Afternoon Inqueery

AI: Shopping for Clothes by Gender

I have small feet. They’re smaller than the size that men’s shoes start at most stores, so I generally buy my shoes either in the kids department, or in the women’s department. I prefer buying kids shoes because they generally cost less, and are less likely to look feminine, but shoes from both departments can fit me just fine.

Recently someone I was talking to was surprised that I would consider buying anything in the women’s section of a store. She said she thought I would never want to go there again, or do anything that might feel like it denied my gender identity. I was sort of surprised by this, as I feel pretty secure in my gender presentation, and I don’t feel that wearing shoes from the women’s section threatens me at all. Feminine looking shoes would not be to my taste, but why would I care what department something came from if it looks good on me and fits well?

Do you wear things from only one department in the store, or will you go anywhere that has something you like without regard to it’s gender labels? Are you willing to shop in the kids sections if things there will fit you, or do you find that demeaning? Does shopping feel like a threat to your identity, a way of expressing it, or neither? How do you choose your personal style?

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Benny Vimes

Benny Vimes

Benny Vimes is a queer polyamorous transman, curious skeptic, and enthusiastic seeker of knowledge. He's an undergraduate student in his 30's and loves teaching people about alternative sexuality and gender issues.


  1. August 21, 2012 at 2:07 pm —

    I am both a tall and wide person so nothing from the kids department would ever fit me but I often wish it did, some of that stuff is cute. I have no problem getting things from the men’s department, often they have the basics I want in lengths that are long enough for me, especially pants.

  2. August 21, 2012 at 3:17 pm —

    I’m fairly petite, but I habe huge feet. So I have to shop for shoes in the men’s section, but that suits me fine. I wear mostly combat boots anyway. But if I do want something more feminine, it can get frustrating. Horray for online shopping.
    If I like it, I buy it. I don’t care whether it’s supposed to be masculine/feminine. I wear it, so it’s me. So yes, I would say that shopping is a way to express my identity…especially in what I don’t buy.

  3. August 21, 2012 at 3:33 pm —

    I’ll shop anywhere there’s clothes that fit me and that work with my sense of aesthetics; it doesn’t bother me. I’m a bi cismwoman who tends toward butch (or often, just “gamer,” which feels like its own class of clothing) presentation, so I happily alternate between Misses and Men’s, and though I’m fairly small-framed and athletic, I’ll shop in the plus sizes if it means finding something actually cut to fit my (larger than I’d like it to be) chest.

    I especially like men’s pants and shorts, because I like to actually be able to move in what I put on my legs. And have real pockets. 😛

    Shopping and dressing are definitely ways of expressing my identity. Ever since high school (with a somewhat restrictive dress code), I’ve made it something of a game over the years to signal the things I want to signal (“talk to me about video games and science!” and “dudebros need not apply,” for the most part) in whatever setting/dress code I happen to be in.

  4. August 21, 2012 at 4:27 pm —

    I’m cis female, and generally very feminine in my clothing choices, but I LOVE men’s dress shoes. The problem is, I have pretty small feet (5 – 6 in women’s sizes) and so I can never wear those sorts of shoes unless I find equivalents for women. Fortunately oxfords and wingtips for women are ~in~ lately so they’re not too hard to find, but I still find myself drooling over the men’s shoe department :[

    • August 21, 2012 at 6:00 pm —

      Just bought a pair of Oxfords today, after searching high and low for a pair made for women that weren’t cheap or goofy looking.

  5. August 21, 2012 at 5:59 pm —

    I’m a cis woman who constantly tried on the men’s clothing hoping it will look the way I want it to, and it never does. 🙁 It usually happens when I’m shopping with my boyfriend. I love soft flannels, and Henleys, and those waffle-textured knit shirts, and cowboy-esque buttondowns with snaps. So I try them on, and they always make me look and feel frumpy and gross.

    Though I’ve never identified as a man, I do think I’ve always wanted a “boyish” body without curves.

  6. August 21, 2012 at 7:45 pm —

    I peruse all the sections. Typically the kids’ section has a bunch of things that are too small, but I do look through both the women’s and men’s. I’m more likely to spend a lot of time around the men’s clothes because femme stuff is tailored for boobies and their pants are too tight for comfort.

    I buy Vibram Five Fingers shoes, and unfortunately my feet are woman-sized and their woman-shoes are generally low-cut. I don’t like iiiiit.

    Shopping for clothes just makes me feel like I have weird taste. I’d love to find something sexy and awesome in the vintage clothes at a thrift store, but it never happens. I’d love to have some men’s dress shirts and vests and jackets, but I’m female and very slender. It becomes expensive trying to find clothes that I like that fit.

    • August 21, 2012 at 8:29 pm —

      I know exactly what you mean about expensive. I’m not slender (quite the opposite, I’m distinctly chubby) but I’m short. It is a really good thing I sew, because pants in my size are absolutely not made by anyone – My inseam is 27 inches, so I end up buying pants based on how they fit my hips, and hemming anywhere from 3 to 8 inches off the bottom on every pair I get.

  7. August 21, 2012 at 8:53 pm —

    I have broader than average shoulders for a woman, plus I’m fairly flat chested. It’s impossible for me to find a long sleeved shirt that fits in the women’s section (short sleeved can be an issue too but not as much, and no problem at all if it’s jersey and has some stretch). So if I want a button down dress shirt, off to the men’s section I go. Now my problem in the men’s section is that I have wide hips too so I have to be careful I buy shirts that are the right length since too long and they won’t fit my hips. I sometimes need to tailor the shirts a little bit to fit my waist better so it’s not baggy. Clothes are clothes, I don’t care what section they are from as long as I like how they look and fit.

  8. August 22, 2012 at 3:02 am —

    I have avoided the men’s section since transition, but mostly due to finding men’s clothes boring. At over 6′ I do have issues with length of sleeves and tops as most of my height is in my torso not legs, though I usually just wear short or 3/4 length sleeves to solve this except for a few more expensive items bought in specialist shops for tall women. My feet aren’t so large considering my height but are very wide so I often have to buy a couple of sizes too large to fit the width, which can be tricky(I am a wide UK 8 which I beleive is aprox a 10.5 US) though I tend to just live in my converse which are a UK 10 to fit the width, but are purple so suitably girly… I do wear men’s T-shirts but they tend to be freebies from beer festivals and all have brewery names or logos on them.

  9. August 22, 2012 at 7:29 am —

    I’m a gay cis man and I only shop in the men’s section. I have social anxiety, so doing things that might make me stand out as “weird” make me feel very uncomfortable…even shopping with my best friend (a woman), I feel awkward just holding her purse while she changes or whatever.

    I remember being made fun of as a kid, because I accidently wore one of my mom’s dress shirts to school (it buttoned from the other side), so I’m sure incidents like that have played a part.

    My partner, however, will shop anywhere, and has lamented that he’s too big to wear a lot of the fun stuff (he’s cis male, presents as male, but enjoys media directed at the teen girl demographic, mostly for it’s camp value, so if he finds something that could be on Pretty Little Liars, he’s thrilled)

  10. August 30, 2012 at 6:49 pm —

    Well, since I’m a transsexual in transition, I belong in either department anyway 😛

    I still haven’t worked up the courage to go to a store and buy a comfy bra to wear under my clothes though. I need to wear something because of the soreness, and sports bras aren’t very comfy when you wear them 24/7.

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