Fashion

“Changing rooms make me anxious”: How can shopping be more trans-inclusive?

By Mona M. Ali

The fashion industry has a long way to go to ensure the retail experience includes everyone. Four of the Scandi style set share their thoughts

The fashion industry is showing signs and willingness to move into a more inclusive and norm-free space, but there's still a long way to go, especially when it comes to the trans community. People still believe in the division between women’s and men's clothing.

For many of the trans community, going shopping can be filled with dread. Having poor experiences in changing rooms has meant many have switched to online shopping and finding more sustainable ways to buying clothing. Four Scandinavian trans models share their own personal experiences here, tips on their favourite places to shop, along with their hope for the industry on creating a more inclusive shopping experience.

May Lifschitz, actor

I don’t shop much for specific brands, as I generally tend more to look for styles, silhouettes and colour schemes that I’m inspired by in the given moment and start my search for items from there. However, I am fond of Vika Im, Rotate, Alectra Rothschild, Ganni and Han Kjøbenhav for when I need to glam it up! I usually go for classic looks with a sexy twist. I love good wardrobe staples and spicing them up with something fun and unexpected.

I haven’t experienced much struggle when out shopping, other than just hating the whole dressing room situation: how can the lighting and the positioning of mirrors always be so unflattering? I tend more to get things by the brands and try them at home or shop online.

In the future, I hope brands stop tokenising diversity and minority groups and instead take us and our salaries seriously. I have too often been asked to work for a much smaller fee than other cis talent, simply because I should be grateful to be given the platform and opportunities.

These troll ass feet have been my biggest challenge. Being a size 42, when a women’s sample size is 39, has brought me many blisters and bunions. Slowly productions have gotten better at finding options and more brands are now making queer and plus size women’s shoes. I think the future is looking brighter, thank god!

Ada Swärd, model

I enjoy a mix of brands, such as Toteme to Selkie. But lately, I’ve been wearing the same pair of Stockholm Surfboardclub trousers almost everyday for the effortlessness. They are one of the first pairs of trousers which compliment my figure in a way in which I feel comfortable in – high-waisted and wide legs with an elastic band at the waist.

I’ve never felt comfortable shopping in stores, so I almost always shop online. Going into changing rooms has always made me anxious. And there is almost always a sales advisor, or another customer, that gives you a look. It’s not like that in all stores, but it does happen from time to time.

I really hope that we will see more of trans people in campaigns and on the webshop in future, in order to see a wider representation of all their customers. People do still believe in the division in women’s and men’s clothing. Sometimes I’m met with looks on the street, it can be an interested look or a confused one. I’ve learnt to block it out.

One thing which took me a while to overcome was how to present ‘femininity’. Initially I thought because I am trans, and I don’t want people to misgender me, I have to present as femme because I want to be seen as the woman I am. But women can dress precisely how they want and still be women; somehow people expect transwomen to present hyper-feminine and trans men as hyper-masculine. I don’t owe anyone, that took me a while to realise.

Kelet Ali, model

When it comes to Finnish brands, my favourite is definitely Uhana. They are a bit on the pricey side, but very sustainable and all of my best pieces are from there. Otherwise, I might go to the thrift shop UFF, or buy from Lindex, Zara or Facebook marketplace. One issue I have with buying clothes is that because I have very long legs, it's been almost impossible to find cute high-waisted jeans which actually stay high-waisted.

Shopping when you are a transgender person is always a little more complicated than it would be otherwise. On top of considering whether an item fits, I’ve always had to be mindful if an item would enhance my feminine features or does the opposite. Often, the first question I ask myself when trying something on is: ‘Do I look manly in it?’ Something I have come to terms with is that there is a little bit of man and a little bit of woman in everyone. These days I don't mind wearing ‘masculine’ clothing, as it doesn't take away from who I am.

If I could tell my younger self something, I’d say not to be too afraid of looking bad when you are still young. Once you know that you look bad in something, you'll know to avoid it or accessorise in a way so it suits you better – experimenting with fashion will help you develop your personal style.

Robin Canbulat, model

I like a lot of brands such as Jade Cropper, Levi's and Maria Nilsdotter, but I also shop secondhand. Some of my favourite shops in Stockholm are Humana, Stockholms stadsmission and Emmaus. I shop there because they're sustainable, they keep up with the pace of the fashion industry and they show continued support of the lgbtq+ community, which is refreshing.

I have always struggled with shopping ever since the very first time I went out as female presenting when I was 15-years-old. I went out with a buzzcut, a full orange face of Maybelline’s old BB-cream, lashes and a too big borrowed bra. I had skinny jeans and a hoodie on – I looked a mess, but I was living. I felt everyone’s judging eyes were on me, I was so scared someone would say something or hurt me.

With my heart pumping and my head down, I went into H&M and found a bra, a concealer and a top. I felt so much joy afterwards that I had the courage to buy something, but the feeling of joy was short-lived. When I went out of the store, a man walking past called me a freak and the items that, just minutes ago, felt so affirming now made me feel crazy, like I didn't belong or deserve to live in our society.

People's perceptions of me was so important back then that it hindered me to fully live out as myself. Even today, I can still feel scared sometimes out in public but my best tip is to stretch your back, hold your head up, walk fiercely and pretend you own the world, even for a second – it helps a lot.

I'm happy to say that the fashion industry is moving into a more inclusive and norm-free space, but there's still a long way to go. My biggest hope for the brands out there and the fashion industry is to educate. Every single privileged person in the industry has a responsibility to challenge the status quo and stand up for what is right. Old structures and mindsets have to be challenged, without a conversation there is not gonna be a solution.


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