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 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 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.
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:
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.