How can I dress to read more transmasc? Difficulty level: cis twunk
October 24, 2023 3:00 AM   Subscribe

I’m a late-thirties gay/pansexual post-twunk. For special events I enjoy dressing more genderfluid / queer (high heels + male formalwear for example) but day-to-day I’m pretty basic, tees and pants or short shorts. I think I want to open up my gender presentation in that day-to-day mode, but the direction I’m feeling is “butch-coded woman”, transmasc kinda? (Yes, I’m aware these might be separate visual vibes, I’m feeling in the dark a bit here.) As someone with masculine body and features, and who historically has achieved bent their gender in a femme direction, what elements or signifiers of dress / styling would distinguish a “butch woman / transmasc” personal aesthetic from just… butch / masc? How do I dress like the butch of a butch/femme dynamic without just landing in straight man-ville?

Imagine you see a photo of me and my cute, enby, kinda femme-y special friend, vibing like queer high school trouble-girlfriends at the smoking pit even though we’re olds. I’m somewhat clearly the butch of the pair, in contrast, but also clearly [Janet noise] not quite a boy. What elements sustain that queered butch visual despite me being physically and facially pretty masc?


- I’m not asking “am I trans”, but feel free to chuckle knowingly at a possible pre-egg, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

- the theorics and politics involved can get 🤯, please keep suggestions to fashion and styling, be gentle and assume positive intent? I’m not trying to impersonate a trans man or be creepy, I’m doing some personal gender expression exploring here. (Although illuminating aesthetic coding differences between “butch lesbian” and “transmasc” would be of interest.)

- visual references strongly appreciated, a picture’s worth a thousand words

- for however it might help, I’m white, salt-and-pepper hair that’s been short and long, average height, wear glasses, and have a little leftover muscle along with a slight tummy. I can’t grow fully convincing facial hair but I tend to leave it trimmed short (stopped shaving daily during covid). Hats are generally not my friends, but there are occasional exceptions, and toques are fine. I love showing leg (they’re medium-furry).

- could colours play a role here? Piercings? Accessories? (You can tell why I need help 😂)
posted by anonymous to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe more women's casual shoes, like women's Keens or Mary Jane's? I'm wearing these right now, and they feel more femme than my usual Adidas Gazelles.

The other thing that came to mind was leggings with pockets, if you can find some that work with your body. I get mine (these are similar, but I don't like the super soft ones) from Lane Bryant's Livi line. Capri leggings or yoga pants would definitely read potentially more femme.

You could also just wear women's shirts and pants. Women's dark jeans might be a way to go, if you can stand hard pants (I just can't anymore, and being casually elegant without having to wear hard pants definitely is a thing that is more common with femme outfits, I feel like).

For what it's worth, I'm approaching this middle ground from the other side, as a gothy, nonbinary, pansexual, generally queer kinda person who is butch in mannerisms and somewhat femme androgynous in dress. So I typically wear mostly black clothes, like black leggings with a subtle pattern, paired with unisex black T-shirts and Adidas Gazelles most of the time.
posted by limeonaire at 3:28 AM on October 24, 2023 [1 favorite]

Fun patterned buttondowns, bowties, suspenders, etc for a sort of dandy/dapper butch look.
posted by needs more cowbell at 3:33 AM on October 24, 2023 [2 favorites]

So the difference in fashion between standard masc and trans-masc is attention to detail. Generally standard men don't give a fuck about clothing, just put standard man coded things (jeans, tees, hoodies) on their bodies and let their physiology and mannerisms do the work of saying "man." So if you want to come across as trans-masc, you have to put intentionality into your clothing. Make sure things match, are in good repair, are of proper size, are well accessorized. This is similar to gay fashion, which usually emphasizes tidiness and care, but also usually makes an effort to revealing a well groomed, kept body.

For pictures, I would suggest looking for what south asian (e.g. India) men wear casually (in western style, not traditional garb). Indian men typically put more effort and care into their clothing (and grooming) than western men while not going so far as to code as gay.

