Sep 27, 2023
What is transmasc and transmasculine fashion?
Finnegan Shepard Founder of Both&
Have you always felt more comfortable in boys clothing? Felt a ripple of joy when your friend picked you to be on his team during recess, or thrilled at the prospect of playing the male lead in the school play? These are random examples, but they point to an underlying commonality amongst folks who are exploring a transmasc idetntiy. Feeling great in a shirt that makes them look more muscular. Preferring to swim in nature where it’s appropriate to be topless. Getting excited when a cashier uses ‘he, him’ pronouns ‘on accident.’
If any of these scenarios ring true to you, then the following article might be of use. In it, we will explore what the term transmasc means, share personal stories of other transmasc people, and finally, dive into transmasculine fashion and how someone who identifies as trasmasc can easily find clothing to help the process, no matter what stage of transition you are in.
Let’s start at the beginning.
What is transmasc, or transmasuline?
Broadly speaking, transmasc or transmasculine is an umbrella term that can encapsulate a wide range of identities, including trans man, nonbinary, gender non conforming, gender queer, ftm, and gender queer. It is used to refer to someone who was assigned female at birth (AFAB), and identifies somewhere on the masculine spectrum. The term is not medical. In other words, one does not have to medically transition (through gender affirming surgery, or hormone replacement therapy, or both) for it to apply. If we break the word down literally, it is composed of two parts: trans and masc. Trans is a prefix, from Latin, that means ‘across from’. It is used in words like transcendent (across from the earthly), translation (across from the initial language, into a new one), among other words, always expressing a movement away from or in contradistinction to an original state.
In the case of transmasc, the ‘trans’ is referencing the fact that the people who identify with this group are all assigned female at birth, and are presenting and identifying with a more ‘masculine’ identity. Masc is also an interesting choice of language. Unlike ‘transgender’ or ‘transexual’ which have more specific definitions, ‘masculine’ or ‘masc’ is a broad term, very much up for interpretation. While there are commonalities in how ‘masc’ is defined and articulated and played with by the community, there is also a lot of variation. After all, who gets to say what exactly is or isn’t masculine?
Some people in the community feel that the term is too vague. For trans men specifically, they might not resonate with the looseness and multivalent way in which ‘masc’ can be interpreted, preferring instead to identify specifically as a trans man. For others, and for many nonbinary, masc of center, and gender queer folk, the broadness of the term ‘masc’ is precisely what is appealing. It allows for range of motion in gender identity and expression, while also providing a helpful context or arena for play. Ultimately, to identify as transmasculine is to identify with masculinity in whatever shape or form resonates with you as someone who was not born a cisgender male.
Language (in general, and especially around identity) is constantly shifting to reflect the cultural dialogue and thinking of the time. Transmasc is very much a term of our time, emerging to displace older terms (there is a long history of these terms, including transvestite, transexual, and transgender, some of which are considered offensive today). Transmasc is reflective of our cultural moment in its inclusivity and it’s understanding that gender is not so much fixed as fluid, not so much either/or as both and.
However, there is an important distinction to be made between what gender feels like intellectually or ‘on the inside’ and what gender feels like externally, or on the outside—in how one presents to the world, how they are perceived, and how they feel in that exchange. This is why clothing plays such a big role in gender identity and presentation. When we wake up, get dressed, and go out into the world, we are constantly interacting with others and being read according to the world’s perception of gender. For tranasmasc people, it can be challenging to bring your self-perception into alignment with the world’s perception. This is what leads to a lot of dysphoria and discomfort. If you are a trans man, and you want the world to read you as male and use ‘he, him’ pronouns and feel comfortable and safe walking into the men’s room, how do signal that to the world? If you are nonbinary, masc of center, and want the world to read you as gender queer and use ‘them, they’ pronouns, how do you signal that to the world? There are a few ways, but the most universal and accessible tool is through fashion. How we style ourselves has an innate (though complicated) relationship to gender. Whether you are trying to dismantle the gender binary or whether you identify as a trans man, clothing is one of the key ways you will express yourself to the world and inhabit that identity.
