There are a number of websites with tips for teaching FTMs how to pass, and I encourage you to read all that you can find. This page is intended to supplement rather than supplant them, because I don't cover the basics and they don't go far enough. Their general advice for what FTMs should wear? A burlap sack, the better to hide your ladybits.
Well, yes. If you wear a sack, you won't get clocked -- but you won't get laid either.
What, you mean that's not sexy?
Which is where this guide comes in. This is not about passing, specifically; this is about looking good. It wasn't enough for me just to be a dude -- I wanted to be a hot dude. And I suspect you do too.
My name is Gabriel. I'm an FTM (duh), 27 years old at the time of this writing. I've been dressing like a dude for over six years and on testosterone for four. Most of the pictures of me here are pre-op, so I'm still binding. If you want to get to know me better, this page contains the highlights from five or so years of blogging about The Trannie Thing, as I call it.
I'm a vain little beastie; looking good is very important to me, more than it is to most cisguys, which I attribute directly to transsexual body image insecurities. What can I say? I'm compensating for a small penis.
I have a deep and abiding interest in men's fashion. I subscribe to men's fashion magazines, surf fashion blogs, and have read Alan Flusser from cover to cover. I have strong opinions about tassels on wingtips, pleated vs. flat-front trousers, and how many buttons I want on my suit jackets. Yes, I am that kind of fag.
My tastes in fashion can be idiosyncratic and a lot of my advice here is specifically what I like; I was also living in Tokyo for my formative years as a man, where they have very different ideas about what's appropriate for men. (To wit: pink is considered a perfectly masculine color, and straight guys pluck their eyebrows.) Obviously you don't have to do everything that I do -- this is not the Complete Illustrated Guide to Dressing Like Gabriel, I'm just sharing what worked for me. If you don't like my advice, then consider yourself under no obligation to take it; this world is more than big enough for all types.
You have to decide what kind of man you want to be, no one else can tell you. Once you figure that out itís just a matter of knowing how to pull it off. Generally, as long as youíre consistent people wonít even blink. Itís when you try looking like a frat boy while speaking and acting like a queen that you run into problems. The incongruence is what tends to get us read as women, not necessarily the mannerisms or even appearance. Luckily, most of us are pretty consistent when allowed to dress and behave how we want.
That said, since my tastes have spent years being shaped by what an FTM body can pull off and what it can't, it's not a coincidence that what I like is very flattering to FTMs.
Life is not fair. If you're a trannie you've probably noticed that already, but even among ourselves it's still not fair. Some female-bodied folk are simply better suited to passing than others -- they're taller, with slimmer hips, smaller tits, a sharper face, a deeper voice, and they can pass even without hormones or surgery.
We hates you.
Other FTMs are not so lucky -- they're petite, curvy, busty, with tiny hands and a voice like Minnie Mouse, and there is simply nothing in their power that will let them pass without the magical mystery drug that is testosterone. You probably have some combination of the above features; I'm lucky to be tall, and even before starting testosterone I could reliably pass as male -- until I opened my mouth. My voice wasn't deep enough, there was nothing I could do about it, and it gave me away every time. (Then five weeks on T, BAM, my voice dropped, and I never got mistaken for female again. It was awesome.)
Bad news: Without testosterone, you may not pass no matter what you do.
Good news: With testosterone, you probably will pass -- no matter what you do. *
This guide is for FTMs both pre- and post-hormones, because it's about fitting a female body into a male mold, and though testosterone helps with that immensely, it doesn't fix you overnight.
There is an immense range of variation in female bodies, and obviously I can't cover all contingencies. While I hope that everyone can get something from this guide, when I make generalizations about what a female body "is," I'm talking about an average woman at a healthy weight: not much in the way of muscle mass, and curvy enough to be unmistakably female.
Something like this.
This isn't really designed for butch lesbians; in fact, a recurring theme that you'll find here is How Not To Look Like a Butch Lesbian. That's a major pitfall for many FTMs, because a lot of them are coming from the butch subculture, and try to carry over a lot of the aesthetic -- it's masculine, right? And though there's nothing wrong with being a lesbian or with looking like one, butch lesbianism is a mode of being female. This is about being male. Lesbians are women who are cool with being women; that is not me and, presumably, not you either.
Your absolute top priority, when it comes to both passing and looking good as a man, is having masculine proportions. (Syn: shape, figure, silhouette, frame, build)
THIS IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN ANYTHING ELSE YOU CAN DO FOR YOURSELF.
It is more important than binding. People don't check for tits to figure out whether someone is male or female, they just ~know~, and one of the ways they ~know~ is by body shape. Here's the process:
When you're meeting a stranger for the first time, their brain registers your overall presentation (which consists of body shape, clothes, voice) and subconsciously designates you as male or female. If you do nothing to disrupt that initial impression, it will never occur to them to doubt it. They won't be checking for suspicious bulges in your chest, or lack of bulge at your crotch, or inspecting your small hands -- why would they? They already know what you are. That's what passing is.
However, if your presentation is ambiguous -- close, but not quite far enough to tip the scales to "definitively male" -- then something different happens. Their hindbrain, which usually makes the male/female call without having to think about it, sets off the air raid sirens and starts screaming "I DON'T KNOW!! D:", at which point their front brain realizes OH SHIT, I can't tell whether this person is a man or a woman, and then they start consciously looking for the gender signifiers that will provide concrete evidence one way or the other. They will scrutinize your face for whether they see a woman's features in it, they'll steal a glance your chest for evidence of breasts being strapped down, they'll look at the size of your hands and the lack of hair on your arms -- and what they find will probably get you ma'am'd.
They're not doing it to be rude. In fact, that's why they become hyper-vigilant about looking for those gender signifiers -- because they don't want to get it "wrong." They can tell you're dressing like a man, but they can also tell that you're a woman underneath, and probably think that you would be offended to be "mistaken" for a man. There are, after all, more butch lesbians than trannies in this world.
So use this to your advantage. If you come off as unambiguously male from the outset, you'll be forgiven a multitude of small sins, and the most effective cue for getting yourself read as male is to have the right overall shape.
That shape is called mesomorphic, and almost everything I have to say is geared toward achieving it, by art and artifice, deceit and trickery and optical illusions if necessary. To give you a solid idea of what I mean by mesomorph, I took one for the team and looked through many pictures of mostly-naked male models to bring you only the highest quality examples of mesomorphic manliness:
Fig. 1: Niiiiice.
