizations like Rainbow Resource Centre and Sunshine House, and proceeds from their semi-annual fill-a-bag sale are donated, too.
Nik Pereira (he/him) - "it's a feeling"
“I’ve always loved fashion, since I was a kid. I would try to make my own stuff and always wanted to have my own fashion line. It’s just been a lifelong thing for me.
“For me now, it’s more about how a piece of clothing fits rather than what’s on the label. I always go for something that fits nice. Going from wearing chest binders under my clothes to being able to just wear a shirt was a big deal. I’ll never forget the first time I put on a shirt I wanted to wear for so long, but it never looked right on me. I have two shirts that I put aside four years ago when I bought them. I thought to myself, ‘One day, I’ll wear this shirt, and it’ll look the way I want it to look on me.’ I put one of them on last night to see where I was at, and I can almost wear it. I’m pretty stoked about that.
“If I’m suiting up, I like to do a mock neck. I love it. There’s something about a mock neck with a suit instead of a dress shirt that feels so good. That’s my thing. It makes me feel like a million bucks every time. If it’s streetwear, I like something a little edgier but still thoughtfully put together.
“I wear whatever I want to wear in terms of how it’s making me feel in that moment. I’m searching for the feeling, not necessarily the look. There are days when I’m getting ready and I’m changing my outfit a million times, because I can’t find the feeling.”
Mahlet Cuff (she/her) - "I'm starting to give less of a shit"
“I’m thinking about the ways in which I used strive to be white. I’d try to be in certain spaces and look like everyone else, especially white feminist spaces, especially around the time I started getting involved with social activism and hip white art and music spaces.
“I wore a lot of high-waisted pants and Doc Martens. When I got my first pair of Docs when I was 18, I was like, ‘this is it.’ I was definitely dressing in a way that I thought would make people accept me, in a way that said ‘I’m one of you.’ I was trying to fit into a mold.
“I’ve been trying to figure out if I actually enjoy these kinds of clothes, like, do I even like wearing them, or am I trying to be something I’m not? Am I being myself? I’m still trying to figure out how to find my individuality within (those spaces) instead of striving to be something I’m not.
“Lately, I’ve been playing around more with the concept of masculinity. Tying my hair back, wearing more looser-fitting clothing, plus other things I think I was afraid of wearing in fear of being seen as unattractive. I’m starting to give less of a shit.
“Hair is something I’ve been struggling with my whole life. It’s the first thing I think about when I’m getting ready, especially when my hair is natural ... I love my natural hair, but I also wanna shave it off. I want to be bald! Not like old-man bald, more like Frank Ocean bald, and then dye what’s left on top pink.”
Chelsea Howgate (she/her)
“I think I’d call my look ‘lazy femme,’ especially in winter, which is the worst season for fashion, at least in my opinion.
“If I go to a clothing store with my friends, often I try my best to present femininely, but I'll still get ‘Are you alright, sir? Finding everything alright?’ – and I'll give the salesperson a weird look, and they’ll get really awkward and sort of walk away. It’s like, ‘Well, now we're all awkward, you’ve done this to yourself.’
“I think it’s silly that you have to present a certain way in order to be aligned with some sort of identity … There are some days where I dress a lot less feminine. I'll wear something like pants that are, I guess technically ‘guy’ pants from the ‘men’s’ section or whatever, and I'll be a lot more self-conscious on those days. I mean, I've been on HRT for about five months now, I've got boobs, but I'm still sort of worried all the time.
“I actually noticed recently that I tend to get extremely dysphoric when someone else is wearing a skirt, and it looks really good on them. I mean, that could be me! I could be wearing a skirt right now, but I'm not.
“The days that I (put less effort into) presenting, I’m obviously more self-aware of how I appear, and then other days when I do present more femininely, it doesn't matter how people see me. I know what I am.”
