This story is part of Re:’s Fashion, where we take a look at everything from fast fashion, cosmetic surgery, the prices of people's outfits to exploring what rural fashion says about New Zealand culture. Check out the rest of the stories here.
When navigating your gender identity, clothing can play a crucial role in expressing your true self.
We spoke to three gender diverse people about their three favourite clothing items, and why they are important to them.
Pronouns: he/him or they/them
Identifies as: non-binary/trans masc
“I used to wear clothes purely to get the attention of men. I used to tape my boobs to make my cleavage look more intense. My connection to fashion was so focused on how I looked to others.
“That's no longer the case, I don't put much effort into dressing for other people anymore. Now my fashion and the way I dress is much more focused on what feels good to me - in regards to my gender, and how or what I'm trying to express."
Item 1: Binder
“This binder is a very important part of my journey.
“When I was 18, I saw that Ending HIV was running a giveaway for a binder for trans or gender diverse people. At the time, I didn’t know that I was trans yet in any kind of way. I remember thinking ‘I want that binder’, not really thinking that I'd win it, and then I won it.
“I felt really guilty because I thought, ‘Oh no, I'm not trans and I've won this thing that a trans person should have won’. And then I wore it and pretty much instantly realised that I am trans. And so, I didn't feel so guilty anymore.
“When I put it on for the first time, I got my brother’s shirts and shorts and put them on. I very much looked like a boy in that moment. And then I went to the mall and visited a store where the person used he/him pronouns for me. And I was buzzing. I remember thinking ‘Holy shit, I love that’. I was so chuffed. I went home and just stared in the mirror for ages and took so many photos.”
Item 2: Trans flag choker
“This is definitely one of my most important items. Any time I don't feel that my outfit shows that I'm trans enough then I pretty much will always wear this just to make it very clear to anyone that I'm trans.
“I love going to Kiwiburn [NZ’s version of Burning Man]. At Kiwiburn, a lot of people run around naked, which I'm definitely one. And so one of the only signifiers in that situation that I'm not a woman, when I'm fully naked, is this choker.
“There are some moments when I'm in places that aren't so safe to be trans, in which case I'll probably just take it off. For example, I've walked from a night out on Karangahape Road to the city and I've taken it off on that walk. Because sometimes when I get to Queen Street, it feels a little less safe to be so vibrantly trans.
“I don't care if people know I'm trans. I'm not trying to pass as anything. But it's important to me that people know I'm trans, otherwise they are probably going to assume a gender that's not correct. So this definitely gives me more confidence that people will think that I’m trans.”
Item 3: Black corduroy jacket
“I'm very, very connected to this jacket in a gender way. It just feels so right on me and feels so perfect within how I want to express my gender within fashion.
“Before I had this, I didn't have many jackets, especially none that made me feel good. It feels very androgynous to me. I don't know if it's meant to be a woman's jacket or men's jacket, and that's kind of why I started wearing it. I just feel so much confidence putting it on.”
James Hilary Penwarden
Identifies as: non-binary/bisexual/queer/agender/ginger
“I used to try to look a certain way that I thought would get me approval from people around me. And it's not that that's changed, I do that now. I still want approval, but I want approval from queer people.
“As queer people, we show such strong personality through our clothes. And as soon as I realised that I want to be a part of that, it felt really natural.
“It’s all about honouring your body and your selfhood. Rather than trying to conform to something that doesn't fit you.”
Item 1: Black pants
“My friend Amira made me these pants for me, to measure.
“As an adult, this is the first piece of clothing that's ever been made for my body. And that was really key in unlocking for me a better relationship between me and clothes.
“There's been many times in my life where it's felt like clothes are my enemy, they just don't want to fit my body. My body falls into what people would stereotypically think is very feminine; hourglass, big boobs, big bum. It's really frustrating for me to try and hide that to fit into some kind of definition of androgyny.
“So to have pants that are made for my body, and fit into a more androgynous style of clothing, was really useful and unlocked a lot of things for me. If I had the money, I'd get everything made for my body. It's unreal, the impact it's had on my confidence.”
Item 2: Brown corduroy blazer
“I recently wore this blazer for my two year anniversary with my partner, we were both wearing blazers.
“My partner is a cis man and I sometimes feel like my identity can be really invisible to other people when I'm with him; people can quite easily assume we're in a straight relationship and that I’m a woman.
“So having this traditionally masculine clothing on my very feminised body made me feel really androgynous. And I felt like I matched up with my partner in a way that, to me, felt really queer.
“I remember thinking ‘I don't care what anyone thinks. I feel so queer in this relationship right now. It feels really true to me’. So there's also a really romantic warm feeling that I get from wearing it now too.”
Item 3: Dress/shirt thing
“This is an item I would wear to work in my office job. Usually in my life, I'm really open about my sexuality and my gender. The office is probably where I'm the least comfortable broadcasting my identity.
“What I love about this outfit is that it's blurring traditional notions of gender in a really subtle way. When people see it, they don't know if it's a shirt or a dress. They’ll even pause and say ‘Oh wow, I love your…ummm’.
“The reason I enjoy that is because it rhymes with how I feel about myself. For example, I'm not sure if I'm a man or a woman, and I’m not really sure if this is a dress or a shirt either. So it's just a little bit of a question mark over gender that really aligns with how I feel about my gender identity.”
Pronouns: she/her or they/them
Identifies as: non-binary/queer
“I find it really difficult, as do a lot of people who don't sit in the gender binary, to find clothing that represents who I am while also being accessible. I feel like I'm such a baby still in my own gender journey.
“There's no middle ground of neutral clothing that can provide an option for people who may not know where to start. It's made me realise how easy it is to be in the binary.”
Item 1: Dungarees
“I found these dungarees and they fit perfectly. I've worn them almost every day, because I love them so much.
“Dungarees are such a neutral bit of clothing. All people can wear them and I feel like they've never really been for one gender or another. I think that’s one of the reasons why I love them so much.
“At the moment, I'm so opposed to wearing skirts and dresses. But I think it's just because I'm going through a moment of resistance where I need to feel as neutral as possible.
“I know that someday, I will probably overcome that and I'll find something that works for me. But at the moment, the dungarees are a good way for me to try to be as neutral as possible.”
Item 2: Woollen jumper
“This woollen jumper was made by my grandma. It smells like my grandma's house. It is the warmest thing and makes me feel like I’m being hugged by her.
“I usually like to wear more natural colours. But even though it's got big zebra prints and bright flowers on it, it doesn't really matter. It's got a lot of sentimental attachment to it, as well as the practical side of it being super, super warm. I think it's still very me, quite playful. It's the one item in my closet that is a bit nuts and a bit crazy.”
Item 3: Finnish wooden earrings
“Right before lockdown I became very good friends with a Finnish acapella folk band and they gifted me these.
“During lockdown, I shaved my head for Shave for a Cure. These earrings were a really important accessory for me after I shaved my head.
“Even though I was confident about my hair, wearing these earrings acted as a distraction, or a talking point, that wasn’t my hair. That was nice because it took the conversation away from what my body was like.
“They’re more on the feminine side, but I love them because they're so earthy and grounded. They were an extension of my body for a while. They're very important to me and I love them very much.”
"I’ve always known who I am.”
"I woke up out of the surgery and I just felt hollow."
“I vogue because it makes me feel safe and makes me feel like I have purpose.”