Two St. Louis University students have founded what they call a clothing library that helps students find outfits that match their gender identity.
St. Louis Public Radio reported that the student-led Queer Closet allows transgender and gender-nonconforming people to rent or buy affordable clothing that helps them feel more comfortable.
“I think one of the biggest and best aspects of the Queer Closet is the idea you’re working with someone who understands what you’re going through and someone who understands the queer experience,” said co-founder Regis Wilson, a SLU business major who identifies as gender-nonconforming.
The Queer Closet started in a dorm room when co-founder Grayson Chamberlain, a transgender man, lent outfits to friends who didn’t have clothing to match their gender identities.
Last year, the effort received $1,800 from a university grant program that supports student-led service projects. The money allowed the closet’s founders to move into the office of the LGBTQ student organization Rainbow Alliance.
Membership for students is $5. They then make an appointment to visit and choose clothes to rent for three weeks. If they find something they love, they can buy it for a low cost.
Most items are donated or swapped, Wilson said. The Queer Closet’s workers also help people find places to buy chest binders and other more expensive items.
Clothing items are displayed together on rolling racks rather than separated by gender. They are loosely grouped by the type of clothing. Pieces range from suit jackets to brocade trousers and sundresses.
Wilson said clothes can be a crucial way to explore gender identity, but retail stores that are organized by gender can be scary and traumatic for people who don’t fit traditional gender norms.
“Even if you want to try something on, if you’re transgender, the clothes you find in most stores don’t always fit you right,” said Nick Balint, a junior journalism and theater major and Queer Closet client who is a transgender man. “It’s literally not sewn for your body shape. You have to try things on, you have to navigate the dressing room every time. And depending on how you look, that can be super awkward or uncomfortable.”
Wilson said offering knowledge and support is as important as helping clients find clothes.
“That could go a long way with queer individuals, because most of us lack a lot of self confidence, being a group of individuals who are kind of shunned in a lot of (aspects) and facets of society,” Wilson said.