Vick Ly (non-binary, they/them) - Wardrobe staples, hair & confidence
“When I’m going out, I need a ring, a big ring. Put on a watch. Gotta have a chain going. I really love denim. I’m a raw denim bro. I hate to say it out loud. I think that denim, the way I cuff or roll my denim is important. A lot of my shirts are thrifted. Some people look down on that shit, but fuck that. Who even are you?
“In terms of my hair, I’d been wanting to cut my hair off for so long, and I wasn’t sure if it was just because of friends who were like, ‘you’d look so good with your hair chopped off,’ or if I wanted to be seen as masculine. Long hair apparently isn’t masculine. I was really stuck between those things.
“I was fighting myself and just saying (to myself): ‘you can be comfortable with long hair. Just because you have long hair doesn’t mean that you’re not Vick.’
“Cutting it off, I was sitting there and my eyes were watering, but not in a way that meant I was sad. It was like, ‘holy shit, I’m doing this. I’m gonna look like a whole new person.’ And I do, and I feel that way, too. It was life- changing. I wore my hair in a bun for a million years of my life.
“If people thought my confidence was out of control before, now it’s worse. I’ve got Big Vick Energy.”
Jude Hayes, Drag Name: Miss Gender (he/him, drag is she/her)
Miss Gender’s personality “is just me, but acting slightly more tipsy and a little more like your ‘fun’ aunt – somewhere between Linda Belcher and Sasha Velour is what I'm aiming for. That's kind of the goal.
“I think confusing and arousing people is a goal, too. I want to look like a boy in makeup, or I want to look like some kind of messed-up art piece, because I see drag as a performance art form.
“When I’ve told people that I do drag, they've been like, ‘Oh, so like drag king stuff, right?’ and I get where that comes from, because there's this kind of historical theme of trans men and butch lesbians as well portraying drag kings, so I get it. I used to have a kind of regressive stance on drag a couple of years ago, and I was like ‘well if I am assigned female at birth, I have to be crossing gender to do drag’. There’s definitely flaws in that ideology.
“Finding a home in this community was really important, because it helped me realize that I can do whatever, and it doesn't really matter. I would kind of describe my style and what I’m trying to move towards as genderfuck, which I really love.
“Coming to terms with that has also allowed me to be more comfortable in the way I express myself in my masculinity. Drag for me is absolutely an expression of femininity that I was not and haven’t been comfortable portraying. So it's this matter of wearing these clothes that I used to wear before, and just getting to reclaim and repurpose them. Wearing my grad dress for my drag performance debut, at least for the first 45 seconds until I took it off, was really great. And just in general, wearing these clothes and being like ‘No, I'm doing this because it feels empowering to do this.’”
Caity Maskiew, Drag name: Moxie Cotton (they/them, drag is she/her)
“I don’t put a whole lot of thought into what I wear on a day-to-day basis, because my personal style comes more from the way that I present my face and how I queer myself with my physical attributes. I try to take fashion and make it comfortable, but I like to look visibly queer too, if I can, you know?
“‘Visibly queer’ for me is things that defy what people expect when they see a person.
“I don’t have eyebrows. I shave them, and I shave my head. When people think ‘girl,’ they think long hair and very groomed and put together and whatever. I only really put effort into my appearance when I’m in drag, so everything else is just as low-effort as possible.
“I don’t want my clothes to be shapeless, but just intentionally not accentuating things, because I think that confuses people, and I kind of like getting second glances like that, because I like to be an example of a weird-looking person sometimes.
“My drag name is Moxie Cotton. I use she/her pronouns when talking about her and my drag. I call it my gender catharsis. I was raised in a Catholic household, so all of the expectations that were put on me as a child that I didn’t feel that I fit into … Moxie gets to take that on, and to take all the fun parts of it. She gets to be that really bubbly and really sociable girl, with long hair and the beautiful makeup, the right figure and everything.
“I get to put a lot of effort into her, and she gets to be all of the feminine, all of the beauty … and then Caity can just be over here, just living my life. I don’t have to look any certain way when I’m not Moxie, so it frees me from those expectations.”
Published in Volume 73, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 28, 2019)