Question: Shopping with confidence — and using changing rooms.

A reader asks…

I’m a bio-female genderqueer from England and I would like to start getting more items from men’s departments/men’s shores to build an androgynous look. My issue is two-pronged:

1. What are some good shops (not online — I’d rather see clothes before i buy them) that stock XS, XXS and stuff that isn’t cut too long?

2. How do you pluck up the courage to shop with confidence and not feel awkward — especially to go into an all-guy shop. When I’ve looked in the men’s section before, I kept waiting for someone to say “erm, the women section is over there.” (Not that it has ever happened.) What about using changing rooms?

Please post your response in the comments below.

» Ask Genderfork «

Posted by on May 9th, 2010 at 08:00 am

Category: questions 46 comments »

46 Responses to “Question: Shopping with confidence — and using changing rooms.”

  1. Nick

    Have you tried shopping at thrift stores? Every time I’ve ever shopped at a Salvation Army or Goodwill, I haven’t felt the least bit uncomfortable wafting between Gender sections.

    As for other stores, I try to just be myself. Have an aura of confidence, or at least make it look like you have one. A sense of humor is always a good thing, too.


  2. Anonymous

    People just assume I am shopping for my boyfriend. Hell, I am usually shopping for myself AND my boyfriend, so they’re half right. If you look like confident, people might be confused, but they won’t ask questions.

    Dressing rooms in all-male stores might be tricky– I’ve never tried. I’ve heard stories about people being asked to leave. You might want to stick to department stores (unless you’re so androgynous that dressing room attendants won’t want to question you).

    Charity shops are a good starting point, although you seem to be looking for small sizes which seem to be in short supply at those sorts of places, in my experience.


  3. nick

    How do you do it? Well.. you just pluck up the courage and do it. The same goes for using changing rooms. Just take a deep breath and go for it. You’ll find that it gets a little less scary every time.


  4. alex lock

    american apparrel stock unisex clothes, really fucking cool aswell, i shop there all the time. the sizes they have in unisex range differes from there girls or boys clothes so jus try stuff on in the stores find out what size in unisex fits you.. at the mo i wear “school boy” trousers, oxford collered shirts that fit perfect and bow ties :) In fact most of their clothes there show a picture of what it would look like if a boy or girl was wearing each item. CHeck out their website to find a store near you.

    job done.


  5. M.Pamplemousse

    I would say that it must be much easier to do it as a bio-female than as a bio-male.
    fairly unisex brands are H&M, Primark, American apparel (very unisex), Uniqlo is a good one.

    You can always take a selection of male clothes and try them in the ladies changing room if you feel more comfortable doing so.

    I think a lot of girls do that regurlarly. I’ve had girlfriends doing it all the time!


  6. Lucie

    I recently saw two women in the mens section of Primark going through the tops and saying things like “this’ll look great on you”. Nobody else batted an eyelid because its full of women browsing the area.

    I’ve seen it in many other stores, a lot are buying for their boyfriend/ husband but some are buying for themselves, you’ll be believed if you say the former, nobody will mind if you say the latter.

    I know little about xs/xxs sizes (I’m so jealous of you :)) but I’ve seen them in Primark, Top Man and Matalan.

    Hope this helps and good luck x


  7. Hann

    I find that the children’s department can be very useful. My friends all compliment my boyfriend on his teeshirts – they’re from BHS, but not the parts they’d go in. I got my suit that I wear to job interviews from there, and no-one tries to call me up on it. We’ve been to proper men’s outfitters, and there’s nothing small enough for him, let alone me, so I’d really suggest that you keep an eye out in childrenswear.


  8. Gold.

    I’m from America, but I think United Colors of Benetton is an international presence: I’ve always had great luck with their men’s pants. I’m fairly short (5’4″), wear a 28, and they always fit me well. I’d also like to second Alex and pample for american apparel for shirts. Urban Outfitters and American Eagle both stock men’s XS shirts, though their XS runs a little less small than others. The Gap also has a few miscellaneous XS shirts. I’ve never seen XS button-down shirts there, but their undershirts and long- and short-sleeve t-shirts are great. And they make jeans in 28 (I’m wearing some right now). I’m not sure how many of the stores exist overseas, and I know you said you don’t want to order online, but at least you’ll know some places you can get clothes if it turns out finding them in you area is too difficult.

    The H&M stores where I live used to stock my size but no longer do. When they did, I bought a few pairs of their jeans only to have them literally fall apart on me the next week. I guess I don’t really recommend them.

