Fashion

This is how dressing androgynously helped me to embrace my identity

Personal style doesn’t only affect the way the world sees us, but also how we see ourselves. We asked Tessa Solan, who identifies as non-binary, to explain how their choice of clothing helped them gain a better understanding of their true identity…

Growing up in a small town just outside Dublin, Tessa Solan always had a difficult relationship with clothes.

Kicking against the flowery dresses their mother chose for them, and wondering why they couldn’t just wear what felt good, clothing was just one part of a struggle to fully claim an identity that felt cloudy and confusing.

Then in adult life, Tessa began to identify as non-binary, embracing a whole new way of dressing that gave them the confidence to truly express themselves through their appearance.

Here, Tessa discusses their journey towards fully inhabiting their non-binary identity, and the role that their choice of clothing played along the way.

Struggling to fit in

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“I define as non-binary now, but when I was growing up in Ireland, I’d never heard of that term.

Ever since I was little though, I found it difficult to relate to the other girls in my class. Then when I got a bit older, I remember the thought of going to my school prom keeping me awake for weeks. The idea of having to walk down the stairs in a dress and just be something that I wasn’t was a nightmare. I was only doing it for my mum, but it also really went against what my parents taught me, which was to be yourself and not hide who you are.

The thing is, when you’re 17, or 18, there’s this fear inside you that being different means you’re going to be outcast or alienated. You worry that people are going to bully you or treat you differently or say things behind your back, and at that age, you just want to be liked.

At that time, all my friends seemed to be growing up and getting boyfriends, so I threw myself into basketball to deflect from not having those same experiences. Then when I finished school, I managed to get myself over to America on a basketball scholarship, and for a while I felt very free there. I was in California and it’s very inclusive. If you’re gay, straight or a unicorn, they don’t care. I just felt like I could be myself. 

Unfortunately, I suffered a really bad injury, and I had to come home to Ireland early. When I got home, I felt like I was having a sort of identity crisis. I had a lot of friends in Dublin who were getting on with their own lives, and when I came back, I just felt like I didn’t have a lot of people to lean on.

I remember sitting with my brother and saying to him, ‘I’ve got no friends, I feel like I don’t fit in with anybody, I don’t look like anybody else, I’m not interested in the same things they are.’ My brother just said, ‘be yourself then - what else do you have? What’s the alternative?’ He put it really bluntly, but it was true.

Making the change

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That change in life direction really altered my idea of myself. I think now that it was meant to happen in a way. I think I needed to find myself. I began to identify as non-binary and my choice of clothing was the first step in expressing that identity. I started dressing how I wanted to dress without apologising for it or worrying about how I was making anybody else feel.

I knew that I felt uncomfortable in more feminine clothing so I wanted to gradually transition to more neutral, unisex style. The difference was pretty much instantaneous. I started feeling so much more comfortable, I can’t even tell you. 

If you’re wanting to experiment with a more gender-neutral look, now’s the right time of year for it. In winter, even more feminine women wear a lot of layers, so you don’t feel like you’re stepping out of the box entirely.

The beauty of this kind of look is that you don’t need loads of pieces to make it work. A few basics from brands like Tu clothing go a long way. If you get four jackets, four pairs of trousers and maybe five tops, that’s basically a wardrobe. It’s certainly enough to create some different looks to play around with.

Experiment with those basics and try to remember that you wear the clothes. The clothes don’t wear you. 

Blocking out the noise

I think I knew that when I started to wear more masculine or gender neutral clothing, that this wasn’t really what society expected me to look like. I’ve had plenty of comments - even now, it still happens. Someone shouted something at me and my partner just last night.

I think I can cope now because i don’t care what people think. That’s the number one thing you have to resign yourself to, is that you can’t care what people think. If you care too much you’ll find yourself doing all these crazy things to try to make yourself like other people, and then you’ve taken the most beautiful thing about yourself and moulded it into something else.

Eventually, your ability to deal with other people’s reactions will come with the confidence you start to have in yourself. After all, why would you want to be the same as anyone else? There’s a phrase I like to say - ‘you laugh at me because I’m different and I laugh at you because you’re all the same.’ You just have to have that confidence and that belief in yourself.

It’s understandable to feel nervous at first, but in hindsight, dressing differently was nothing to be afraid of, or to hold myself back for. I’m so glad to see how the world is evolving and that it’s becoming more inclusive. Just the fact that we’re having this conversation now, that I’m part of this campaign with Tu clothing, encouraging people to wear the clothes that make you feel good. It’s never something I could have pictured as a 17 year old.

Back then, I kept wondering would I ever be anything? Was I ever going to be able to be successful? Would I always be a minority in society? Strangely, clothing played a big role in helping me put a lot of those fears to bed. Dressing in a way that made me feel true to myself turned out to be the first step in dismissing those worries and fully embracing my identity.

I might still be in the minority, but that’s okay. We’re actually a very powerful bunch.”

Dress well, feel good with Tu clothing. No matter your shape, size, style or budget, you’ll find an outfit to boost your mood and leave you feeling good in the clothes you wear. Shop the collection here.