It was one of those hot, hazy summer days where your grandma packs two frozen water bottles in your lunchbox instead of the usual one and shoos you off to the playground so she can sit in peace with her A/C. We were traveling: My grandparents, mom, and I were en route to a family get-together that felt lightyears away. Every rest stop was a cruel hell-oven and despite the packs of Combos and purple Gatorade I’d convinced my mother to buy me, I was complaining. After a while, my grandfather sternly suggested that I stop airing my grievances and instead focus on the pool. If I had any desire to experience the glory of my cousin’s huge, in-ground, kidney-shaped pool (with a diving board and water slide!), it would be in my best interest to hush up about the lengthy drive. Once we arrived, I ran to the pool, tore off my shirt, and cannonballed into its crystalline depths.
Upon surfacing, I was overcome by weird vibes. My cousins, 13 and 14 going on 30, peered down at me from their plastic deck chairs laughing. “Don’t you have a bathing suit?!” the elder asked, gesturing toward her neon bikini. “Your mom should have packed one.” She didn’t need to pack one, I countered, since I was already wearing it. In minutes we came to an impasse and they dropped the bomb: “You’re a girl, duh! You can’t wear a boy’s bathing suit!” Suddenly, everything I’d been feeling but didn’t have words for came to light. I was a girl but felt like a boy and because my mom loved me, she mostly let me wear what I wanted. But the rest of the world wanted me to fit in.
As I got older, my experience of gender became increasingly more bizarre. My boobs and period came by accident, it seemed. And my mother, one minute tolerant and loving, would demand I dress and act feminine (particularly in certain social contexts) the next minute. I realized that participating in my gender allowed me to unlock totally weird American societal stepping stones that actually meant nothing to me but everything to my family and peers. If I wore an uncomfortable dress and got a French twist, then I could slow dance with some random dude and prove I was worthy of attention. Unfortunately for society, I discovered the Internet and a trove of people just like me who didn’t have a gender and were totally into it.
Fast-forward to now. Okay, yeah, I’m happy and fine or whatever, but I need clothes. Actual outfits that look amazing. And I bet you do, too. Ahead, a handy, little list of the best and worst stores for people like me to shop. Featured are many shops in Lower Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, an area with a high concentration of high- and low-end stores, but also some curveballs just because.