    As far as the culture of shopping for men’s clothes, my best advice is to take a friend with you. People will still give you looks, but you won’t care as much because you’ll have company :) I always use the women’s changing room, though. Wouldn’t recommend using the men’s unless you’re sure you pass as male. I myself am still to intimidated to shop in men’s only stores, though, so don’y know what to tell you there.

    Have fun! Post some pictures when you’re done with your shopping spree :)


  9. Hann

    Oh, and when I bought my suit, the man in the doorway who was directing people to one changing room or the other directed me into the mens. I was even wearing my bright pink fleece at the time, I’ve no idea what gender cues he was going on.


  10. Anonymous

    I have probably the same problem,but what about second hand shops? but like others said,just try it out ;)


  11. Rusty

    I’ve never had a problem going in the men’s section. If you walk in with confidence and act like you belong there (because duh, you do!) most people won’t give you a second glance. I dragged my roommates to buy boxer-briefs and I think they were more uncomfortable than I was.

    The only reaction I’ve ever had while trolling the men’s section (of a thrift store) was a middle-aged guy expressing his jealousy that I could buy from both the men’s and women’s sections.

    I don’t think anyone with any gender identity doesn’t belong in any section of any store. It’s only clothes. Unfairly, you would probably get more funny glances if you were someone who looked male shopping in the ladies’ section.

    I see this so much I’ve got to brag a little: I can’t help with small sizes. I’m lucky enough to be a 6’2″ FAAB, so the worst problem I have is that sleeves long enough for me are usually associated with much wider torsos. (Well, that and trousers. Jeans shopping is the worst!)

    Given that, though, if you buy something a little big you can often get it tailored/adjust it yourself. Easier to remove material than add it.


  12. Jak

    I shop in the mens sections all the time. No one has ever said anything or batted an eyelid. Never done the changing room thing but I might have to do it now just to see what happens.


  13. Milo

    Oh god! Yes, I am a bio-male, and even though I’ve got a fairly natural feminine look, it’s still nerve-wracking a anything to get the courage up to do this. I’ve been through it several times now, but just yesterday actually, I needed some more pants. Looking in the women’s section, I’ve never had any people overtly stare or make comments, but my heart still beats like mad the whole time I’m doing it. So yes, not to sound biased, but it probably is a bit more difficult for me mentally than it would be for most women. Especially as I feel so self-conscious if someone ignorant thinks I’m just ‘some pervert’ or something.

    But congrats on getting up the courage to do this. I finally just had to tell myself that I was tired of being forced to wear ugly, guy’s clothes and I couldn’t stand one more day having to do it. Nothing short of that would have made me brave enough.


  14. ollie

    Ya it can be sooo awkward! I try to avoid shopping for as long as possible and when i do go, i always end up in big chain stores (TK Maxx, Primark, Gap). it just tends to be easier to try on and buy clothes that way…even though i hate buying from big chains. I’m slowly building up the confidence to shop in independent stores though :-)


  15. Anonymous

    I always love to go to Salvation Army. If you don’t like how certain things hang on you, you could always learn how to alter clothes. ;) has great tutorials on how to not only make outfits, but custom-fit them to your body shape.

    I look primarily female, unless I dress in baggy clothing (which is the usual.) Although I occasionally shop in the women’s section, I normally head straight for the men’s, looking for smarmy tees and cargo pants. Nobody bats an eye. Same thing as dressing rooms; I just look for one that’s open. I think thrift stores are generally pretty loose about changing rooms and the likes.

    I don’t think anybody will be as critical as you imagine. I think the most likely to say anything would be children; I get occasional weird looks from them. Normally their parents bat them away before they start a ruckus.

    Don’t worry, hon. Do what you want to do; there’s nobody saying you can’t.


  16. Jessicaa

    If someone asks, which they almost never do, just tell them that you’re shopping for your SO, who happens to be the same size as you are. Just take the clothing to the changing room they think you belong to.

    If you’re in the women’s department and you’re being assisted by a clerk, always compliment her (or him) – their clothing, their hair. When you get them on your side, they’ll let you do anything you want to do. This works especially well if you present female. Men never compliment salespeople, unless they’re chatting them up.

    Stores are really hurting for good customers. If you’re a good customer they don’t care what you are. About thirty years ago, one of my first jobs was in a camera store. We had some flagrantly gay customers who came in wearing big cowboy cats, wild colors, tons of makeup, and way too much perfume. They preferred our store because I waited on them like just plain folks. They liked and trusted me.

    One of the other salespeople was teasing me in the back room, making derisive comments about “your customers” (hand-flip) and the owner, who was from Japan overheard him.