Fig. 2: Hot dam.
Or, if you'd prefer a leaner look for yourself, there are many hot dudes with the same shape but built on a smaller scale:
They all illustrate the essence of a mesomorphic shape: broad shoulders, narrow hips. You may notice that that's the exact opposite of the female shape, and thus achieving a male silhouette is going to consist of de-emphasizing your hips and bulking up your shoulders.
Repeat, because that's what all this is about: reduce hips, enhance shoulders.
Be careful not to confuse hips with waist -- both male and female bodies can be narrow at the waist, but women then get wider again at the hips (which results in curves) while men aren't appreciably wider in the hips than in the waist. If you want to put numbers to it, .7 is considered the healthy waist/hip ratio for women, and .9 for men. To find your own, take a tape measure and divide the number of inches around your waist by the number of inches around your hips.
Now if looking at those guys is starting to make you feel depressed, don't be. You can get a body like that if you make the right effort. Furthermore, a quick glance around will show that even most cisguys don't look like the ones pictured above. In fact they probably look more like this guy:
Remember him, because he'll be back.
But while he's not going to turn heads, no one in a million years is going to mistake him for a girl. This is because he may not have the mesomorphic triangle going for him, but his shoulders form an almost perfect rectangle with his hips. It's that boxiness that characterizes the male figure, and that's what we're going for. Consider That Guy your intermediate step; you won't be able to look like a male model right out of the gates, but if you can make your shoulders >= your hips, your success in passing will go up enormously.
This is the game plan.
One thing you can do right off the bat though is change your posture. Women's shoulders slope more than men's do (because men have muscle to help square them off) but if you get in the habit of keeping your shoulders up instead of slouching, it will change not only your silhouette but also the attitude you present toward the world. Practice in front of a mirror to get a stance that looks and feels natural (as opposed to looking like a constipated robot) and try to get in the habit of using it.
Something I used to do when I was learning to carry myself like a man was to fix an image of a particular guy in my head and try to emulate his stance and walk when I was out and about. My usual pick was Dean from Supernatural because everything about his body language projects confidence and masculinity, which are most excellent traits to borrow. (Also, because he's a television character and so I had more mental footage of him walking than, say, a character from a two-hour movie.)
Ultimately it turns out that I'm not that kind of man -- not a heterosexual midwestern good ol' boy -- and I've settled into a style that suits me better, but I maintain that it's a valuable exercise, particularly for people who are still building up their confidence. Don't oversell it, but borrow some of Dean's swagger and fake it 'til you make it. You may find that even if you don't pass (due to whatever combination of physical features), people will believe you more, because they can see the masculinity that you're feeling.
THIS IS NOT WHAT YOU WANT TO HEAR, BUT...
The most reliable way to look like a hot dude is to be a hot dude. You'll look better in clothes and -- more importantly -- you won't be ashamed to be seen out of them. The more you can get your body toward a masculine shape on its own, the less you'll have to rely on clever tricks with clothing to disguise it.
Step one is to slim down.
I mean really slim down. I'm talking less than 20% body fat, as low as 10% if you can manage it.
And before you even start, I know. This is advice that I feel like a tool for giving, because I know that I'm telling it to people who already hate their bodies, who've already heard from a million other douchebags in magazines and media that they can't be beautiful unless they're Hollywood-thin, and the last thing I want to do is perpetuate more fat-phobic bullshit. Seriously, I think you're fine. Normal body fat range for women is 21%-33%, and anyone telling a cisgendered woman to aim for less than 20% body fat deserves a dick in their goddamned eye, but...
But we are not cisgendered people. When it comes to trannies, your weight distribution betrays your sex hormones. I wish I could tell you something else, but it's true.
Fact is, men and women have different body shapes (duh) and some of it's bones -- which you can't do anything about -- and some of it's muscles -- which you can, more on that later -- but most of it is fat. Where you store your fat is controlled by your body's sex hormones; people with testosterone stash it in their gut, while people with estrogen carry it in their thighs and butt. Even if you're slim enough as a female, you will never feel like more of a fatass than the first time you try on men's trousers. (More on that later.) You'll be wearing a size or two larger than a man of the same BMI, it's not flattering and it doesn't look right.
It's not that you have too much fat, it's that you have it in the wrong places.
And until you start on testosterone, that's where it's going to stay. All your excess fat is in your hips, it is giving you curves, it is making you look feminine. So as long as you have estrogen kicking around in your system, your choices are either a feminine fat distribution or no fat at all. Let me tell you, in the uphill battle of trying to pass, your hips will give you far more grief than your chest will. As you lose weight...
- The more naturally androgynous your shape will be.
- Any gains you make in muscle will have more of an impact on your silhouette.
- Your muscles will be more clearly defined, which is a hallmark of masculinity.
- Your face will slim down, losing some of that roundness that makes FTMs prone to looking like adolescent boys.
- Your tits will shrink.
Basically you can't lose.
(10% body fat is perfectly healthy, by the way, assuming you're losing that weight via healthy methods and not by starving yourself. But once you reach 10%, STOP, YOU
DO NOT NEED TO LOSE ANY MORE. Professional bodybuilders, who want extreme definition for their muscles, will temporarily go as low as 8% (for competitions), but any
lower than that is when it starts to get dangerous. Nor do you have to maintain 10% body fat forever -- once you start on hormones, your fat deposits will begin
migrating to a more male distribution and you can regain as much extra weight as you like without compromising your masculine figure. However, I would caution against
expecting T to be a magic bullet -- it causes any new stored fat to be in the male pattern, but doesn't necessarily move the stored female fat you've already got. For a while there after I first went on hormones, I started getting fat in my gut in addition to the fat that was already on my thighs, which made me feel disgusting all around. Better to be fit, yeah?)
While there are far more comprehensive sources than me on the subject of weight loss, my FTM fitness primer is a good jumping-off place, particularly if you're thinking, LOSE WEIGHT?? IF ONLY I KNEW HOW.
Step two is to bulk up.
I can already hear a lot you starting to protest, saying, "But I don't want to look like a bodybuilder!"
Pro-tip: don't say that in front of an actual bodybuilder, because they'll punch you in the teeth.