So, simple instructions: wear typically male coded items, in good repair, in complimentary colours and/or black.

tl;dr: Look like you give a shit about your appearance in male-coded clothes.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:07 AM on October 24, 2023 [5 favorites]

The short answer is: you don't. This is the transmasculine invisibly problem in reverse. Overwhelmingly, even the endlessly joked about markers of transmasculine fashion (yes, we all own that navy short sleeve button up) are just shirts when worn by cis men.
posted by hoyland at 5:36 AM on October 24, 2023 [9 favorites]

If you want to make a male-coded outfit read more butch femme, put on a bit of makeup. Just eyeliner will change a lot.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:38 AM on October 24, 2023 [6 favorites]

Seanmpuckett said what I was about to. Intentionality is the key. If you have the budget, tailoring your casual staples to fit you exactly right could be the trick. Not so they are tight but so all the fabric hangs smoothly and your shoulder seams are at your shoulders and all that. It’s subtle but adds up, and you are definitely in the realm of nuance already.

Layering could also be something to explore. A lot of anxiety about chests and breasts and all that is squeezed through the gender wringer and comes out in the form of deliberate obfuscation of body shape through the proportion and interplay of clothing. Examples: A form fitting sleeveless undershirt evokes a binder, but in a bright color, with an intentionally distressed oversized sweater for softness and volume. Or, a long tunic style top with a cropped hoodie, breaking the torso into different proportions. Or, a dark strappy tank or yoga top underneath a lightly colored gauzey shirt, showing off the shape of your arms and complimenting your masculine shape but using feminine athleisurewear to do so.

Accessory-wise, it sounds like you might have a lot of fun with earrings? Dangly ones can bring a lot of focus to the jaw line and you can get so creative with pops of contrasting color or fun themes and shapes.
posted by Mizu at 5:40 AM on October 24, 2023 [4 favorites]

I've tried to answer your question at face value, but, as I think about it more, I do think you're fundamentally misunderstanding transmasculine, er, masculinity, which runs the same gamut as anyone else's masculinity, with fashion choices to match. Like Mizu said, you're going to get a skew towards less form-fitting and "what obscures my chest", plus a slight skew towards brands that run smaller or have slim fit shirts, but that's really about it.
posted by hoyland at 5:58 AM on October 24, 2023 [3 favorites]

Okay, wanting to look like a trans man is not the same as wanting to look like a butch woman. If you think these are the same, you are not spending enough time around trans men and butch women. I think you have to be careful about that assumption because trans men and transmascs generally get lumped in with butch women, like we're women-lite, and the womanhood of butch women gets lost. There's also a big, big difference in subculture. I'm transmasc, for instance, and a lot of my earlier queer years were spent feeling wrong because I didn't fit in with butch lesbian culture(s). That's not to say that I don't have any butch friends or whatever, but a lot of the stuff that is just...butch lesbian subculture stuff, butch lesbian fashion, a lot of the things that queer women value about butches are totally 100% not things that I have/do or want to do.

Since you describe you and your friend as "high school trouble girlfriends", that actually says to me like you might be looking at hard femme or tomboy femme rather than either, anyway. I think some of those tomboy femme looks in particular would achieve your goal.

Let's say that you want to dress like a women who doesn't want to look especially conventionally feminine, anyway, and we'll assume that Big Androgynous Arty Black Clothes are not where you're going here, more trendy. You need to wear clothes that overcorrect a bit - wearing standard men's clothes will just make you look like a man.

I'd get some women's pants. Stretch will be your friend here. They may or may not be tight, but the fit will be different. Note that "women's" clothes are lower quality than "men's" and will require more babying.

Snugger-fitting (whether men's or women's) shirts over t-shirts. Canonically, flannel overshirts are all the go; look for them in brighter, queerer colors and closer fits.

Jewelry - I'd get a little bag (like a tiny messenger or pouch bag) and get some enamel pins, if you like pins.

Layered necklaces with less feminine clothes. Ear and nose piercings, but big fun earrings read either as femme guy or femme cis woman to me - little hoops are good.