    “You, [name]! you being pretty stupid. You know who pays your salary? [significant pause] Wrong, not me. These men with funny hats. They pay your salary. Their money not good enough for you? Better you get some other line of work where you can afford be picky.”


  17. AJ

    I know exactly how you feel. I just bought my first outfit from the men’s section, and I was so worried that someone was going to call me out for it. I made sure to hold my head high and fake confidence so that people understood that I knew I was there, and was there for a reason. The woman at the register didn’t look twice at me when I asked to try it on. And when I went to check out, she actually smiled and told me “I’m so glad you’re buying this. I’ve wanted this outfit since we got it.” Just stay confident. Chances are, people will surprise you.


  18. Lexi

    Culturally, my guess is “male-bodied” folks are more terrified as there might be more risk in buying ‘girly’. But then that is debatable I think.

    My first time shopping I was PETRIFIED. I don’t think there’s a way to get around it, other than to keep going, even if you don’t buy anything, to get used to being in those surroundings. Try stuff on! Be bold! And read lots of genderfork before you leave.
    (Or while you’re there, if you’re that technologically advanced.)


  19. Brittany

    The key really isn’t whether or not you fit in. How someone perceives you especially out in public is in how you carry yourself. If your confident and act like you belong there no one will be wiser. Its like the situation with restrooms if you act like you belong there then no one will give you a second thought. No matter where you go you will always come across that ignorant or bigoted person. Just be yourself and don’t worry about them.


  20. nick

    When I first went shopping on both sides of the store, I was focussed on myself and nervous as hell. A few weeks later, I walked into the store again and looked around relax. And guess what? I noticed that all stores are full of people searching for clothes on what some would label ‘the wrong’ section. Are they shopping for themselves? for a friend? nobody cares.


  21. nick

    About the about post, I should mention that I live in a progressive place.


  22. Sean and Sara

    A bunch of other people have said it, but shopping in the boy’s rather than the men’s section is great. Way too small to fit into even a men’s small, and they really don’t seem to carry XS, let alone XXS. @.@ Silly people.

    As for confidence: that comes with time. For now, just act like you know what you’re doing and that it’s no big deal – because it really isn’t a big deal.


  23. Jack

    Similar to other people, I just let the people I was buying things from assume that I was buying for my boyfriend (whilst buying a guy’s t shirt, “Present for someone?” “uh… Yeah. Let’s go with that.”). My boyfriend came with me the first few times I bought things so I didn’t get too nervous to buy things.

    I’ve managed to find a fair few xs shirts in New Look and jeans that fit really well in Topman (I think Topman have also started selling xxs sized things, but they can be quite expensive).


  24. Jane

    I’m a cisgender woman (in the US) but often buy men’s clothes for practical reasons (i.e., they have pockets and are often better made). I’ve never felt weird about it because I’m comfortable with why I’m doing it. I use the women’s dressing room. I’ve never tried an all male shop but hey, it’s a market opportunity for them if more women shop there, right? I mean, they don’t wear women’s clothes–why should you? This said, I realize that it’s very different for a woman whose gender presentation doesn’t threaten anyone to shop for men’s clothes with a pragmatic agenda vs. someone who may not fit a binary gender model or who is explicitly looking to challenge it more deeply, which people can find more threatening.

    Still, most shops just want people to buy stuff, and as long as that’s why you’re there they should leave you alone. You don’t have to explain yourself to people.

    I recall a funny moment with a college boyfriend where we were getting undressed and I felt compelled to explain my boy’s socks. I launched into a long explanation of how poorly made women’s socks were, but men’s socks were too big, but boy’s socks weren’t quite big enough, so I knew they looked odd. He paused, looked at me, and said with some amusement, “Jane, you don’t have to explain your socks.” And then we went on about our business.

    I’ve tried to remember that statement for many situations in my life. We don’t owe others an explanation of who we are.

    Good luck.


  25. Jessica


    Your post reminded me of two things:

    (1) at the end of the film The Philadelphia Story, when Cary Grant and James Stewart are preparing to walk into the very dressy wedding and James Stewart remarks, “Dressed like this, they’ll think we’re a couple of stowaways!” and

    (2)Isaac Azimov’s concept of a “Lie that is ashamed of itself” from the Foundation series. “Well, he used to say that only a lie that wasn’t ashamed of itself could possibly succeed. He also said that nothing had to be true, but everything had to sound true. Well, when you come in through the window, it’s a lie that’s ashamed of itself and it doesn’t sound true.”

    People will accept practically anything you do with confidence. This is one of the things that the aristocracy knows full well. So, when shopping for clothes, just be Bertie Wooster.