Those big musclebound guys train like hell to get the body they have -- believe me, you're not going to get there by accident. You are not going to look like a bodybuilder unless you really want to and you really, REALLY work for it. Muscle acquisition is slow, far slower than fat loss, and hence more subtle. You're more likely to do pushups for a year and only realize that you've gained bulk when you go to put on an old shirt and find that it's too tight in the shoulders now.
And shoulders are your priority. Fuck biceps, fuck pecs, shoulders are the lynchpin of the male shape, the most salient difference between male and female bodies, and you need more breadth there than you think you do. Doubly so if you've got wide hips, because the wider your hips are, the more muscle you need in your shoulders to offset them.
There's a reason they look like this.
Mind you, I understand the reluctance to bulk up. For chrissakes, my ideal of masculine beauty is this:
You look at him and go, Wow, that is a very femme dude, and obviously all I need to do to look like him is sell my soul to the devil not have an ounce of fat on my body. Certainly I don't need to bulk up, right?
Wrong. Compared to other men, he may look as though he has no muscle, but try putting him next to a woman with an equivalent amount of body fat:
Suddenly the difference between male and female bodies is striking -- even between fat-free male and female bodies -- and that difference is in the ratio of shoulders to hips. She (for argument's sake, even though "she" is modeling a binder and is thus probably an FTM) could easily pass as a prepubescent boy from the waist up, but not when you see those hips -- they're too wide compared to her shoulders, and the overall message is "female!"
(Tangential: my doctor DOES NOT RECOMMEND binders from T-kingdom. They're on his list of brands that FTMs have done themselves damage with.)
And even the relatively little amount of muscle that beautiful dude has will take longer to achieve than you think it will, particularly if you're not on testosterone yet. My fitness primer gives you what you need to get started, so go to it.
Psychological aside: I still have trouble with the idea of becoming BIGGER, and part of it might be that I like slim guys, like the look of them, so it stands to reason that that's the look I'd like for myself, but sometimes I wonder if it might be a holdover from growing up female. Girls are taught that sexy is small -- you don't want to be taller than your man, or heavier, or more muscular, and women who are get penalized the way short men do. So from the start I was more interested in losing weight (specifically, losing the fat around my hips) than I was in gaining muscle in my shoulders. Turns out I shouldn't have worried -- these days I have more upper body strength than ever before and I'm very aware of how much my shoulders have changed, how much more masculine they've become as I've gained muscle, so it's odd whenever I realize that I'm still far more slim than most [American] men. Like the above picture, I think we underestimate how much extra bulk even skinny guys have over women.
Moral of the story: don't be afraid to put on muscle. You need more of it than you think.
One last thing, before we move on to clothes.
I know that some of you are probably going, "Blah blah, exercise, whatever. Hurry up and get to the part that teaches me how to dress to hide it." Maybe you don't like working out and never have. (Although I've found that becoming a hot guy is far better motivation than becoming a hot girl ever was. Go figure, right.) Maybe you think there's no progress to be made without testosterone, and you've decided that exercise isn't worth the effort until you start on hormones. Maybe you hate your body so much you've given up on it entirely and don't even want to think about it.
Please, please give it a chance.
Because what we have is gender dysphoria, meaning that our physical reality doesn't match our mental image of ourselves, and this is the cure for it. It's not getting a surgeon to fix your junk that makes the difference, it's being able to look in the mirror and see a hot guy looking back at you. Well-chosen clothes are all fine and good, but they won't change what you see when you get out of the shower. Clothes won't help when you finally manage to trip some beautiful young thing into bed and suddenly they're trying to take off the clothes that hide you so well. (I learned this to my sorrow.)
I'm only just starting to come fully into line with what I want to be, and I can't tell you what a gift it is. I'll catch sight of myself in the mirror sometimes and just stop and stare, not vain but awestruck, like I'm holding a present that I'm still half-expecting someone to take away from me, still trying to wrap my head around the idea that that's me there. That those are my shoulders looking so strong and sexy in that muscle shirt, that those are my thighs fitting into those 30" jeans. It feels like nothing short of a miracle, every time.
It is glorious, and I want you to feel that way too. I want everyone to.
Moreover, I have a dream. I have a dream that every single one of us gets absolutely bloody gorgeous, that FTM becomes synonymous with smoking hot and everyone's clamoring for a piece of the action, that "I'm dating an FTM" attains the cultural cachet of "I'm dating an Armani model." So let's work on that.
A number of other passing sites recommend wearing loose-fitting clothes to disguise curves.
This may seem counter-intuitive, but larger clothes will make you look smaller (not to mention all-around frumpier), because they draw attention to the fact that you don't fit them. Children wear clothes that are too big for them, because they don't buy their own clothes, or don't give a flip about how they look, and wouldn't know how to choose clothes the right size if they did. Adults wear clothes that fit.
If your clothes are too big, you'll look like a kid wearing hand-me-downs, which means you'll pass for a twelve-year-old boy right up until you try to do something grown-up -- like, say, going anywhere without your mommy.
As you've probably discovered by now, button-up shirts are the FTM's friend and t-shirts are our mortal enemy. It's a matter of weaves vs knits -- weaves are the fabrics that don't stretch (hence the need for buttons), they're usually stiffer and they hold their own shape better; knits (the shirts you can pull on over your head) are softer and conform more closely to the shape beneath them. For people with something to hide, weaves are by far the better choice because they won't cling to your tits. For the rest of this article, read "shirt" to mean "collared, button-up shirt."
Dark colors are good because they minimize the shadows cast by strapped-down breasts. Black, particularly a matte black, is even better because it swallows the shadows altogether.
Exhibit A: my closet
Be wary when venturing into patterned shirts. For one, flashy patterns draw the eye, and your chest is not where you want people looking. For two, regular patterns make it easier to tell the topography beneath because our eyes can track the distortions.
There is something hiding in this pattern. Two somethings.
Irregular, unpredictable patterns might work better -- camo print, if you're so inclined, may be something to experiment with because by its very nature it disrupts outlines.
Exhibit B: And then there's this shirt. Oh my god, I love it so much, deeply and unironically.
Plaid will make you look like a lesbian.
