In the summer of 2018, I did a research project on the design needs of transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people. I learned a ton from the amazing individuals that I interviewed, and I became a better designer in the process. While fit was not the focus of my study, it was a universal issue for the participants. In this post, I’m going to take a moment to discuss fit as it relates to gender neutral fashion because I think that it’s a hugely important issue, and one that, thanks to what my participants shared, I can shed a little light on.
Firstly, there are going to be fit issues regardless of gender, and no garment will ever fit all body types and sizes. That is a truth for all apparel brands. However, fit issues are exacerbated by gendered sections, in that they essentialize gender and biology in ways that do violence to trans and nonbinary consumers in particular. This sounds drastic, perhaps, but it’s the truth. We live in a harshly gendered world, and that has a negative impact on the people living in it. For example, a women’s shirt that assumes the presence of a large chest will not fit many smaller chested cisgender and transgender women, but those transgender women are being excluded from those garments because of outdated ideas of biology and sex as a social construct. Yes, sex is just as socially constructed as gender. There is nothing inherent about so-called male and female sex characteristics, as these characteristics are incredibly varied and diverse.
So what does this mean for us as designers, especially those creating gender neutral fashion? It is important that we begin to think of fit as separate from gender, as there is no constant correlation between the two. For example, a “men’s” shirt shouldn’t always assume a flat chest. Rather, it should be thoughtfully engineered to fit a broader audience, while primarily considering the target market. If your target market is men with flat chests, great! That’s why you're designing that way, not because of a blanket truth that men have flat chests (which isn’t always the case).
From my study, other issues centering around fit are lack of options of plus size individuals, making it incredibly difficult to find well-fitting garments, let alone those that fit their desired gender presentation. Many people also stated that it is nearly impossible to find garments to find properly through all areas of the body (ie, button up shirts that are too tight through the hips yet too loose in the chest, or pants that are too loose in the waist and too small in the thighs). Truly, there are a myriad of fit problems, and we as designers don’t have the responsibility to solve all of them at once. But if we start from a nuanced understanding of fit as it relates to gender, we can create more successful garments for everyone, and especially those in the trans and nonbinary community, who deserve to be represented in fashion.