  26. Zak

    I’m also an XS which really isn’t a problem when it comes to t-shirts (even if they are a little big, it’s okay, that’s kind of in style) but is for button-down shirts. I don’t know if Expressmen is only in the US, but they have great button-downs even though they are pretty expensive. American Eagle is where I buy most of my clothes. Their vintage-fit XS fits me great. As for jeans, boyfriend-cut jeans at the Gap are androgynous enough to go with my overall look (I’m GQ too), I also have jeans from Target (converse brand), and Urban Outfitters (I’m in love with the Levi 111s, which is a skinny cut). I’m pretty short and skinny, but kind of have hips, so it’s hard to find jeans that fit well, but it works to special order them online.


  27. Skij

    I always say I’m shopping for my boyfriend if they ask. And I say we’re the same size.


  28. Josée

    Jessica: your old Japanese boss sounds awesome. :)


  29. Josée

    It’s always been hard for me, having social anxiety disorder. My biggest worry is that as a male-bodied person, I’ll be judged as a pervert by people who don’t even know me. It always helps a lot to browse with friends, though.


  30. Jessica

    Josee, it is interesting that you use the word “pervert.” The term used to mean someone who had a wrong or false religious belief. It has come to mean someone whose sexual behavior is offensive, or someone who seeks to cause others to engage in prohibited sexual behaviors.

    Let’s talk cases: Let’s assume a religious person, who believes that sex between people of the same sex is a sin. If a person with a male birth sex presents female or a female birth sex person presents male, the trans person may provoke sexual attraction in a heterosexual person, which would lead an otherwise virtuous person toward committing a sin. So, by that logic, if we can call it that, a trans woman, who successfully presents as female or a trans man who successfully presents as male, if attractive, would be a pervert.

    I like to think that the religious person who holds the above beliefs is the pervert: they hold a wrong and false religious belief. This is a case where Christian and Islamic religions concur: they blame me if my identity causes them to sin.

    An old friend of mine, long before the word transgender had been coined, would from time to time be called a pervert. He would respond “Oh, dear, I am so sorry that my honesty threatens you. Have you considered counseling?”


  31. B

    Truly, not enough good can be said about thrift stores. In my experience, I’ve never been judged or criticized, or even questioned for that matter. Last one I was in was in Seattle, and I went dressed in formal drag with no makeup on and tried on a bunch of knee-high black leather boots. No problem at all…the young woman who worked there even helped me out when I asked!

    Plus, that way it’s cheaper. For the price of a new outfit you can get at least four at the thrift store; this also means you can take more fashion risks and not feel bad if you never wear it again (just give it to a friend or give it back to the store!) And, you’re not supporting corporate America!

    Further, normally changing rooms are unisex there, too.

    Happy hunting!


  32. Cat

    Yesterday I picked up an awesome shirt from the mens section in River Island. The funny thing is… that store can be so expensive, but the mens items seemed to be a lot cheaper! Bonus! I noticed they sold XS and S sizes.

    Places like H&M are good places to look too because they have a lot of variation. There’s also some stuff in the womens area that looks like mens clothes but will fit a lot better.


  33. Basil

    as a FtM i am in the guy section all the time when i shop. i very rarely go to the girl section. i don’t get any weird looks even when that i am make no attempt to look my gender some days. i don’t think people will really say anything.


  34. Anonymous

    Topman is my favourite ever shop because it has xxs and you can just take clothes into the Topshop changing room normally… also there always seems to be loads of girls in it so you don’t feel awkward browsing!


  35. Char

    Most people assume I’m female through and through. I change in the men’s change rooms all the time, and none of THEM mind.


  36. Char

    Jessica- Please don’t group all of us who may be one of those “religions” in that way. It’s insulting and not something anyone wants to see here to begin with.

    I have been Christian all my LIFE, and just because some people make bad choices, does NOT mean we’re all a bunch of bigots.

    In fact, it’s harder to be a Christian than anything else, precisely BECAUSE of those bigots. I’ve suffered more at the hands of people claiming to be right, than I’ve ever suffered at the hands of Christ. To clarify- without HIM, I wouldn’t even BE HERE. It’s HIS acceptance of ME that healed all my pain from the years of being treated like a freak. Did I claim Christians helped me? No, I didn’t. But don’t blame Christ for the stupidity of other people, unless you are willing to deal with it yourself.

    So tone it down with the double-standard. Everyone here wants to be accepted, so don’t YOU start putting any ONE group of people down. Especially when you don’t even understand why they do what they do. All this immature bitching about one or the other is getting tiresome.