There are many FTMs who want to argue with me on that. They will tell you nuh-uh, plaid isn't just for lesbians, it's a great thing to wear when you're trying to pass! but they are sadly mistaken and -- for fucking serious -- not passing as well as they think they are. The people who wear plaid are lesbians and lumberjacks, so here's a rule of thumb: unless you have hair sprouting from your face, you cannot wear plaid and look like a man. The end.
Thank you, Ellen.
Stripes are excellent, because they help contribute to the impression of straight lines, which is the male shape. Vertical stripes are slimming; diagonal stripes, if you can find them, are superb because they suggest that mesomorphic V. Avoid horizontal stripes because they frame the tits you're trying to hide. I adore black button-up shirts with stripes, to the point where my friends have intervened to keep me from buying more because JESUS CHRIST, DON'T YOU ALREADY HAVE SIX SHIRTS JUST LIKE THAT.
[Someday I'd like to get a picture of horizontal/vertical/diagonal stripes as modeled on a pre-op FTM, but then I moved to California and I don't know anyone here matching that description, so.]
I'm not going to go into much detail about binding, because other sites have already covered that ground and can offer far more information about binding safety and the comparative effectiveness of different types. (I never had the money to experiment much.) Out of a number of homemade solutions, Japanese nabeshirts, and Underworks' FTM line, I can say that Underworks 997 model works like a charm for me, but I was never more than a B-cup to start with. Your mileage may vary, and if you're particularly chesty you'll get better tips from FTMs who've worked firsthand with trying to strap down DDs.
How Your Shirts Should Fit
The female body is narrowest at the waist; the male body is nearly the same width at both waist and hips. Accordingly, women's fitted shirts cut in at the waist and then flair out again to cover the hips; men's make a straight line from underarm to hips.
In order to achieve that, your shirt needs to fit you properly in three places: arms, chest, and hips. This can be a tricky business, because men's shirts aren't made for women's bodies, and it's hard to find a shirt that's three for three. This may also require you to overhaul your notions of what "fitting properly" means -- FTMs have a tendency to wear clothes several sizes too big, either because they're trying to hide their shape or because they simply can't find men's clothes small enough for them. (Seriously, Target, you think size 32"-36" is a small? Seriously?)
Visual comparison, as modelled on an actualfax FTM, i.e., myself:
This shirt is too big, and I look like That Guy.
This shirt is fucking awesome.
And don't let the lighting fool you -- these pictures were taken all of ten minutes apart.
The first shirt isn't so bad on its own; children are not going to point and laugh as I walk down the street. I don't look like I'm wearing something that belongs to my dad. But when you put it side by side with a shirt that does fit, the difference is plain. For the longest time that second shirt was one of my favorites, even though I couldn't tell you why. In retrospect, the answer is obvious: it fits.
I -- and, I suspect, many other FTMs/skinny men -- have been tricked into buying a number of shirts that are too big for us. Think about it -- you go to a store and start trying on shirts. The one labelled "small" is rather loose, but that's the smallest size they've got (or the smallest one that's long enough in the arms), and that's how ALL SHIRTS fit you, so heck -- that must be how it's supposed to look, right?
Pay particular attention to how the sleeves fit -- that is my VERY IMPORTANT SECRET TIP for wearing shirts excellently. Sleeve width (as opposed to length) is something almost everyone overlooks when trying on a shirt or eyeing someone else's outfit, even though it makes a huge difference in the overall appearance. Again, it may sound counter-intuitive to suggest that you should be wearing tighter clothes, but your sleeves need to hug pretty closely to your arms. The eye is not fooled by big baggy sleeves into thinking that the arms underneath are equally big; they just look even smaller and wimpier by comparison.
If you're slim, don't be afraid to rock it.
Now that you've found a shirt small enough for you in the arms, it's probably also going to be small enough in the torso -- it may even be too small in the torso. As FTMs, we have more bulk in the chest than a cisguy of equivalently small arms/shoulders, and thus shirts that fit in the arms are prone to pulling noticeably tight across the chest. In which case, put it back. When the shirt is so tight that the buttons are gaping over your breasts and cinching back in under them, it's not going to work. Period. There is no clever workaround for that, short of maybe a better binder. It may be the coolest shirt in the world, but even if you buy it, it's not going to get much use, because it won't help you pass.
This is annoying enough when you're a woman wearing women's clothes, but it is DOOM to us.
This guy doesn't even have tits he's trying to hide. Presumably.
Assuming you now have a shirt that fits both your shoulders and your chest, the last hurdle is your hips. You'll often find that shirts fitting you in the shoulders and torso will be too narrow in the hips, and either you won't be able to button the last button, or it will pull noticeably tight. However, this isn't quite so insurmountable as the chest, so if you REALLY LOVE the shirt, you can...
A) Leave the bottom button undone. Plenty of cisguys do that, though on FTMs it will contribute to visually widening your hips.
B) Wear it tucked in. Good way to show off a nice belt or a nice ass.
C) Buy it and keep it as motivation to slim down, then celebrate the day when you can wear it. FTMs are probably the only demographic that can safely buy small and bank on losing inches in the hips -- for anyone else, if it doesn't fit when they buy it, it likely never will.
I wish I could just tell you "Buy shirts from [wherever]" and be done with it, but as an FTM, your clothing requirements are so particular and so unique to you, not shared by any other demographic, that no one makes FTM-friendly clothes on purpose. Finding the right combination of features to flatter your body is luck, so all you can do is to get over any aversion you have to looking at your body and hit the changing rooms, again and again, and be very discriminating about what you're willing to spend money on.
The good: t-shirts do a good job hiding curves.
The bad: t-shirts do a fucking terrible job hiding tits.
The ugly: they're, well... t-shirts.
Basically, you'll only look sexy in t-shirts if you look sexy out of t-shirts. There is very little they can do to help you hide your shape, and are often extremely unflattering, even on people who have hot bodies and should be rocking the hell out of them. There are two types; what I'll call "normal" t-shirts, which is what they hand out at blood drives, and the so-called "athletic fit."
Normal t-shirts: That Guy again.
Athletic t-shirts: more plz.
Normal t-shirts are the absolute worst for hiding a chest, because they protrude at your breasts and then drop straight down, without a collar or buttons or anything to distract. They gape at the sleeves, making your arms look like chicken wings.
Athletic t-shirts, on the other hand...
1) They're a very light, very stretchy cotton, and if you get them in the right size, they cling to the hips but not the waist. Hence, even though they're tight they don't emphasize curves, because they give you that straight line from shoulders to hips.
