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Summer is here! Although depending on where you live in the world, it might still be dragging its feet. Still, the days are long, the weather is warm, and everyone is excited to get outside. And summer time means summer looks! Time to put away the thick jumpers and scarves and get ready for the beach.
Being trans can make it more difficult to dress for the hot weather. If it’s already sweaty and sticky outside, feeling uncomfortable with one or another aspect of your body isn’t going to help. If you’re used to layering up or dressing a certain way to help alleviate gender dysphoria, it can be hard to dress lightly for the heat.
London Trans Pride is still in recent memory. It was one of those hot sticky days, but the streets were full in every direction with people feeling comfortable and being themselves. That’s what we want this article to say – not ‘Here’s what you should wear’ or ‘Here’s the latest summer trends’ but ‘Here’s how you can feel chill on the inside when it’s hot outside’.
We’ve divided this piece into advice for transmasculine people, transfeminine people, and advice for everyone – but no one fits into a single box, and you should find what works for you.
One of the biggest issues with dressing for summer while trans is binding. For lots of people, being able to bind – especially while out and about – makes a huge difference to gender dysphoria. However, the health risks associated with binding can be aggravated by hot weather. Dehydration and overheating can both cause shortness of breath, dizziness, and fatigue, all of which are exacerbated by binding, and particularly if you are binding too tightly or for prolonged periods of time.
Make sure that you’re drinking lots of water, and wear sunscreen and a hat to minimise the chance of overheating. Make sure that you aren’t binding too tight – Pink News has a great guide for beginners if you’re not sure. If you’re outside for a long period of time, take plenty of rests in the shade.
If you can afford it, getting a custom or bespoke binder made for your body type will really support your health in the long run. One brand worth looking at for summer wear binders is Spectrum Outfitters. They use a different design to most binders, with mesh at the back providing compression and a cotton panel in the front providing a flattening surface (most binders compress at the front and sides). This reduces the pressure on your chest and makes it easier to breathe.
They’re also made of lightweight materials, including a breathable sports fabric made from recovered plastics (and used by Stella McCartney for the 2012 Olympic Team GB uniforms!). It lets the skin breathe, helping you cool down faster, and dries off quickly if it gets wet. You’ll want to avoid materials that aren’t breathable, like polyester, and some binders have decorative lace or metal elements that are attractive but could become uncomfortable in hot weather.
Another consideration is binders that can be worn as an item of clothing in and of themselves. Places like Spectrum Outfitters and Origami Customs offer a variety of specifications that are designed to look as good as they feel, so that when the mercury creeps past 25 you can wear an open shirt over your binder (or lose the shirt completely!) and still look and feel great.
Now that we’re done with the top, let’s get to the bottom. If you wear a packer, you’ll probably know that the shorter, looser-fitting clothes in the summer wardrobe can make it harder to keep it in place. That doesn’t mean that you have to go without, however. You can buy shorts, swimwear, and briefs online with special fixtures to hold your packer in place, as well as packing straps that give extra support.
When you’re buying packers or packing gear, make sure what you’ve selected is designed for everyday use. Some places sell packing gear as fetishwear/sex toys, and these tend to be of lower quality materials and design. It’s usually easy to tell from the website, but brands and materials can vary between retailers – FtM Essentials has a good rundown of what’s available based on your needs. If you’re younger, or you’re a parent of a trans kid who’s worried about going out in summer, you could check out Stitch Bug. They make packers and gear for young people and teens, so that they can enjoy themselves without worrying about how they look or feel.
Some transmasculine people like to use layered clothing to change the body’s profile. In hot weather, this can cause you to overheat – particularly if the layers are close to the skin. Even thin vests work by trapping a layer of warm air close to the skin, and keep you warmer the closer they fit. If you want a different silhouette, opt for loose-fitting clothing like wide-leg trousers, oversize button-downs, and relaxed fit t-shirts (you can always wear them over a binder). It can be stressful to experiment in the wardrobe department, but you’ll find combinations that are both stylish and comfortable to wear.
Particularly with layers, it’s important to think about materials. We mentioned polyester above – this is one to avoid in summer, because the material doesn’t breathe and it will heat you up, rather than cooling you down. Cotton and linen are much cooler, and they feel great as well.
Transfeminine people may not have to contend with binding in the summer, but you should still look after your chest. As many as 80% of women are wearing bras that don’t fit, and trans women are no exception. This might not seem like a problem, but ill-fitting bras can lead to back, neck and shoulder pain, and tightness of breath, not to mention sore boobs (especially if you’re on HRT!). This is especially important in hot weather. Transfeminine people tend to need longer band and strap measurements proportionate to their cup size than cis women, and if these measurements are too small it can increase the risk of overheating and breathing difficulties.
Transfeminine people may find it difficult to access bra fitting services because they’re worried about being judged or excluded. This is understandable, but there are plenty of retailers like Bravissimo who have a policy of trans-inclusivity. You can also take your own measurements at home. A Bra That Fits has put together a self-sizing guide with all the information and measurements you need based on your body type.
If you tuck or wear a gaff you might be worried about all the shorts and short skirts in the summer fashions. You can find underwear and swimwear with built in support online, so that you can feel comfortable at the beach or by the pool. There’s even places like Rubies who offer options for young people and teenagers, so that they can have the summer holidays they deserve.
Even if you’re not 100% body confident, there are lots of feminine summer cuts that work really well across lots of transfeminine body types. Maxi skirts are a great one, especially if you’re tall – pair them with some sandals to make your height work for you and keep breezy and cool all day. If you have broader shoulders a loose linen or cotton button-down worn partially open will sit well on your shoulders and emphasise your decolletage.
Summer make-up essentials are just as much fun as the wardrobe. If you wear foundation, you can mix a bronzer into your routine for a beachy glow (just use it sparingly so you don’t come out orange!). Or, if you want to go all the way, search for a nearby LGBT-friendly salon and book yourself in for a spray tan.
Sunny weather is a great time to play around with bright colours and iridescent palettes, so try out some bold eyeshadows or coloured liners. Just remember, the heavier your make-up is, the harder it is for your face to cool off. Consider using a foundation with a lighter coverage and/or built in SPF to keep your skin happy.
Summer is for everyone
Whether you’re coming out of your pandemic shell and thinking about adventures or just happy to be down at the park with your friends, the most important thing is that you feel great (and it doesn’t hurt to look good while you do it). At the end of the day, being trans or non-binary shouldn’t be something you hide with the way that you present yourself, it should be something you celebrate.
Why not try a summer haircut? After eighteen months – and change – of Zoom calls and dodgy home ‘dos, it can be nice to get a refresh. Besides, hair is heavy and hot – especially if you’ve been growing it out. You could learn to style a new up-do, or even be brave and get an undercut (the breeze feels really nice on your head). Or if long hair isn’t your thing, you could go in the opposite direction and shave it all off!
Lean into summer fashions, and don’t be afraid to go bold. Sometimes it feels like there’s an expectation for trans people to know all about fashion: what’s feminine, what’s masculine, what works for what body type… But really, there’s only one body that matters when it comes to what you know and what you wear, and that’s your body.
If you want to learn more about fashion, a good trick is to look in magazines like Grazia or GQ (online or, if you’re old-fashioned, in actual paper) to see what the season’s trends are. Then, when you’ve seen something you like, you can look for similar clothes in cheaper outlet stores. Equally, you don’t have to follow the trends, just be yourself – there’s nothing wrong with going down to the charity shop and mixing and matching pieces until you find what feels good to you.
One of the big trans worries when it comes to summer is showing some skin. It can be hard to feel like you’re free to lounge around semi-clad if you’re uncomfortable about how you look, or you’re worried about being judged. Of course, you should only ever do what you’re comfortable with, but there are a few things you can do to help yourself feel more comfortable.
If it’s feeling self-conscious around other people that’s the problem, then you can always try shopping around for outdoor spaces that are less busy. Google can sometimes tell you how busy a place typically gets, or you can try quieter times – during the morning, or just before dusk. Even if there are people around, it shouldn’t be cause for concern. The majority of the public (at least in the UK) are in favour of trans rights. The truth is, that the person looking at you most, is you! Once you figure out a look that feels comfortable, you’ll find you quickly feel more comfortable in everything else. Then your summer fun can begin!