The pillars of transmasculine fashion“I was fourteen. My mom had taken us back to school shopping. I begged her to let me get some pants from the boy’s section. When we got to the front of the line to use the dressing room, the store attendant asked my mom if she wanted to ‘go in with him,’ referring to me. I was simultaneously so happy and so embarrassed.”
This quote is from one of our thousands of interviews we’ve conducted with folks in the transmasculine community. It articulates one of the three pillars of transmasculine fashion we have identified: the yearning to ‘fit’, and the complexities of receiving that in a world split into binaries.
Yearning to fit
We all want to fit in, in the sense that we all want to feel seen and respected and loved for who we are. Fitting in does not necessarily mean subscribing to the status quo, or even accepting it—but it does mean that we don’t constantly feel othered or ostracized for who we are.
When it comes to clothing, there is the connection between the literal ‘fit’ of clothing, and the feeling of fitting in. If you are transmasculine and trying to buy clothing, you are faced with bad options, both of which undermine your confidence and comfort in your gender. If you choose from women’s or girl’s clothing, the sizing and fit patterns are more likely to fit the proportions of your body. This is mostly to do with bone structure and the length to width ratios of arms, torso, and legs. However, if you are transmasc, you most likely don’t want to be wearing women’s clothing. You want men’s clothing—you want a fit that makes you look square/boxy and muscular. But there’s a problem: men’s clothing won’t fit well. This if for the same reason as women’s clothing but in reverse: cis men’s clothing has been made with cis male body proportions in mind. That means that clothing is made assuming an average height (in American) of 5’9”, with broader shoulders, longer limbs, and narrower hips, bum, and thighs.
So there you are, in the dressing room (regardless of what pronoun the attendant used for you), and you’re hit with a wash of dysphoria, because the clothes that resonate with you, that you would feel most comfortable in, don’t fit your body. This experience is often described as death by a thousand papercuts, the feeling that something is wrong with you, that what you know to be true about your identity is somehow not correct.
Well, we are here to tell you two things: first, that no, you are not wrong, and secondly, that there is a solution. It’s a simple solution that can be achieved by changing the proportions of clothing. By doing this, you form the basis of a transmasculine wardrobe.
This brings us to our second pillar: the building blocks of transmasculine fashion
Now, as stated above, part of what appeals in the term ‘transmasculine’ is its fluidity and how it can be interpreted in many different ways. However, for the purposes of providing some clarity here, we are going to offer a working definition that will be helpful as we explore fashion specifically. At base, transmasculine fashion is the means by which anyone who was assigned female at birth is empowered to present in a masculine way. This is correlated with (though not limited to) de-emphasizing:
- square shape
- straight lines
Think of these as building blocks. Not everyone will want to have a holistically masc appearance: maybe they want to have a high femme shirt paired with straight cut, masc jeans. Maybe they want to pair a dress with a crew neck sweater that makes their shoulders look super masculine. But regardless of the final goal and how fluid it looks, the key is to have access to the building blocks themselves: garments that let you create the shapes and appearance that feels right to you.
Finally, let’s talk about our third pillar: no alteration.
This pillar harkens back to the second pillar in the sense that when transmasculine fashion is done right, using the right building blocks, you avoid the need for alteration. Most people in the community are used to needing to alter their clothing (whether that’s low effort, like cuffing pants, or higher effort, like getting a suit tailored), because they can never buy clothing off the shelf that fits exactly the way it should.
When transmasculine fashion is done correctly, it is built using different data than what is used for cisgender fit and sizing systems. Remember the 5’9” average cisgender man we mentioned above? His body proportions are used as the standard for cisgender male fashion. That means that if you are a 5’3” large chested trans masc person, there’s a very small chance that anything made with him in mind will be a euphoric fit for you. As a result, our community has become accustomed to living with clothing that is ‘just alright,’ or that needs to be radically altered to work at all.