2) Check the sleeves -- t-shirt sleeves that hug your biceps rather than gaping open make a HUGE difference in the look of a shirt. Remember what I said about loose clothes making you look smaller?
3) The fitted sleeves give the shirt a more athletic look, which in turn makes the bulges in your chest less incongruous, because they look like pecs instead of tits. Even when your breasts are providing more "pecs" than the skinniness of your arms would warrant, the overall effect is more masculinizing than a regular t-shirt.
This guy knows how to wear a shirt. And pants.
You don't have to fork over $60 for a t-shirt from Armani Exchange either. Merona crew-neck t-shirts from Target, the ones you buy in a three-pack in the underwear section, are hands-down the best ones I've found. The only problem is that if you're a slim guy you might not be able to find them small enough. Where I live, in Texas, they've stopped carrying the 28"-30" size and "small" is now 32"-34", which doesn't do the trick. (BTW, if you find 28"-30" at your local Target, email me, I WILL PAY YOU TO SEND ME SOME.)
4) Most damningly, I can't stand the look. It's my archetypal example of unforgivably dull men's clothing. It's ugly on men, ugly on lesbians, ugly on FTMs, and I wish I were the fashion police so I could ticket people who wear it.
If you need to wear undershirts for sweat-soaking, I recommend getting some of those synthetic-fiber kinds. Not only will they wick away sweat better -- which, if you're wearing a binder, you'll appreciate -- but they won't cling to your overshirt.
Pants are less fun than shirts, because they're likely to bring you face to face with the parts of your anatomy that you hate the most. Shopping for pants tends to be an exercise in despair, so the temptation is to wear big loose sloppy pants, ones that you can get lost in, and hope for the best.
Resist the urge.
Ignoring the problem is not going to make it go away, so let's grab the bull by the horns and get with the damage control.
In male bodies, waist size roughly equals hips roughly equals thighs -- in women, it's more like waist < hips > thighs. In order to keep curvy women from looking fat, women's jeans conform to the body more closely than men's, getting skinnier as they go down toward the knee. Men's jeans, because men don't get appreciably wider at the hips, don't need to stick so close to the legs; they can make a straight line from the hips to the floor and that will produce a masculine shape, or so the theory goes.
Thus, our goal is to minimize the size discrepancies between waist/hips/thighs. Choosing the proper shirt will go along way toward equalizing waist/hips -- pants are in charge of hips and thighs.
How Men's Pants Are Sized
Answer: completely arbitrarily.
(Although, I will grant, not so arbitrarily as women's sizes, which give you something like "6". Six of what??)
Short of pajamas and swimwear, almost all men's trousers are sized width x length, so you'll see something like 32x34 or 32W 34L. (I don't know what tags in other parts of the world look like, though you overseas folks are welcome to write in and tell me. In Japan they also use inches to measure jeans -- inexplicably so, since they don't use inches for anything else.)
If you're coming from women's clothes, you probably don't know your measurements in inches, so you'll have to try on a few to get a feel for what your size is. Notice I said "get a feel for" -- because (Strange But True!) one brand's 32" may be suspiciously different from another brand's.
Two Ways You Can Wear Your Jeans
Option 1: "Relaxed fit" aka "saggy ass" jeans.
Less ugly, but still not optimal.
It took me forever to find a picture that correctly illustrates this phenomenon, and you know why, because MODELS DON'T WEAR THEIR JEANS LIKE THAT. Unfortunately I see those pants on FTMs all the time; this shit needs to stop. You look like a child, you look like a scrub, you look like a lesbian who would call me "bro."
Option 2: Jeans that fit
This means getting pants that fit you in the butt, the crotch, but most especially the thighs. You don't want your pants to be constricting, but remember everything I said about loose clothes making you look smaller? Doesn't apply to pants. I know it seems counterintuitive, because we're trying to fit a female body into a male frame and you'd think that close-fitting pants would give more away, but wearing baggy pants is not the answer -- all that extra room looks like weight on your body and makes your butt and thighs (which are already problem zones) look even bigger. You want pants that add as little bulk as possible in the hips and thighs.
The best rule of thumb for getting pants to fit is this: when you try them on, reach behind you and see how much loose fabric you can grasp from around the back of your thighs. If you come up with a handful, that's too much. I've found that being able to pinch the proverbial inch is a good size, because it's still comfortable and gives you plenty of room to move, without excess cloth putting on the visual pounds.
There is no one style that's guaranteed to fit like this, you're just going to have to try on a bunch. Sometimes "straight leg" will do the trick (although sometimes "straight leg" looks more like "saggy ass"), sometimes it'll be called a "slim fit" -- not to be confused with "skinny jeans," which are an abomination in the sight of Me.
If you have wads of cash to throw at the problem, True Religion jeans will slim your thighs and make your ass look amazeballs. Since I do not, I know this only from trying them on in the store.
Your other goal with pants is to make yourself look as tall as possible. Regardless of actual height, the eye gets its impression of height from the length of your inseam.
The white line along his leg is the inseam.
That is also, incidentally, one beautifully-fitting pair of jeans.
When your pants are loose and sagging in the crotch, your inseam is shorter and that contributes strongly to the appearance of being short and stocky.
Key point: maximizing your inseam = maximizing how tall you look
Maximizing your inseam consists of raising the crotch (which we've covered) and lowering the cuffs. With your pants suddenly at the right height, you may find that they're too short now -- either let the hems out or buy new ones. Even though you can skate by with pants that are "long enough," you may have better results with a pair that's just bit too long. If your cuffs are touching your heels rather than the back of your shoes, you've given yourself an effective inch and a half of height
I have a few pairs of jeans that are 34" long, even though 32"L fits me just fine, because then I can belt them up as high as I like without having to worry about making them too short. That trick does a fantastic job of maximizing your inseam.
Also, invest in a belt -- even pants that fit will get stretched out as you wear them and you'll end up needing a belt to keep them at the right height.
Some people might worry about the crotch fitting too well, because it could give away the fact that they're missing some equipment there. In general, this is the last thing you have to worry about, because men's pants are cut in such a way as to make space there. Wear pants that fit you in the waist, and the crotch height should take care of itself. If you're really worried, you can stash something in there -- which brings us to our next segment...