Do you have glasses? Some fun glasses could go a long way here - something relatively delicate rather than the big femme plastic ones, but with an interesting detail.

Fun shoes. Fluevogs have fun shoes in larger sizes but are very expensive. Converse and Dr. Martens are canonical.

A little bit here depends on whether you want to follow more gen Z/young fashions or the ones that a women your age would wear.
posted by Frowner at 6:02 AM on October 24, 2023 [19 favorites]

I second all of Frowner's advice. As a butch woman I tried to envision what a cis man could do to look like me and it... doesn't really work that way. I wear mostly masculine styles that are queered by the fact that I have a feminine body - if my body was closer to masc (i.e. without ginormous tits and distinctly estrogen-influenced hips and thighs) I would have to dress more femme to look like a butch woman. If I lean too hard towards obscuring the feminine parts of my body, I look more genderqueer/transmasc (which isn't where I am, identity- or aesthetic-wise) but that, again, has to do with the shape of my body and how it's read.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:57 AM on October 24, 2023 [7 favorites]

I've settled so firmly into "interesting 90s button-fronts and men's pants" as my fashion choice that I've almost forgotten some of the big brands, but you might want to look at Wildfang. Also Autostraddle has fashion articles periodically that might be helpful.

Wildfang is a lot more expensive than it used to be, gotta say, but if nothing else it may give you ideas. And I'd say that it is artsy and bohemian to have a small number of shirts that are Very You and just wear them over and over anyway.
posted by Frowner at 7:21 AM on October 24, 2023 [2 favorites]

A stereotypically lesbian haircut might be the biggest thing you can do in this direction.
posted by metasarah at 8:51 AM on October 24, 2023 [1 favorite]

Leaving all the other categories aside: stud earrings, dyed hair. Paint your nails. Look to androgynous looks from the past (goth/punk) too if that's something you want to play with.

Grow out that facial hair, too, and see how that feels with your new fit. You'll find something that fits your vibe and then the definition can follow.
posted by kingdead at 9:52 AM on October 24, 2023 [2 favorites]

i have lived a few different genders, played with presentation in a few different ways, and currently dress and present as an androgynous, lightly feminine person. for a while, i lived as a transmasculine person, and while i presented somewhat similar to the way i do now, there were some important differences; the way i styled my hair and clothes etc carried meaning for me in a different way. i say all this to provide context for my suggestions of "here is what would not have worked for me in a previous phase of my life, when i was trying not to be read as any kind of woman, but have found interesting to experiment with now as the center of gravity of my gender has shifted around".

i came here to suggest wildfang as well, particularly their overalls, coveralls, and jumpsuits. a jumpsuit in a bright color, or with a bright shirt underneath, with chunky, queer-coded shoes, could be fun. throw a flannel over the whole thing while you're at it.

personally, i've somewhat leaned into Big Androgynous Arty Black Clothes (although mine are mostly earth tones), so if you do go that direction, you might want to look into barrel or other curved-leg style pants, especially in heavy cotton or canvas, which gives you a nice combination of softness and structure. wide leg pants can look a little shapeless imo, but can work if they're fitted through the waist and hip, like sailor pants. off the top of my head, everlane has a utility barrel pant (although they did bust a union a few years ago), and so does LL bean, and i think even target, although in limited colors. roucha and 7115 by szeki also have some nice styles, although like wildfang, they are kinda spendy. i buy most of my clothes secondhand on noihsaf bazaar or ebay.

i like to pair the big, curvy pants with a soft sleeveless or short sleeve tee to keep the whole outfit from being entirely Big Shapes. i either wear a cropped shirt or do a sort of soft, slouchy tuck. on days i lean more decidedly feminine of center, i wear shirts with wider necks. sleeves vary; short sleeves generally read as feminine, but drop sleeves can as well.

materials, patterns, and colors will make a big difference; an outfit like the one described above in 100% black silk will read as dramatically feminine and dressy, while the same in cotton and bold prints will read younger and edgier. in my transmasc days i was a faded black denim guy through and through, but not so much anymore.

