Want to be a good trans ally? Forget bathrooms. Offer to take us clothes shopping.

Buying clothes is one of the scariest ordeals for anyone just coming out, and for many it stays hard. For new trans women in particular, just looking at women’s clothes feels like we’re crossing taboos and the whole world’s staring at us. Taking them into a dressing room is terrifying. My first few times, moral support from a trusted female friend was what brought it from “unthinkable” to “possible.” I was just reminded of that today as I was helping a friend buy her first couple skirts.

If you’re ever in a position to help someone like that, here are some tips that might make it easier for her:

  • Thrift stores are the best places for trans women to shop. It’s not just the prices; they also have the widest range of sizes and styles, which is essential for someone with no prior knowledge. It also makes it easier to take risks. (“I think I might be willing to wear this dress out in public; but if I’m wrong, shrug, it was four dollars.”)
  • Keep it simple. DON’T try to plan a whole wardrobe; that’s intimidating, and your friend doesn’t know enough yet about what she likes. If this is her first time, a couple of things she can wear at home and get used to is a great start. Next time she can add a few more. If she starts to feel overwhelmed, stop there and go for coffee.
  • Unless you’re an expert, don’t try to guess her size or colors with any precision. The more sure you sound, the more she’s likely to believe you over her own instincts or perceptions, and fall into anxiety loops when something doesn’t fit. (She almost certainly won’t blame you for guessing wrong; she’ll blame herself, for reasons that won’t make sense if you’re not trans.) Encourage her to try on a broad size range, and let her figure out for herself what colors or patterns she likes. If she asks for opinions, be an honest friend; if she doesn’t, it’s okay to praise but don’t criticize.
  • Don’t try to speak for her unless she wants you to, and don’t be overprotective. Sorry if that’s obvious, but I’ve seen cis people get really excited at the chance to Be Heroes™ and try too hard. Anything you do that broadcasts that she’s trans or new at this will only make her feel self-conscious, so relax and keep it low key. Unless she specifically asks for it, you’re not there to be her champion. You’re there to help make it feel normal — just a couple of girls out buying clothes, that’s the most normal thing ever — and you’re there so she isn’t alone.

If you get a chance to do this for someone, please do. Enjoy it. Being present in the room is by far the most important thing she needs from you; it might even be the only thing she needs. But sometimes it’s what someone needs to move forward at all. Thank you for doing it.