Trans + Fashion: Transitioning the Industry

The LGBTQ community has always played a role in the fashion industry. Queer style and culture often influence mainstream fashion (Kaiser, 2012). Despite the LGBTQ community playing an integral part in fashion, individuals in this community face their share of obstacles, particularly individuals who are transgender.

While reading through some of our several donor files, I came across an article on model Teri Toye, who is credited to be the first openly transgender model in the U.S. Toye, an Iowa native, rose to fame during the 1980s by modeling for designers such as Thierry Mugler, Comme des Garcons, and Chanel (Lance, 2011).


Halston ensemble worn by Teri Toye circa 1978. Source: ISU Clothing and Textiles Museum Collection.


Transgender model Teri Toye (standing) featured in a Stephen Sprouse ad. Source:

After reading about the success Teri Toye had during her brief stint in the fashion industry, I became interested in reading more on transgender models and found that transgender models have had many struggles while working in the fashion industry. First, let’s define what transgender is. Transgender is a term that has different cultural meanings (Kaiser, 2012). Transgender is an umbrella term for individuals who are born one gender but identify themselves with the opposite gender (Stryker, 2008; New Hampshire Public Radio, 2015).


Transgender symbol. Source: 

With the fashion industry evolving into a more progressive culture, the question remains, how inclusive is the fashion industry to transgender people? (Blanning, 2015). During the 1980s, androgyny was the look, and many transgender models fit that aesthetic (Iannacci, 2011). In an interview with Fader Magazine, transgender model Tschan Andrews spoke candidly about the struggles many transgender models face in the fashion world today. Andrews spoke about how transgender models during Teri Toye’s time were not looked at as “trans people” but rather just beautiful models (Blanning, 2015). Within the past few years, trans models have become highly publicized, which to Andrews, is odd because most trans people do not want to high-fashion models but rather “just assimilate and feel normal” (Blanning, 2015). In the media, transgender people or the act of cross-dressing are often sensationalized or used as a joke (Kaiser, 2012; Tsai, 2010).


Transgender actress Laverne Cox featured on the cover of Time. Source:

Tschan Andrews also goes on to say that not only is there racial discrimination in the modeling world but some modeling agencies refuse to hire trans models (Blanning, 2015). Being transgender in the fashion industry unfortunately can have major repercussions. For example, trans model Peche Di was cut out of a campaign after the client found out that she was transgender (Sayej, 2017). Following these sorts of incidents, Di founded a modeling agency Trans Models New York in 2015 (Sayej, 2017). According to trans model Leyna Bloom, the fashion industry serves as a place that is safe for trans models while also being a place that transgender models have to work twice as hard (Peoples, 2018).

trans models

Trans models Teddy Quinlivan, Leyna Bloom, Casil Mcarthur, and Geena Rocero. Source:

But the trans community is definitely making a name for themselves in the fashion industry by being outspoken and diverse (Peoples, 2018). More trans modeling agencies are opening to create a safe space for trans models. Transgender models have the power to not only sell clothes but to challenge the status quo on body image and gendered appearance (Atkins, 1998; Peoples, 2018).

For more information on the LGBTQ community, be sure to check out the exhibit Queer Fashion and Style: Stories from the Heartland, open through April 14th at the Iowa State University Textiles and Clothing Museum!

By Courtney D. Johnson



Atkins, D. (1998). Looking queer: body image and identity in lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender communities. The Hawthorn Press: New York.

Blanning, L. (2015). What it’s really like being a transgender model when trans is trending. Retrieved from:

Iannacci, E. (2011). The new transsexual chic: trans are front and centre in the fashion world these days. But for how long? Biography in Context.

Lance, G. (2011). Teri Toye. Retrieved from:

New Hampshire Public Radio, The Exchange (2017). Transgender: exploring gender identity. Retrieved from:

Peoples, L. (2018). For the modeling industry, the future is transgender. Retrieved from:

Sayej, N. (2017). These trans modeling agencies pave the runway for transgender acceptance. Retrieved from:

Stryker, S. (2008). Transgender history, homonormativity, and disciplinarity. Radical History Review, Vol. 2008 (100), 145-157.

Tsai, W-H. S. (2010). Assimilating the queers: representations of lesbians, gay men, bisexual, and transgender people in mainstream advertising. Advertising & Society Review, Vol. 11 (1).



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s