With transmasculine fashion or a fully built out transmasculine wardrobe, that changes. All of the pieces in the wardrobe are made with your body and your body proportions in mind, ensuring that the clothes come off the shelf ready to be worn and provide comfort and confidence all day long, with no alterations needed.
Building your transmasculine wardrobe
Wardrobes tend to consist of two different categories of clothing, regardless of how you identify: your everyday basics, and your flair/dress up/less frequently used garments. When building a transmasculine wardrobe from scratch, we recommend starting with the basics, for the following reasons:
- When we interviewed thousands of people in the community, the #1 request was t shirts. Sounds simple, right? In a sense it is, but it’s also something that is worn year round, and is arguably the most foundational building block of a wardrobe. If you have a great t shirt that fits, that can have a huge impact on how you feel in your body on any given day. It’s the little things in life, right?
- A lot of folks in the community expressed not being sure what their true style was, because they’d never had the luxury of choosing clothes that actually fit. One nonbinary interview subject reported that they “didn’t know if baggy actually was their style, or if they had always done baggy because it was the only way to have a masculine element in their wardrobe.” For this reason, we suggest that anyone exploring their transmasculine style start with the basics: a few t shirts, a pair of jeans, a pair of khakis/utility pants, a button down, a sweater and/or a hoody, and a jacket. Once you have those bases covered, you can begin to play with how they pair, and what accessories and colors you want to add on.
To finish out this section, we will close with a quote from Both&’s founder, Finnegan Shepard, a trans man who is obsessed with creating the perfect fit for transmasc people. “When I was in seventh grade, my best friend and I became fixatedwith the idea of buying two pairs of jeans, one light, one dark, and seven plain white t shirts. We were both young queers, grappling with the complexity of our identities at a time when we didn’t really have the language for it. Something about having those staples, the simplicity of a wardrobe that just fit and would express my inherent maleness in a way that alleviated my need to put language to it was so existentially calming.”
Luckily, the world has come a long way since Finnegan yearned for those basic jeans and tees that would just ‘fit’ his body. We are now going to explore the options that are out there, and offer you some guidance on how to navigate them.
Navigating the world of transmasculine fashion.
To understand and better navigate the world of transmasc fashion, let’s first define what transmasc fashion is not. If you have been googling/doing research around this, you have most likely come across terms like gender-inclusive fashion, gender-neutral fashion, and gender-less fashion. Many brands fall into these categories, but it is important to note that these are different categories than transmasc fashion.
How are they different?
Because they have different goals. Most brands that fall into the gender neutral, genderless, or gender inclusive category haven’t done anything to change fit. They have a different goal: to welcome people of all genders and backgrounds into wearing the same clothing. They usually achieve this by making everything more oversized, so that it can technically be worn by all bodies.
An example of this is Pacsun’s Gender-Free shop. As you can see from the photos below, they have taken male and female models and put them in the same clothing, thereby dubbing the clothing ‘gender-free.’
This may be what some people are looking for, but in our research we have discovered that most transmasc people aren’t happy with that solution, because it doesn’t solve the core pain points and desires of transmasc customers, which is to be able to buy masculine style clothing in a fit and sizing system that actually works on AFAB bodies.
If you are looking for that masculine fit as an AFAb person, the #1 brand to check out is Both&. Both& has spent three years gathering the data and working through hundreds of prototypes and fittings with community members. As a trans owned and operated business, Both& understood the problems that transmasc people face, and set out to create high quality, stylish fits in proportions that create a comfortable and attractive masculine silhouette on AFAB bodies, and the results speak for themselves:
If any of the stories shared above resonate with you, we encourage you to try out a basic Both& wardrobe as the perfect jumping of point for your transmasc wardrobe. You can shop the styles individually, or try out one of Both&’s starter kits, available both for folks who are binding and folks who are post top surgery: