Mind/Body Congruence and a Gray T-Shirt

This is the shirt on the Gustin model, not me!

This is the shirt on the Gustin model, not me.

While on vacation, at the beach, in Gloucester, I experienced a moment of mind/body congruence. It was fleeting, but notable.

I was getting dressed to take a walk. I put on a new gray T-shirt, old olive hiking shorts, and gray sneakers. The new T-shirt looked good on me. I looked in the mirror and thought “If I saw a guy coming down the street wearing this outfit, I’d think that he was nicely, if monochromatically, put together. I’d make a mental note of it.” I liked how I looked in the mirror. There was no dysphoric distortion.

That sentence should be in bold caps. I LIKED HOW I LOOKED IN THE MIRROR. One day, I hope this will be a normal, daily, event. It doesn’t happen often enough, but the possibility exists.

I’ve chosen my own clothing since I was old enough to get working papers and an after school job. My mantra was “everything goes with blue jeans”. Since then I’ve owned and worn a steady supply of T-shirts, flannel shirts, button-downs, sweat shirts, and jeans. I’ve bought lots of clothing that I liked in the catalog or in the store. I liked them in my dresser drawer or hanging in my closet. When I wore them, though, they didn’t look right on me. The clothes were simultaneously too loose, too tight, and too long. I was too short and too round, and too female. The solution was to never look in a mirror.

The obvious question is: why didn’t I buy clothing that fit me properly? Or flattered me? I knew that women’s clothing fit me better than men’s, but I didn’t want to wear it, even if I was the only person on earth who knew that it was made for women. I wanted to wear men’s clothing and disappear into masculine thin air.

I ignored the drooping crotch, the crumpled up pants leg, the shirt button gaping at the chest, and the shirt bagging out at the waist when I tucked it in. I believed that if I could button all the buttons, or zip up the fly, then it fit. I didn’t understand that even if it did “fit” it didn’t guarantee that it looked good on me. Every once in a while I lucked out and found something that worked. Mostly, I wore duds.

I had an inner picture of myself as male, but it was smashed to pieces every time I tried on clothing in front of a mirror. It’s taken five years of transness (weight loss and top surgery) for me to stop flinching at my own reflection, to bring the inner and outer pictures together. I’m almost at the point where I can objectively try something on and tell if it fits. Sometimes it even looks good. Donna tells me it takes patience, persistence, practice, serendipity, and empathy to find clothes that fit and look good. I prefer science and research.

A few months ago, to prove my point, I measured four different T-shirts that I think fit me properly (a boy’s XL, two men’s smalls, and a men’s medium). The chests were between 19.5 and 20.5 inches wide. The lengths were between 25 and 27 inches, back collar to hem. The sleeves were between 7 and 8 inches long, from the shoulder seam. I measured some of my other T-shirts and they were all too long. Some were off on all three dimensions.

I order most of my T-shirts on-line. Some manufacturers list the dimensions of each garment. Others will provide them upon request, by chat. The Gap Essential Crew in small meets my criteria. The gray T-shirt came from Gustin; there is nothing special or magic about it. It is 20 inches wide and 26 inches long, with 7.5 inch sleeves. Gustin considers that a men’s medium. I consider it perfect.

Notes: The website Threadbase has an interesting chart by manufacturer for T-shirt chest width and length. It shows how much variation in sizing there is between brands, and how one person’s small is another person’s medium. It helped me measure my shirts, request dimensions, and stop ordering shirts that I know will be too wide, too narrow, or too long.

I’m still slowly building a wardrobe that I like (I’d like a few more Proper Cloth custom button-down shirts). It would be great if I could feel the mind/body congruence wearing a potato sack, but I’m happy when I find it in a good shirt and jeans.

28 thoughts on “Mind/Body Congruence and a Gray T-Shirt

  1. Hart

    I too struggle with finding proper clothes. Tailoring helps, but it really needs to be made from scratch to the proper sizes. Same goes for looking in the mirror.

    Happy to hear you’re gaining more acceptance of yourself on your journey.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I’m 5’4″ – 140lbs, so I’m at the edge of fitting into boy’s XL – which is at least cut for 5’6′ to 5’8″
      Most men’s clothing seems to be cut for 6’2″. I don’t sew (except for a button now and then) – and I am too anxious/self conscious to go to a tailor except to hem my jeans (I pin them at home and just hand them over).
      I’m working on acceptance, but it doesn’t come easy. I keep expecting one day I’ll look up and see a guy in the mirror – without taking T. Part of me knows that won’t happen, but part of me is still hoping and going to the gym.