PACKING: What's in YOUR pants?
To be honest, I never really bothered with packing. Sure, like any baby FTM, I experimented with stuffing a sock down my boxer-briefs occasionally, but I never tried the products designed specifically for creating a bulge -- I was strapped for cash through most of my transition (still am, come to think of it) and I didn't see the point in spending a hundred bucks on a penis that I couldn't fuck or pee with. And in general I found that (A) it hardly looked any different, and no one looked there anyway, and (B) I couldn't keep my mind off sex when I was walking around with something sitting on my junk.
The only time my lack of packing has ever been an issue is in bars, when drunken gay guys have made a grab for my dick and been mystified when they didn't find anything -- but that's more lolzy than anything else.
On the other hand, some FTMs have reported that it does make a difference; it makes them feel more masculine, or it helps them remember to walk like a guy, or they think it shows in the way their pants fit. Your mileage may vary. If you want to pack, more power to you. This site is a good resource on packing.
What Not To Wear
We already covered this, but in case you fell asleep for that part, I'm covering it again. Loose pants make your lower body look wider, which is entirely opposite of the silhouette you're trying to create. They may be men's clothes, but they emphasize your female attributes and thus make you look like a lesbian. Enough said.
This cut, aka Pants Like Your Mom Wears:
The ones with the waistband cinching at or near the waist, then ballooning around the ass (often pleated) before making a straight taper to the ankle, which is the narrowest point in the leg. Frequently seen in 90's jeans and mens slacks, I don't know if there's a specific word for this style, so I'm just going to call it "fugly." They are not flattering on anyone, least of all you and me.
Oh for fuck's sake. Just, no.
MISC TIPS FOR PANTS
Cargo pants -- I quite like. I suspect it has to do with the way that the pockets add bulk at your knees, balancing the width of your hips and creating a very masculine rectangle. Just make sure they fit you in the crotch; I've noticed that cargo pants, more than other types of trousers, have a tendency to hang really low there. (See the lesson on inseams, above.)
Belt basics: There's a lot of fuss about mixing brown with black in an outfit, but the only real rule you need to follow is that your belt should match your shoes. Feel free to wear a black belt with brown trousers, so long as the shoes are also black. (I also make belts, among other things, so if you've got money to burn and want to help out a comrade, email me and I'll cut you a discount.)
Losing weight will slim down your face a bit and make the angles more defined, as will time on testosterone, but short of plastic surgery, there's not a whole lot you can do to change the shape of your face. You may have to resign yourself to boyish good looks rather than chiseled, ruggedly masculine good looks.
Which is not to say it can't happen -- exhibit A, FTM Balian Buschbaum. Holy cats, I would climb him like a tree.
That said, there's a lot you can do to maximize (and masculinize) what you've got. Let's start with what not to do:
DO NOT GET A BUZZ CUT.
Now you may be thinking, What, why not? Why wouldn't that be the BEST haircut to get, since we're going for masculine, and what could be more quintissentially masculine than shaving it off altogether, or shaving it so short that you don't have to mess with it?
Well, points for buying into male stereotypes, but the reality is that short hair of any stripe isn't very flattering. Much like t-shirts, the only people who look sexy with buzz cuts are the ones who look sexy no matter what they do. Moreover, it doesn't do anything to offset the feminine roundness that we're trying to lose -- it's more likely to make your face look like a potato.
This is why you can't just clip a picture of your favorite movie star and take it with you when you go in for a haircut -- no matter how sexy it looks on Brad Pitt, that's no guarantee it's going to be sexy on you. There are a lot of things that cisguys (and particularly, movie stars) can pull off that you can't.
When I was a baby trannie I kept trying for this one, forgetting that
I was not Cillian Murphy. (And also that I couldn't grow sideburns.)
The other danger of short hair, pre-hormones, is a visible hairline. Post-pubescent males, long before they actually start going bald, have a hairline that is naturally further back and more squared off than women's. It's easy enough to hide by brushing your hair forward, but a cut that adheres very closely to a round hairline will mirror (and thus emphasize) any roundness in your jaw.
Whatever the case, odds are good that you'll do better with slightly longer hair. You can brush it forward to obscure your hairline; it will frame your face and add some bulk up top to offset the width of your chin. In this arena, we can take our cues from Asian guys, because they've been rocking round faces since forever and they've got it down to a science. The key is creating a counterpoint: offsetting a round face with angular everything else. This means...
Left to its own devices, my hair is fluffy; I look far more masculine after taking the time to straighten and style and put product in it, and don't think that irony is lost on me. Nor do I want anyone to think that I'm harshing on curly hair, but if you look at the footage, you'll see that it invariably gets paired with cheekbones so sharp you could cut yourself on them -- not something commonly associated with FTMS.
The haircuts I've had the most success with share the following features:
- A side part
- Bangs across the forehead
- Slightly long
At its simplest, this.
It works for a number of reasons, not least because it is a haircut that only men wear. When straight women wear their hair short (aka the pixie cut) it's also shaved very short on the back of the neck, but this haircut is shaggy in the back. When lesbians do short hair, they tend to do a more distinct part and then brush the hair up.
Keira Knightley vs. Rachel Maddow... it's like a battle of archetypes.
Moreover, it's very flexible:
You can do more bangs...
...or less bangs.
More in the back...
...or less in the back.
Or with a bit of curl
And it's long enough to play with.
It flatters a round face. It's masculine without being too short. (I like long hair, what can I say.) It's a man's haircut, not a child's. If you wear it shaggy, it can hide your lack of sideburns. It works for a for a wide range of lengths, so you can get it short when you first get it cut and it'll stay good for the next two months. It doesn't take a genius to style, just the right goop.
Moreover, it doesn't look like you're compensating for anything.
That is what FTMs always do the first time they take the plunge and go in for a men's haircut -- they overcompensate. In their zeal to put as much distance as possible between themselves and all things feminine, they go way overboard and get the shortest, most shapeless haircut possible. The result is not only unflattering... it's not convincing either. You don't look like a man, you just look like a woman with a bad haircut. I know because I've been there, many times.
So explore your options. Don't feel like you have to get it super short out of some narrow notion that That's How Manly Hair Must Be; look around at some of the longer and shaggier ways that guys wear their hair. If you see a style you like, try to picture it on a girl, to see if it's something that lesbians or straight girls also wear (and thus should probably be avoided).
This is the picture that I've consistently had the best luck with at hair salons. I bring it in and
say, "Give me this," and even if it doesn't come out the same (hair stylists -- not always as good
as they think they are), the result is usually something I can live with.
Exhibit B: FTM Lucas Silveira
...hot internet FTMs
Lucas can wear eyeliner, that is how not-compensating he is. (Also, a rock star)
Punk rock hair. Be cautious when venturing into more outlandish styles -- men's haircuts always tend to be more conservative than women's, and when it comes to short, edgy hair, that's more often seen on lesbians than on men. Do it if you like, but be told that it's not going to help you pass.
Handle with care.
Making fauxburns with the wispy hair of the side of your face -- don't do it. That doesn't fool anyone, and in fact it looks more feminine because that's one of the defining features of a pixie haircut.
Instead, make sure the hair in front of your ears is trimmed close and cut straight across rather than allowed to taper down. Do not tuck your hair behind your ears, even if you've got a longer men's cut.
You should be able to do your sideburns like that even before hormones.
And yes, the sideburns are the salient part of that picture.
Salon vs. barbershop? My money is on salon, any day of the week. Spring for a salon, or learn to do it yourself (as I did), because you're not going to like the cut you get from a barbershop. Yes, they will give you a men's haircut -- but remember what I said before, about cisguys being able to pull off all kinds of things that we can't? A barbershop haircut is one of them.
Much like the subtle science that goes into making a female body fit men's clothes, making a female face fit a man's haircut is a trick best left to the pros. The guys at the barbershop are not trained for that, they're trained to shave the sides, square the top, and get you back out on the street in ten minutes. Suck it up and let the ladies (or the gay boys) at the salon feather your hair with a straight razor for half an hour.
On the topic of getting professional haircuts: much has been made on other trans-passing sites about whether your stylist reads you as male or female, because if they think you're a girl then they may give you a girly haircut blah blah blah. In my experience though, the efficacy of a haircut has less to do with the stylist and far more with how good you were at picking the right style, both for passing and for your particular face. When I walked out with a bad haircut, nine times out of ten it was because they'd given me exactly what I asked for -- only the haircut that looked good on the Armani model was all but unrecognizable on me.
This is the worst haircut for new FTMs, bar none. Every time I accidentally get my hair this short,
I hate the fuck out of myself for the month that it takes to grow out again.
Shaving -- do it even before you start testosterone. Not only to get some practice with it, but to get rid of that layer of soft, downy hair that grows on women's faces. Also known as peach fuzz, it is common to women and pre-pubescent children of both sexes, but one place you will never find it is on a man's face. Men have bristly stubble, or they have nothing whatsoever because they just shaved. Those are the only options.
So shave off your peach fuzz -- it makes more of a difference than you'd expect.
And before we leave the subject of faces -- just because you're a man now doesn't mean you shouldn't moisturize. Buy a man-scented facial lotion and use it religiously. Because if you're anything like me, you've probably lost the best of your young-n-hot years to being the wrong sex, or in that unhappy state of limbo where you're pre-T, or pre-surgery, and desperately unhappy with your chest, your hips, your ass, your junk, etc. Someday you'll get all your parts in order, but wouldn't you like to still be looking good when that happens? So why wouldn't you do everything in your power to take care of yourself?
Ladies go nuts for a well-dressed man. Dudes go nuts for a well-dressed man.
What's the moral of this story? It behooves you to learn how to wear a suit and wear it well.
If you haven't seen this movie, you should; it is like porn for people who like sexy suits.
The male formal suit is the pinnacle of centuries of fashion evolution. Every new generation introduces some new variations, and those that look good stick around. It is instantly recognizable as a symbol of authority and masculinity, and it flatters every male body. The suit's staying power is not a coincidence -- it has stuck around this long because there is not a single male figure that cannot be improved, to some degree, by a well-cut suit.
And for FTMs, they're even better. They're boxy -- they hide curves, they square shoulders, they flatten chests. They're an automatic +10 to manliness, tapping into the long social history that a suit carries. And more to the point, they look damned good.
That said, a lot of men don't wear the suits that are right for them. Finding the proper suit can be mapped on two axes: questions of style and questions of fit. Fit is about numbers; it is not a matter of opinion and it is not up for debate. How much shirt cuff to show, what your jacket-to-trousers ratio should be -- those are the same for men of all sizes. You learn the rules for how a suit should fit and you stick with them unless you want to look like a noob who doesn't know how to buy clothes in their own size.
Style, on the other hand, is intimately tied to what will flatter you, making it a far more interesting subject for discussion.
Questions of Style
Two pieces or three?
Two piece means jacket & pants. Three piece means jacket & pants & waistcoat. If you're going to be leaving your jacket on, a two-piece will do just fine. If the jacket is likely to come off, I highly encourage you to consider a waistcoat, as it does a splendid job hiding a chest. (Discussed elsewhere) This will probably make you better dressed than your colleagues -- fuck them. American men need to step up to the plate, retire their favorite football jerseys and wash the Cheez-it stains off their sweatpants.
The biggest style choice in choosing a jacket is how many buttons it has. Useful sartorial term here is gorge, which refers to the V that the overlapping lapels form when the jacket is buttoned. Three-button suits result in a much higher gorge, which is good for very tall men, 6'+, because it makes them look proportional. On shorter men, the high gorge of a three-button suit gives the suit a stiff, formal appearance (very buttoned-up, if you will), while the lower gorge of a two-button suit makes it look more hip and casual. (FYI: when rock stars wear suit jackets, they do not wear three-button ones.)
Two ways to wear three-button suits -- note the very high gorge in the picture on the left,
and how that is lowered (right) by leaving the top button undone.
Matt Bomer wearing a lovely two-button suit in a potential casting pic for Fifty Shades of Grey because apparently
the casting director missed the fact that he's hilariously bad at pretending to be straight.
NEVER, EVER FASTEN THE BOTTOM BUTTON ON A SUIT JACKET. YOU ARE NOT IN HIGH SCHOOL. (Unless you are, in which case, dress like you're not.) The same holds true of waistcoats; the bottom button is supposed to be left undone, which is convenient because that's usually what FTMs need anyway. There is an obvious exception for one-button suits -- you are allowed to fasten that lone button.
