ROCKET staff member Jaela Watkins sat down with W&M student Tangereen Velveteen to discuss accessibility and business-casual wear for trans and non-binary people. ROCKET partnered with the Cohen Career Center to showcase pieces from their Dress to Impress closet, a resource for students to borrow professional attire. The Center for Student Diversity has recently launched their Trans Locker, a new initative offering a free clothing resource for transgender students.
JW: Currently, where are your go-to places for business-wear, if you have any?
TV: That’s a great question – I’m a student like everyone else, so I don’t have a lot of money. I do like to shop at thrift stores for more eclectic, sillier, “out there” things. I have some vests and some sweater vests – and a blazer – that I’ve thrifted. For shirts and slacks, I hate to say it, but H&M, frequently. They are one of the few places that have masculine clothes that really fit my body. Their jeans work, their shirts work.
I had a Stitchfix subscription for a little while. It’s very expensive, but I actually got this blazer and shirt that I’m wearing from them. My stylists were super great, they were always finding things that were perfectly in my style; you know, really bold patterns and bright colors. They always found things that had unique patterns, fit me well, and made me feel good about how I looked.
JW: Always the most important part. [Laughs]
TV: Of course. I haven’t really tried a lot of other places, so I don’t know where else might have what I like.
JW: What challenges do you think that trans or non-binary people face in regards to business fashion that cisgendered people do not?
TV: One of the main ones is business clothing that fits. For transfeminine people, a lot of the blazers are too small, sleeves too short – and you know, a lot of feminine business clothing is rather form-fitted and tight. I remember, before I transitioned, when I used to do speaking debate in high school, so we always had to dress up. All of the skirts and shirts were too tight. So for me, it’s really about finding clothes that fit. I’ll get a shirt and it looks nice, it fits my chest when I’m wearing a binder, the sleeves are the right size, and then it will not go over my hips. [Laughs] So then it’s just like, “Well, I can never wear this!”
Men’s pants are really nice because they tell you the waist and length whereas women’s clothing sizes are different everywhere you go and doesn’t make any sense most of the time.
Shoes are also hard. I wear the smallest size in men’s shoe, and some places that I go to won’t even carry my size. I imagine the opposite problem for a lot of transwomen, especially if they’re really tall. I have a friend that’s a cis-woman and she’s over six feet. She can’t find shoes, and has to order them online, and they’re more expensive.
JW: Bridging off of that, what still needs to change about the way that trans and non-binary individuals are represented in business or formal clothing?
TV: More gender neutral clothing in general would be great! Specifically in business, there’s a very strict binary with, for example, men’s suits and women’s suits. Finding ways to make clothing that any person of any gender could fit in that still looks professional would be a good start.
Another way would be to do away with our norms about what is professional. That would help a lot of people in a lot of ways, not just trans people. People with disabilities – and you read a lot in the news about Black women not being able to wear their natural hair and being told that it’s unprofessional, which is ridiculous.
There would be so much more room to be more relaxed and more fun. You could wear bolder colors and different patterns and other fun things that aren’t so stuff and uniform. I know the way that I dress is one of my favorite things about myself.
JW: I love it also.
TV: Thanks. Just, you know, getting to say, “Hey, this is me. I’m different. This is what I like, this is who I am.”
JW: What is your response to William and Mary opening the Trans Llocker?
TV: I’m super excited about that. It’s incredible and I’m really, really glad that they’re doing it. I wouldn’t credit it to the school at large, I would credit the Center for Student Diversity and particularly all of the students who have helped organize it and have helped stock it. I’m really excited to be able to donate some stuff too. I’ve been out long enough that I have not just my pre-transition clothing, but I have my post-transition clothing that I’ve grown out of or is no longer my style. I also have some old binders that I can donate. The idea that someone who is just transitioning might have an easier time finding clothes that fit them and not having to be embarrassed and nervous trying to go into the section of the store that they’re not used to going to – that can be really stressful and kind of scary. Every time I go out and buy men’s clothes and I go up to the dressing room attendant I’m always super nervous about what they’re going to say. I’m glad to help someone else have an easier time with that.
JW: Are there any additional comments on this topic that you’d like to share?
TV: I’m a physics graduate student. In particular, I think there’s a general joke about how physicists dress. You know, very plain, same khakis and polo over and over again. That’re really just about the men in physics. The women and non-binary people I’ve met in physics and other trans folks have always had much more unique and expressive styles. For me, especially, it’s a really important way to act out against that homogeny of ‘if you want to be a physicist, you have to be this or you have to do this or you have to act like this.’. Especially being almost constantly surrounded by cis white men, the way I dress and the way I express myself really helps me say that I’m a human first, not a physicist first. I’m a unique individual. I don’t fit this standard mold but I’m still a physicist.