      Liked by 1 person

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  2. janitorqueer

    I recently bought two men’s small old navy t-shirts online – (I’d tried the medium on at the store, knowing it’d be too big.) The two smalls are different sizes! They are about an inch off, in width. I’m not sure which one is a “true” small. I’m going to return the wider one, and look into their xs as well because otherwise I like the shirt A LOT. (They are 51% linen!!!)

    I think we might be equally obsessed with t-shirts.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Both Old Navy and The Gap make different T’s in different widths and lengths – I just bought a couple of striped slub Gap T’s in small that are about 2 inches longer than the Essential T (which comes in fairly boring guy colors). I can wear them, but it is annoying.
      For me, obsession diverts me from thinking about taking T – and keeps me on the holy grail of inching towards looking more masculine for my own sense of self. Plus, the benefit for me of top surgery should be that I find more T’s that fit, and be willing to wear them without additional layers. Wearing one layer is still the best thing ever.

      Liked by 1 person

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      1. Alexis

        Reply on the sizing-and-shrinking issue: 1) manufacturers can run out of a chosen fabric in the middle of production, but still have to fulfill their order — using a similar but not identical cloth. In any case, cutting and sewing are expert but (still) human enterprises — so there’s bound to be variation. 2) I don’t know what technique Jamie Ray uses re; shrinkage, but my advice to keep your clothes’ original size and shape is to wash in cold water, and hang dry.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Jamie Ray Post author

        In my experience shirts shrink in length not width, and because I’m 5″4′ I’ve never had a shirt get too short. I’m lazy about laundry so everything gets washed and dried together, in warm water, medium heat.

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  3. Lesboi

    I like your analytical approach to t shirts. I’m still amazed that I was able to find a men’s dress shirt that (seemingly) fits me close to perfectly and that I enjoy wearing. I’m glad you’re losing your disconnect with your body and how you look. Personally, I think you look awesome!

    Liked by 2 people

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks for the support! They also have a page on polo shirts (which run longer than T’s) which sucks for those of us who are short. The analysis is from the frustration of (ordering and returning) and trying stuff on that doesn’t fit – the less I have to try on the better – and at least I have an explanation for it. I also feel like I’m finally entitled to wear whatever I want – and I want it in my size (short guy not not not petite).

      Liked by 1 person

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  4. Riley

    When you measure the length of a T-shirt, where are the endpoints? Is it from the shoulder down to the bottom or do you start at the top or bottom of the collar or something?

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    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Hi Riley! What the manufacturer recommends is that you lay out a clean T-shirt on a flat surface without stretching it but smoothing it out (on a table not your mattress) and use a measuring tape. You measure the chest about 1 inch below the arm pit- and measure straight across to the same point on the other side. The length is from the top of the back collar to the hem. Hope that helps.

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  5. livinginhebel

    I get this so much. For me, it was allowing myself to wear men’s clothing and get the right haircut. But after spending my whole life looking in the mirror and only thinking “good enough,” it has been incredible to look in the mirror and like what I see. It’s amazing to me; I’m not used to it yet.

    You’re right about the importance of fit. I don’t like anything to be fitted, so I have to walk the line between not form fitting and not too baggy. Button ups are the worst because I can’t get any to fit my hips–if I’m tucking them in for work, it’s fine, but I’d like to find some I could leave untucked. Unfortunately, finances play a role since I can’t afford to spend a lot on clothes…

    Yay for liking what you see in the mirror! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Glad this resonated with you. Button-downs are really hard to buy off the rack, and that bottom button is a bitch (plus I have to roll up the sleeves). Custom shirts are an investment, but I’ve tried on almost every brand of men’s shirts and haven’t found anything that comes close for me
      (except for Ralph Lauren boys XL, and Peter Manning – J Crewish clothes for short men – and both of those are expensive).
      I still have a couple of LL Bean flannel shirts that are women’s and I have to say that the fit pretty decently – but they button to the girls side and that annoys me (it shouldn’t matter but it does).

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      It is a nice deep gray and the pigment gives it some texture – I hope it will keep the dye as I wash it over time. It was my first T from Gustin (which has an unusual business model) but I would definitely buy more of them as they market them.

      I have not returned anything to Gustin yet, but I try to order from places that have a liberal return policy or a store in my area (a plus living in NYC). Over the past year I’ve returned stuff to The Gap, Bonobos, LL Bean, and Zappos (by far the easiest for both shoes and clothing). I’ve also not returned some things I should have because of the hassle of repackaging and going to the post office, or the cost of the item wasn’t that much so I kept it anyway. Knowing the true size helps keep the returns down.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Yes indeed. It has been a while since I had the opposite – one of those days when the thought of wearing anything is too terrible to contemplate – the dysphoria has definitely been tamed – hopefully permanently.

