Shopping in the Boys Section: Three Outfits for Petite Genderqueers

I’ve always been a small human. When I went in for my yearly checkup at 18, the doctor measured me at 5’0 ft, shrugged, scribbled on his clipboard, and said, “Well, I guess that’s it.”

For a long time I struggled to find gender-affirming clothing. Venturing into the women’s section often felt like going turkey hunting during the off-season, except every season was the off-season. The men’s section was even worse. Every polo shirt marked “small” was a dress on me, and I could pitch a tent in a pair of extra small jeans.

But, I’m here to tell you there’s hope, and I’ll tell you exactly where to find it: in the little boys section. Kids are fashionable these days — or maybe it’s their parents, who knows. All I know is that I finally located my brand loyalty in the Zara kids section. Racks of button downs catered to parents who want dapper offspring? Hell yeah! Your 13-year-old will grow out of that charming blazer in 6 months max, but this office-appropriate ensemble will fit me forever. Another selling point: clothing for children is significantly cheaper ($20 trousers, for example).

Thus, my girlfriend Leah and I went on a quest to the boys’ section in search of three genderqueer-friendly/gender-neutral outfits: one street style inspired, one classic, one office appropriate. Here’s what we found.

Note: I’m not particularly busty or endowed with hips. Full disclosure, I’m not sure how these clothes would work for someone with a different body type.


Zara

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photo credit Leah Bank

Street style:

Leather jacket (size 11/12) // Shoes (size 36) // T Shirt (11/12) //Pants (mustard, 11/12 or 13/14?)

Zara has an amazing selection. 10/10 would recommend for hipness as well as casual office wear (I already gushed about the racks of button downs). The drop crotch pants are so roomy. My thighs never felt so free! Unlike a lot of adult clothing, kids’ clothing is made for movement. Oddly, I felt more like a suave and competent adult in this outfit than I do in most of my adult clothing. I envision myself hopping off my motorcycle and strolling into an Italian café, where my date has just ordered us two glasses of local wine. It is early summer, I take their hand; perhaps I pluck a rose from a nearby bush… you get the picture.

We encountered some difficulty, however, with the dressing rooms. The sales associates just didn’t know where to put us. Tbh, retail is stressful enough already (the lights, the loud music, having to compete with someone rifling through the same rack) plus gender? Jeez. It’s likely that no one will be able to help you find the right size, and they will probably direct you to the adult section — which is ok. They’re doing their jobs and haven’t read this article (yet!).

This leads me to a note about self-care: If you need to, stop in the food court and treat yourself to a pretzel, a Cinnabon, a cool lemonade, or what have you. Existing in between the binary can be tough and exhausting, especially in environments that enhance gender dysphoria. Wanna be a hot lady? Ok! Here’s a lacy bra covering an ample, Photoshopped chest. Wanna be a hot dude? You got it! Check out this pic of a body builder applying some cedar scented anti persperant. Wanna be a hot… person? Um, idk, lol good luck, kid. Erasure through non-representation is real, so take it slow, and be easy on yourself.


JC Penny

Business casual

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photo credit Leah Bank

Vest (size large) // Button down (size medium, or 10/12) // Converse high tops // Jeans (black, size 12) * (do not recommend they are tiny)

JC Penny has wide range of brands to choose from. The vest and button down are from a brand called Izod, which offers pretty standard, basic apparel. The blue pop on the back of the vest definitely adds a bit of flair. The jeans and converse save the outfit from looking too stuffy, and gives the ensemble a pseudo-punk, business on the top party on the bottom vibe. I definitely felt like a power lesbian in this outfit. I felt dapper, and damn, I felt sexy.

One issue we encountered: pant size is based on age in kids clothing, which can make things confusing. At the Zara I was the size of an 11/12 year old boy, but with Levis I was definitely not an 11/12 year old boy. This picture is a tad deceiving, as I could zip up the pants but couldn’t suck in my gut enough to button them. Levis jeans are already pretty gender neutral, so next time I’ll shop in the women’s section to save myself the confusion.


Gap

Classic

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photo credit Leah Bank

Shirt (size large) // Pants (size 14) //Shoes (size 3)

The boys Gap is ideal for simple apparel. Leah selected these snappy red pants, which I paired with a basic white shirt and sneakers. One danger of shopping in the little boys section, however, is that you could end up looking like a little boy. Exhibit A: Definite noob alert. I look like the offspring of a banker on a family vacation in the Hamptons. Maybe I am about to sail away on a yacht.

But, check out exhibit B:

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photo credit Leah Bank

With just a few subtle modifications, I’d describe my look as “polished skater.” All I did was put on this generic black beanie, cuff the pants, braid my hair, and there you go. I also stood in a power pose. That really helped. I suggest power poses whenever you want to feel more like an adult regardless of whether or not you are wearing children’s clothing.


In conclusion, unless you are shopping in a specifically gender-neutral clothing line, it is important to remember that you are operating within a system that fundamentally does not accommodate you. Whether it’s in the adult or children’s department, non binary folk are challenged to experiment and modify, mix and match to craft a wardrobe that makes us feel powerful, confident, and witnessed. This can feel like a hurdle, but it can also lead to more creative fashion choices, in my opinion. Good luck!


Leah Bank is a Brooklyn based photographer, possibly from Mars, who enjoys late night cupcake baking and climbing rocks. She has work featured in BUST Magazine, F-Stop Magazine, and American Photography.

Miniature, unassuming and lethal, Liz von Klemperer is the author of the unpublished novel Human Eclipse (shout out to all the publishers out there). Liz is a staff writer for Art Report, has work featured in Luna Luna Mag, Hooligan Mag, and Electric Literature, and has a poem forthcoming in Breadcrumbs Mag.

