The New Girl: Rhyannon Styles On Finding Her Style As A Trans Woman

ELLE's transgender columnist on how clothes have played a huge part in shaping, communicating and realising her identity

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Recently a friend said to me 'You were always just a boy, never a man. But you're definitely a woman now'. Which I translated as, 'Girl, you're looking fierce!'

My friend's comment shows how important my style – from finding it, losing it and maintaining it, has proven to be.

When you transition, as I did - from male to female beginning in 2012 - your choice of clothes says so much about who you are.

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For me, it's was one of the easiest ways of presenting and translating my desired gender identity.

As a child, women's clothes always seemed exciting, colourful, expressive and fun.

I never enjoyed being confined to the boy's sections in the high street shops. Compared to the girl's aisles, they felt dull, mundane and unstimulating - to me anyway.

Girls seemed to have much more choice when it came to clothes, and I was jealous of my female friends who were able to switch between trousers and skirts as part of their school uniform. It was a choice I envied.

But even before this, my earliest memory of falling in love with female clothes goes right back to the age of seven when I would dress up as the Blue Fairy from the Disney film Pinocchio.

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To create my fairy 'look', I'd sneak into my mum's room and open her wardrobe - which was forbidden and definitely not a place for a young boy to be snooping.

This act of rebellion gave me butterflies in my stomach. It felt so wrong, yet so right at the same time.

Once I knew I wasn't going to get caught I'd quietly take out her maxi blue skirt and step into it. I'd hitch it right up under my armpits and let the fabric swish around my body to imitate the fairy's billowing gown.

To finish off the look I'd wrap my red towelling pyjama's around my head and into a twist which fell down my back. I didn't have long hair at the time, so this was the best I could do to imitate the on screen starlet.

In this guise I felt mischievous, comfortable and free. Being the fairy evoked an energy that I couldn't express as a boy called Ryan.

I wanted to be She-Ra, Daphne in Scooby Doo and Michelle Pfeiffer as Cat Woman

Wearing these clothes made me feel amazing and changed my behaviour, allowing me to access a feminine character.

My experimentation with female clothes stayed firmly within the confines of my bedroom.

While listening to music, watching late night channel four and reading copies of The Face magazine I absorbed as much culture as possible. Within the sanctuary of my room I daydreamed about one day becoming a woman and what I would wear when that day came.

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As a teenager I looked towards singers like Courtney Love & Bjork whose strong, individual styling caught my eye.

When Courtney wore a pink fairy costume at Glastonbury Festival in 1999 my friends and I immediately tried to find something similar to wear, imitating our idol.

Courtney Love at Glastonbury Festival 1999

Looking back my references and inspiration for style came from powerful, larger than life women or fictional female characters.

I wanted to be She-Ra, Daphne in Scooby Doo and Michelle Pfeiffer as Cat Woman - while obviously being too young to understand the subversive meaning of her kinky PVC outfit.

I owe something to Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and The City, and Jennifer Saunders as Edina Monsoon in Absolutely Fabulous. The exaggerated styling and OTT behaviour echoed feelings within myself that I was slowly starting to unpick.

I knew that whenever I wore female clothes, something clicked and I felt good about myself. In comparison, wearing boys' clothes felt like uncomfortable, like a uniform, which wasn't in keeping with how I envisioned myself to be.

During my late 20s, the 'boy me' slopped around in t-shirts, jeans and plaid shirts. It was basic and lazy, nothing I wore screamed 'fashion forward'.

Quite the opposite, I rejected the high street and seasonal trends. In hindsight, this was because I wasn't allowing Rhyannon to shine, and this made me both unhappy and unstylish.

When I finally threw down the gauntlet aged thirty and began to live as the person I'd always wanted to be, my life, and wardrobe, started to come together. This was when my clothes started to reflect how I felt.

Within the sanctuary of my room I daydreamed about one day becoming a woman and what I would wear when that day came

In my early transition - in some vain attempt at trying to reclaim the femininity I'd felt unable to express for the past thirty years - I went through a phase of wearing all pink. And when I teamed this with matching candyfloss coloured hair, I'd knew I'd taken it too far.

But mistakes like these are an important part of any style journey, and especially at the start of a gender transition. Being playful and childish and letting go of perfection is a must. I'm only just beginning to settle on what works for me, which feels great.

My ideal wardrobe combines the romanticism of Florence Welch, the modernism of Victoria Beckham and the effortless street style of Alexa Chung. It's these women I now look towards when I'm trying to find inspiration for a new dress, shirt or pair of summer boots.

All three are very real, obtainable style icons, unlike the Disney princesses and out-there characters I used to look up to. I'm fortunate my wardrobe reflects the demure, sassy and tasteful woman I've become. I swapped tapered jeans for wide leg trousers – which accentuate my waist and lengthen my legs. I choose brogues over scruffy trainers for a smarter touch. It's clear I take pride in my appearance.

The biggest lesson I've learnt moving through my transition, is that it begins on the inside. When you feel comfortable, confident and content in who you are, you make choices that reflect who you are, including style choices.

Now I'm thirty-five and have been living as Rhyannon for five years. I'll never forget dressing up as the Blue Fairy, which in many ways became a style blue print for my style. I guess even now I subconsciously refer back to the Disney costume. I'm currently rocking shoulder length red hair and love to wear anything turquoise, navy and green. Wishes obviously do come true!


Rhyannon's memoir The New Girl is published on 1 June 2017

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