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      Reply
  6. hiddeninyoursoul

    I completely relate to this. I have always loved men’s clothing, but mostly hated the way it looked on me. I was always annoyed it didn’t fit the “right” way. I’ve learned over the years, especially after coming out as trans, that it takes time to find the brands and cuts that I think look best. Clothes still don’t exactly fit how I’d like, but it is better.

    I’m 5’3″ and 175 pounds – so getting things that fit can be a real challenge. Most of my weight is in my hips/thighs even after 3+ years on T. My upper body has gotten bigger, but not enough to overcome my lower half. So… I still have those days when I have an image in my head of what I think I should look like and then what I actually look like in the mirror, and they don’t necessarily match.

    Liked by 2 people

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  7. Jamie Ray Post author

    I’m 5’4″ and 140 – and my hips/butt are fairly proportionate to the rest of me. My ideal T-shirt measurements allow me to go “un-tucked” but if I get a men’s shirt that isn’t custom made I have to tuck it in and roll up the sleeves (even short sleeves). It isn’t always the look I’m going for.
    Five years ago I was 175, and losing the weight did help men’s clothes to fit better, but it is (was) difficult and complicated to do and to keep off. The reason I kept my weight on as long as I did has more to do psychologically with what it meant to me (being solid and staying hidden) than with diet and exercise – when I was finally able to let go of it I did – but it was a long bumpy process.

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  8. queerenby

    Wow this resonates with me so much. I’m currently shopping for a suit for my wedding and being “pre everything” I am read almost 100% as a woman. I kept being shown women’s suits and told they’d fit better, I tried, I cried, I hated how they accentuate my femininity. I have given up for now, I keep telling myself that if I work out more, run more, lose weight, build muscle, I’ll like what I see and things will fit better. The truth is though that nothing will really slim my hips and I need to start finding clothes that properly fit and flatter me. I find hope in your post though that I will one day find congruence in the inner vision of myself and the reflection in the mirror.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Congratulations on your upcoming wedding – hope you figure it out in time. I have no advice on suits – at this point my most formal clothing are chinos and a buttoned vest. If I had to wear a suit I’d probably try to get one custom, but I know some guys who got suits at Men’s Wearhouse which also alters them to fit. I’ve had better experiences with sales people in men’s stores than women’s – in the men’s stores they know what I am trying to do and at least are helpful. I’d rather wear a potato sack than a women’s suit.

      Liked by 1 person

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      1. Lesboi

        I concur with Jamie here. Go to the Men’s Warehouse. They will listen to you and get you something that works as well as treat you with respect. Have you thought about wearing a tuxedo for your wedding? They do tux rentals there as well or any place that rents them can fit you for one without too much hassle I would think. Good luck and just say no to women’s clothing departments…unless that’s your thing.

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  9. Cairtheand

    Everytime we find an item of clothing that really brings up who we are (rather than just something to suit our body) it´s a small celebration! 🙂 I used to wear all girlie bandshirts and had to change all my favorite bandshirts to the male version, which I liked better anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I hate that there are “mens” styles and “women’s” styles of the same basic thing – I just don’t ever want to wear the women’s version of anything ever again. Which is kind of silly – why get all bent out of shape over which way your shirt buttons – but I’m completely self-conscious about it.

      Liked by 3 people

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      1. Lesboi

        You know, I thought that too about the buttons, but it’s more than buttons. I cleaned out my closet of all my “girl” clothes a while back but kept a few of my women’s shirts that I liked because I thought I would still wear them. In preparation for our trip I tried them on to possibly take with me and they just fit very different than my men’s shirts and I couldn’t stand the way I looked in them. There’s something about the cut that screams that you’re wearing a women’s shirt. They’re shorter in the arms pits and length for one thing and they usually, even if it’s a boxy cut, have a little flair to them at some point that men’s shirts just don’t have. I will never wear a woman’s shirt again. Most unisex styles are just men’s clothes because most men will not wear something that is cut for a woman and women can pull off wearing men’s styles much easier than the other way around.

        Liked by 2 people

  10. Simon

    Man, this is so me! Exactly. Everything was baggy and didn’t fit right, but there’s no way I was wearing women’s clothes. I’m still in the process–hoping that T and top surgery will finally get me to the place where I can like what I see in the mirror.

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