Liz has written 4 articles for us.

26 Comments

  1. Well done on your finds!

    I’m tomboy femme and still have some good finds in the boys section, including;
    -Many collard check shirts that are made of double layered cotton, don’t feature pink or a cream and are way cheaper.
    -Trackpants, so comfy and half price from womens ones.
    -Adventure Time and other ‘boys’ design t-shirts.
    -Batman trunk type underwear.
    -Many, many beanies.

  2. Thank you for this article! I am constantly in a battle with trying to find clothing that a) fits my gender presentation and b) actually fits. The struggle is real, folks.

    I have recently fallen in love with the boys section at Target. I am a shorter person (5’3″) but I have an abnormally long torso, making most boys shirts look like crop tops on me. Much to my surprise, the shirts at Target are long enough to cover my lengthy torso. I still have not ventured in the pants section at Target, but as far as tops go, they are perfect for me (the tank tops are amazing, by the way).

  3. Super enjoyed this despite definitely not being the right size/shape for the young boys section.
    Will definitely get a good friend to help me brave the boys section of a hip store sometime though… maybe I’ll start with a department store. I want some more drop crotch pants! I feel so powerful when my every curve isn’t telegraphed across the nation.

  4. Love the boy’s section, I get all my work clothes from there. The only drawback is sometimes the button-ups have short sleeves but if you roll them up nobody knows. But I’ll always stan for Old Navy boys jeans, so comfy and less than $15 most of the time

  5. This is actually my life! I’m 4’9 and can’t buy anything in the men’s section and easily half my wardrobe is from the little boys section. The self-care while shopping tips are greatly appreciated – definitely have had my fair share of awkward or anxious moments.

    I find more formal wear to be a struggle. It seems like it’s either in size toddler or size giant man and I have a really hard time finding something in between that isn’t clearly a school uniform. Have you had any luck anywhere?

    Thank you so much for writing this!!! <3

  6. TRYING TO SHOP AS A PERSON WHO DOESN’T EVEN KNOW WHAT SECTION TO START IN AND NONE OF THE CLOTHES LOOK RIGHT OR FEEL RIGHT ON YOU WHEN THE MUSIC IS TOO LOUD AND THE LIGHTS ARE TOO BRIGHT OR TOO DARK AND WHY DO I HAVE TO MAKE THIS DECISION IN PUBLIC???

  7. 5ft6 and can seriously range from a size small to large depending on the store and how tailored I am going for–and have scored quite a few finds in the Zara Boys section. Holler at their jackets.

  8. Fairly recently a girl at a bar told me i look like a 12 year old boy…..so, might as well embrace this and shop in the boy’s section!

    (for real tho i normally do wear ”men’s” clothing that is too big for me so this is an excellent scheme and i’ll definitely be trying it!)

  9. Love this! My wardrobe has greatly improved in the last few years since Ive unashamedly started shopping in the boys section. Shoes, hats, tops, shirts are all great. My only wish is that i could fit into the super cool trousers, but as I’m not actually a 14 yo boy i find the waist far too small. Great inspiration for what I’m looking for in the women’s section though.

  10. Thanks for this, although I am an S in men’s size in most stores here in Italy, and I don’t really have this problem… I usually shop in stores with both “men’s” and “women’s” sections, so I can grab whatever I want from the men’s section and try them on in the women’s dressing rooms. I really don’t want to deal with sales assistants trying to tell me I’m in the wrong section 🙂

  11. I love shopping in the boys section from time to time. I’m a 5 ft tall butch, so to get around the issue of ties from the men’s section being too long I found out that by adjusting the Eldredge knot and Trinity knot I can get my tie to stay above my belt as it should (plus I get a lot of compliments on the fancy looking knots).

    • Great tip, thanks! I’ve mostly switched to bow ties because of the long tie problem, but even then they sometimes look too big for my face. I’ll play around with fancy tie knots! 😀

  12. These are great! I like seeing the modifications you made to improve the last outfit.

    Boy’s section shirts have been a soul saver for me, no question. Gap fits me the best; J Crew is a little narrow through the waist, even for my barely-there hips. Haven’t tried Zara yet, but now I definitely want to. And I’m not even that tiny of a person… 5’3 and not super skinny, and I only wear an XL in Gap kids.

  13. I’ve about 40 inch hips and long chicken legs that deceieve people into thinking I’m a tall person so uh boys’ section fails me in the pants zone not matter the store. But the men’s section in Target has been okay. Just ended up being a bit on the long side and resting closer to my natural waistline which is okay for me, as I like rolled cuffs and on occasion tucking into boots. Also it seemed like all their pants were stretch blend.

  14. The tip about the Zara kids section is FANTASTIC. My girlfriend is very petite and prefers menswear and consequently is always swimming in everything, even extra smalls. We went to Zara yesterday and I’ve never seen her so excited about shopping – she was practically running from display to display to grab stuff to try on, and ended up buying a bunch of new stuff that all fit great. Also it was all so much more reasonably priced than adult clothing!

  15. this was fun to read but I feel a bit sad because as a more female-looking than i would like, plus size genderqueer person I find there’s so little content on how to dress tomboyish? it seems like there’s advice if you want to go full dapper but i really struggle to find anything online on being a plus size tomboi 🙁

  16. Late to the game, but thank you so so much for this post. I’ve struggled for quite some time to find button up shirts that fit…in most women’s shirts I feel like I’m going to rip through the shoulders Hulk style while men’s shirts swallow me.

    I just moved to a *real* sizeable city and visited Zara, per this post’s recommendation. Happy to say I’ve never worn a button down that fit so well! No Hulk shoulders. I don’t look like I’m wearing my father’s clothes. Life is grand.

    Thank you!

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