i used to wear a binder all the time, but nowadays i like bralettes with removable padding. i have one with black lace that helps me feel put together in a hard femme way, even though it's invisible to everyone else. maybe think about what underwear, beauty products, etc, make you feel a certain way gender-wise, and lean into those. i also like a little tinted moisturizer for this reason.

shoe-wise, i like a chelsea boot, or anything pointed toe to add some edgy contrast. i had a couple pairs of doc martens at one point; now i mostly rotate between a few pairs of frye and redwing boots. i've been eyeing fluevogs for ages.

i wear understated jewelry—a thin gold necklace, at most. i agree with Frowner that glasses make a huge difference; mine are delicate metal glasses with a tortoiseshell detail, and make my face look completely different from the square black frames i wore back when i was on T and buzzing most of my hair off.

i have a cropped denim jacket i wear a lot, with lots of buttons, and a red leather jacket i wear sometimes. the denim jacket has been an all-gender, all-seasons companion for years.
posted by guybrush_threepwood at 9:58 AM on October 24, 2023 [7 favorites]

There’s a big difference between dressing like a butch and looking transmasc. Trans men wear a variety of clothes to fit their personal style and particular gender expression, which is different for all of us, so I think the first thing to do is stop conflating the two and get clear about what look you’re going for (plenty of trans men would be offended by the conflation, although some of us do identity with butchness and have tried to walk similar fashion lines ourselves.)

Assuming positive intent and potential gender variance exploration:

I would say if what you really mean is butchness, I’d suggest making a pinterest board or similar (pinterest is good because of sheer number of images) full of butches of as many different genders and shapes and sizes as you can find in formal and casual wear (look past just the black and white skinny tomboy lesbians that will come up first). Once you’ve got a lot of outfits you admire on different types of people, looking at what shapes and fabrics and textures are involved, trying out a couple of small similar things (accessories are good, try a carabiner for an instant classic, one vibe could be thumb rings, maybe a piercing. Bow ties for a different direction. It might also be good for you to mix in more masc women’s clothes, like a boxy blouse or higher rise jeans) and seeing how you feel about how they look on you. It’s very possible you’ll give off a very different vibe than you’re going for (elder skater boy/janitor/dapper gentleman) because the clothes will fit differently on your body. If you can find images of butch trans women and transfems (who exist and are awesome - tumblr may be your best bet for this) then this could potentially be more helpful in terms of fit.

If what you mean is a particular type of transmasc style you’ve seen on certain early transition transmascs, those clothes are just very unlikely to fit on you in a way that looks equivalent to how they do on these people, because of differences in the shoulders/face/hips/stomach, wherever. Avoiding speculating as per the question, but will just say if this is what you meant and the body shape difference makes you sad to think about, pay attention to that and see where it takes you?
posted by chives at 10:37 AM on October 24, 2023 [5 favorites]

oh, i forgot to mention tomboyx—their underwear, bras, and swimwear are well-constructed, gender- and size-inclusive, and come in fun colors and prints.
posted by guybrush_threepwood at 10:41 AM on October 24, 2023 [2 favorites]

You might do some things with accessories. The casual butch woman does very little in the line of accessories, but there is still room for possibilities there. I remember one woman who wore the traditional jeans and a plaid work shirt and work boots, but she also had a little silver canoe on necklace as a nod to the fact that she was dressing up as a lumberjack.

You might do something with discreet jewelry, and also with rolled cuffs, or boot laces, or picking a loose plaid work shirt in feminine colours like pink and green.

You've already figured out that you are aiming for a style that is hard to describe, and which requires some contradictions. If you start by figuring out a butch outfit, and then modify it in one way to be more feminine you might get the look you want.

Look for pictures of guys where they are described as looking like cute little lesbians, the way that Justin Bieber was at one point and see if that gives you an wardrobe inspiration.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:36 AM on October 25, 2023 [2 favorites]

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