Venturing out of the 2-3 button range is not recommended for beginners. I have only once seen a four-button suit, because the guy was a pro basketball player and like eleven feet tall. One-button suits exist, but they aren't exactly "business" suits by that point -- think rock stars again. Moreover, I would discourage FTMs in particular from one-button suits because they tend to look very femme.
This guy looks very manly in a shiny one-button suit. You might not be so lucky.
I favor two-button jackets myself -- it's a good style for younger men, and it makes you look like a guy who dresses well because that's what he likes, not a Jehovah's Witness whose mom bought his suit off the rack at Cole's.
Also known as the collar on the jacket, there are three basic styles of lapels: notch, peak, and shawl.
Shawl lapels: I'm not a fan. On other people they're okay, I guess, and they only look a little like a bathrobe,
but their rounded edges are terrible for offsetting the roundness of an FTM face.
Peak lapels - the angularity would probably be good for FTM faces, but they're harder to come by
and you have to be rather fashion-forward to pull them off, since they're most often found on tuxedos.
Notch lapels - is good to me. There's a reason why this is the default.
Wider vs narrower lapels
Suits are all about being in proportion with the body wearing them, which mean that if you're a wider guy, you'll want wider lapels, and if you're a thinner guy you'll want narrower ones. Fuck a lot of fashion, or whatever the magazines say is ~trendy~ right now, and wear the lapel size that suits your body. I'll repeat this again later, but it bears mentioning here that the same also goes for ties: wider body = wider lapels & wider ties. Thinner body = thinner lapels & thinner ties. (Not to be confused with skinny ties, which are up there with skinny jeans.)
No one can stop you from pushing the envelope on what's best for your body type, but keep in mind:
- Skinny guys with wide lapels will look like they stepped out of the seventies.
- Big guys with skinny lapels will look inflated.
- Mixing wide lapels with skinny ties (or vice versa) will make you look like a used car salesman who got dressed in the dark.
A bit exaggerated (I think this was a promo pic from his role as Kingpin in the Daredevil movie),
but no one can deny that Michael Clarke Duncan wears that gorgeous suit like a motherfucking boss.
At the other end of the spectrum, skinny lapels make Benedict Cumberbatch look proportional.
(Funny story: observe how his shoulders are the same number of pixels across as the picture of Michael Clarke Duncan,
while his head is decidedly not. And yet they both look great! Such is the power of suits.)
The vent is the slit in the back of the jacket that makes it easier to move in. American suits tend to have a single vent. European suits tend to have two, forming a sort of flap. Some suits have no vent at all -- in my opinion, they look unfinished, like the sweatshop workers making your suit forgot to add the vent and there was no one on quality-control to catch it before the hit the shelves. It is a thing that is done (my boss has such a jacket, because he is the worst gay man ever), but I'm not a fan.
Single, double, or none.
Vents are mostly a matter of your own personal preference. I like double vents myself (they look better on shorter jackets and they bring flattering attention to a pert ass) but bigger guys are likely better off with a single vent, as that minimizes unwanted junk in the trunk.
Your best suit color is determined partly by your skin tone, but mostly by your hair, because what the jacket does is work with your hair to make a frame around your face. Do it right, and your face will be the focal point and draw people's eyes immediately to it. Do it wrong and you'll be like a headless suit. The trick is to find a suit jacket in a color that complements your hair so that the two bracket your face. If you have dark hair, then you will look excellent in a dark or black jacket. If you have lighter hair, then some shade of grey or grey-brown is likely to do better for you.
For an excellent example of this in action, look at pictures of Obama vs. pictures of Romney: Romney is almost never in a black suit, because he doesn't have the complexion for it -- Obama is almost never in anything else.
All personal politics aside, both of them have handlers who know how to put them in their best colors.
But let's face it, most of us are not made of money, and if the jacket you buy is any color other than black, you will not be able to buy pants to match it later. You will have to buy all the matching pants at the same time you buy the jacket, and then keep your fingers crossed that you don't rip/stain/outgrow them.
Or, in the case of FTMs, undergrow them. We are prone to dramatic size fluctuations with the progress of testosterone, gaining bulk in some places and losing it in other, accreting muscle and shuffling fat deposits around. Jackets you buy pre-T will eventually become too tight in the shoulders, but $5 says that your pants will be unwearable much sooner. You want to be able to replace those pants with ones that fit you, without having to buy a whole new suit.
But let's pretend that we are made of money, and talk about the suits we would buy in a perfect world.
Alan Flusser and I part ways on the subject of color more than on any other topic. He's not a great fan of black suits; I am. He thinks they're too severe for most occasions and not the most flattering color for white guys. I'll give him the latter, but my ideas on menswear are informed from living in Japan, where a black suit is the "safe" option. Black suits are de rigeur in most of Asia because they invariably look good on Asian men -- Asians have the black hair to balance a black suit and so it's become practically standard-issue over there, even though I doubt most people know why.
Because they look amazeballs in it, what else do you need to know?
Flusser likes navy, which I absolutely cannot endorse, particularly not for FTMs. I'll own that I have a strong bias toward monochromes, but blue blazers scream "prep school uniform" to me, and considering how many of us have the face to say we're in high school and be believed... yeah.
So you can look like jailbait.
Or some douchebag in a yacht club.
However, I say this about navy jackets and then just the other day I bought one -- a blue pinstriped H&M blazer, because it was $5 at Goodwill and fit me like it was bespoke and holy shit now it's my favorite, so whatever. Ultimately, the best jacket for you is going to be the one that fits the best, even if the colors and styling are less than optimal.
Grey suits, much like black suits, it would seem, have different cultural connotations depending on where you're coming from. I've gotten the impression that the American image of grey suits is dull businessmen from the 1950s. Meanwhile, I learned suits in Japan, where the boring old guys don't venture away from basic black and grey suits are the province of hip young men with tan leather shoes and trendy facial hair. (It's a type.)
This be from Inception, but pretend he's Japanese, and suddenly you're
looking at what made my morning commutes 30% more interesting.
Also, this picture was among my formative menswear influences and remains one of the most beautifully put-together suits I have ever seen:
Exquisite use of pattern and texture; click to embiggen.
Someday, that suit will be mine. In the mean time, I bite my thumb at Alan Flusser and wear black suits, blond(ish) hair and all.