— -- Feeling comfortable in one's own skin is hard enough. Feeling comfortable in one's clothing should be relatively easy, by comparison.
But for members of the LGBTQ community who don't identify with common notions of gender or appearance, what to wear can be a daily frustration. Fortunately, a new wave of fashion start-ups have recently launched to address -- and dress -- this oft-neglected segment of the population.
"There are specific concerns for us to consider when it comes to the trans and genderqueer communities, where underthings often explicitly tie in to gender expression," said Jeanna Kadlec, owner of Bluestockings Boutique, an online undergarment retailer in Boston that services an LGBTQ audience. "What would be called women’s underwear is, traditionally speaking, very feminine."
The owner told ABC News that the shop tries to present a more inclusive selection than other stores. It also seeks to boost other LGBTQ-focused businesses.
The nine-day-old Bluestockings Boutique supports queer-owned and -designed brands such as Play Out and FYI by Dani Read.
"Nubian Skin has been a huge hit," added Kadlec. "And I’m personally excited to stock independent designers like Karolina Laskowska, On the Inside and Origami Custom."
"Where we come in as a queer boutique isn’t in saying that lacy underwear isn’t queer or that sporty underwear is, but rather is in giving a person both options and saying, 'You do you!'" said Kadlec. "Limited choices only reinscribe dominant forces in our society, such as traditional gender norms, heteronormativity, sizeist beauty ideals and so on."
The same thinking applies at Sharpe Suiting, a year-old Los Angeles atelier for bespoke suits where no assumptions are made about gender or identity before measurements begin for custom dresswear.
"Most of the concerns we received during Sharpe’s crowd-funding campaign were actually rooted from our community’s past negative experience in, No. 1, trying to find clothes that fit them properly and, No. 2, the service they received while attempting to find a suit option that did fit," said Leon Wu, founder and CEO of Sharpe Suiting, who has also performed off and on for the last 15 years as a drag king (female-bodied, dressing as male) dubbed Trey Sharpe.
Using Andropometrics, a trademarked system for measuring a person based on their gender identity, Sharpe Suiting creates suits with the exact fit, shape or silhouette his customers desire by "straightening unwanted, or adding wanted, angles and curves."
Fueled by the success of its bespoke pieces, the company is currently preparing to launch a ready-to-wear line in June using a new sizing chart that it feels will better serve its customer base.
"Sharpe Suiting markets our clothing as 'a-gender' or 'gender-neutral.'” said Wu. "We pride ourselves in being able to dress those butch and masculine-of-center-identified in a way most companies can’t, or won’t."
But Wu was quick to note that he doesn't discriminate against customers who don't fit those descriptions, either.
"When gay men, queens, femmes and fashion-forward straight men showed up wanting high-quality clothing that expressed their identities, who were we to say they didn’t fit within our scope?" he said. "Fashion often is based on a concept of exclusivity. We want to change that by being a company that is always inclusive."