  37. Jessica

    @Char Sorry to inflict my prejudices on you (and he group). It’s funny because I’m a Christian, too. My only problem with Christianity is the organized religion part. So many organizations run by bigots, making claims about Christianity that are untrue. I guess the trouble is that the term Christian is so broad that it includes both Christ and Jerry Falwell. Sometimes it is easier to be brought down by Falwell and his ilk than be uplifted by Christ and his ilk.


  38. Taylor

    H&M is definitely a good place to start. I’ve gotten a few shirts there that fit me quite well, and are a men’s small – their sizes do tend to run very small. Or there’s American Eagle for jeans. And the nice thing about these stores is they have gender non-specific changerooms. So no pressure there either.

    Best of luck!


  39. kaylee

    Topman is AWESOME (and it’s a UK company!) and carries XS and XXS. They’re a little pricey, but browse through and find stuff that’s on sale- I got a great cardigan for only 15 bucks.

    As for actually shopping in the men’s section- don’t worry about it. Just be confident, like YOU see nothing wrong with being in the men’s section, and nobody will bother you.


  40. B

    shop at the little boy’s section. I live in the states and I can’t say I shop a lot, but I get all my t-shirts from Target and Thrift Store’s boys clothing section. I’ve found it works well and there are actually a lot of chill Ts (I like the non-logo ones) as well as jackets. I have a long waist and arms, but it sounds like you need smaller sizes so try the boys’ section. no one’s ever told me to get out or anything like that, and if they did I’d just tell them to either fuck off or that I’m shopping for my little bro.

    good luck


  41. Adamam

    Topman! They do XS and XXS :) And a lot of females shop their alone with no one saying anything :P

    However, you’d be asked, if you were identified as female, to be asked to change in the female changing rooms :/


  42. J

    This is repeating what other people have said a bit but ah well ;-)
    I’ve had a few instances of “you realise these are men’s don’t you?” but only when actually trying on shoes with an assistant bringing them to me. Ironically I’m a size 9 so I can’t actually GET women’s shoes to fit me if I wanted to. That experience did make me a bit less brave when shopping for male clothes though so I can understand how you feel.

    What people said about confidence is true I reckon, but if you’re really uncomfortable then what I tend to do is check the returns policy on stuff and make sure they do full refund on unwanted items, “this is a gift, can I return it if it’s not suitable?” that way you get to try on at home too and aside from changing rooms issues, it’s always easier to see if you really like something when you get it home, and just return it if you don’t like it.

    As for sizes, depending on how small you are – I’m quite big, like if I wore women’s stuff I can never get stuff long enough/big enough but yet I still wear S in mens. But I find New Look men’s department and River Island both do a size S that’s about the same size, New Look especially is reasonably priced and has some nice stuff sometimes, I think they also do XS. Primark does XS and it’s well cheap but I find it’s quite a large size. Topman are pricey (IMO) but their S is really small and if they do XS as well it might be the size you’re after? Also I adore AllSaints stuff but it’s way expensive and the mens sizes are massive (considering the women’s are tiny).

    Aaaaand I can talk for way too long about clothes. Oops :-p Hope you get some good bargains anyway :-)


  43. Lexi

    I’ve been worried about being [percieved as?] a guy in the girls section AND a girl in the guy’s section. The former is a little scarier at first, but I find the scarier something is, and the more opposition you can imagine in your head, the more potent the cry of “F*** it” in your head.

    I remember thinking up all the SO excuses, the pantomime or school play or homework assignment excuses (I’d be a great liar if I wasn’t so truthful all the time) but I end up just being myself. I often wonder how people ‘percieve’ me, because nobody seems to question me or anything in shops.

    If you look like you know what you’re doing, you’ll seldom be asked.

    And if you’re still scared, carry around what looks like a shopping list.


  44. AJ

    Yeah, I agree. It does tend to freak me out when I go shopping in the guys department. I usually head over to Target. I have to go to the guys department for pants, but I have to go to the boys department for shirts because they boys XL fits me pretty much perfectly. But I am absolutely terrified that some mom will see me in the boys department looking around in the boys department and I will be glancing around every moment or so because I’m paranoid like that, and she’ll think I’m preying on some innocent little child in Target. x[ That would be awful. Of course, that has never happened, but I’m always super, super, nervous to go into the boys department for shirts.


  45. Anonymous

    its near on impossible for a guy to shop in the female section society can be cruel


  46. m

    I get quite self-conscious browsing in smaller stores, large ones let you blend in a bit better. (I’m fem-bodied)
    Topman do small/slim sizes, but I’ve been turned away from the changing rooms on the men’s floor when I wanted to try on a men’s shirt. That felt embarrassing. :/


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