Transgender TV characters, their outfits, hairstyle & makeup

Transgender TV characters, their outfits, hairstyle & makeup

by Nikola Marković - April 2023

Since the first time a transgender character appeared on a TV series in 1965 (The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, NBC), so much has changed. The trans representation has thankfully moved from the tropes of predators, serial killers, or victims to fearless protagonists with more nuanced emotional depth and strength. With improved quality and quantity of trans representation especially in the last decade, trans characters have taken the power of their fashion & beauty choices too. This article will feature a selection of trans characters whose outfits, hairstyles, and makeup made a prominent mark on the queer community, popular culture, and the fashion & beauty industry.

Sophia Burset (Orange is the New Black)

There is no better place to start than Laverne Cox’s iconic portrayal of trans inmate Sophia Burset, which made her the first trans person to be nominated for a 2020 Primetime Emmy Award in an acting category. Following a variety of LGBTQ+ characters at Litchfield Penitentiary women’s prison, Orange is the New Black was groundbreaking in so many aspects. Sophia, in prison for credit card fraud while trying to pay for her gender affirmation surgeries, is a character with particular importance in terms of fashion & beauty as she is the prison’s resident go-to hairdresser and a beauty guru.

Sophia wears a glamorous wig in caramel or light chestnut shade, usually with blowouts. Her “no-makeup” makeup consists of a natural shade of gloss or lipstick, stunning skin, subtle lashes, and warm eyeshadows. Although Sophia has to wear the prison scrubs like other inmates, she shortened and tailored them around her waist to accent her elegant height. Like so, she is a great example of resourcefulness and how to elevate a look with minimal means. The crowning moment for Sophia’s character is that, spoiler alert, after baring through her time and having been released from prison, she opens her own hair salon.

Jules Vaughn (Euphoria)

There has been no singular TV show in the last few years that managed to reflect and inspire Gen Z style and simultaneously influence the fashion & beauty industry quite like Euphoria. Schafer’s enigmatic character, Jules Vaughn, is a great new paradigm of trans representation. Her status as a trans woman isn’t ignored but it is not the defining aspect of her character. The show presents a progressive world without transphobia where trans people are simply accepted. Meanwhile, Schafer’s character who redefines femininity was hailed as a subliminal style icon in major fashion publications. Costume designer, Heidi Bivens, considered Hunter a collaborator and a source of inspiration and seems to have chosen garments with character development in mind.

Jules’ gender expression is bold and daring, yet sensible and whimsical. Her style has been described as "90s-inspired bubblegum pop princess meets e-girl fantasy", with layered colorful abstract prints, plaid miniskirts, chokers, pendant necklaces, bright, colorful makeup with sharp eyeliner designs, and chunky sneakers or boots. Jules also frequently changes her hair’s color, from platinum blonde to baby pink and dark green tips. As the show progresses, she starts wearing more androgynous silhouettes with baggier clothes, punk-ish makeup, and darker streaks in her hair. Some of the labels Jules actually wears in the show range from Ganni, Charlotte Knowles, Eckhaus Latta to TopShop and American Apparel.

James Sullivan (The Politician)

In Ryan Murphy’s hit Netflix show The Politician, actor Theo Germaine, who identifies as trans non-binary, plays James Sullivan, campaign manager and advisor of the main character Payton (Ben Platt) in his political campaign to be school president. Despite being a trans male role, James’s gender identity is intentionally never discussed and the plot doesn’t revolve around it. Additionally, the show offers some exciting fashion, with virtually all the characters being very expressive in their outfit and hair choices.

Germaine’s character James is stylistically quirky, yet edgy.  His signature buzz haircut contrasts with the preppy button-down and polo shirts with ties. James’ wardrobe also comprises straight-cut trousers or seven-eight slacks with loafers and tailored suit jackets. In episode 4 of season 2, James wears a striking Gucci shirt with Bee Logo and a blue plaid tie. In most scenes, James’ outfits subtly coordinate with other campaign team members, Alice (Julia Schlaepfer) and McAfee (Laura Dreyfuss). The trio forms a vibrant aesthetical unity.

Nia Nal, a.k.a. Dreamer (Supergirl)

Nicole Maines became the first trans superhero on TV playing Nia, who uses her powers of astral projection and precognition to help the titular Supergirl.  “If a trans woman can be a superhero, that's gotta be the peak for anybody. (…) We as trans people can really do anything we put our minds to,” Maines told Glamour in 2018. Maines’ character Nia is a reporter by profession, and early on, defends fashion against her colleague Kara who implies that fashion is a topic with not so much weight. Nia exclaims that fashion is a form of art and self-expression, and can have a big impact on people's lives

The series features what could be considered a great sartorial metaphor for the trans experience – the Dreamer suit. While on her daily errands, Nia wears sweet, girly ruffled dresses with subtle floral prints. As her superheroine alter-ego, Nia wears a blue protective suit that previously belonged to her mother. The Dreamer suit hides her identity from enemies when fighting crime, and it includes a blue mask covering the upper part of her face.

Cole & Aaron (The Fosters)

Amidst the general limitedness of trans men characters and actors in TV, ABC Family's The Fosters features two trans guys in their character lineup. Tom Phelan, who identifies as nonbinary, plays a trans boy Cole, while Elliot Fletcher plays Aaron, a law student who dates the main character, Callie. The Fosters is about lesbian moms raising biological, adopted, and foster kids, and is generally considered one of the most ground-breaking series in TV history and the first trans romance teen drama.

There is a “badass” energy to both Phelan’s and Fletcher’s characters. Cole is a “juvenile delinquent” who was misplaced in an all-girls group home although this is not the gender he identifies with. He has fair skin and grey eyes, short curly blonde hair, and wears more casual clothes like plaid button-down shirts and plain t-shirts. Aaron has brown hair and brown eyes with a little bit of facial hair. His style is edgier with tattoos and pierced ears, which he had previously stretched wearing plugs that look like they were made out of wood. Fletcher says for Vanity Fair that “(his character) is everything that I wanted to be in eighth grade. He rides a motorcycle, and he wears a leather jacket, and he’s kind of badass.”

Elektra, Angel, Blanca, Candy, Lulu (Pose)

There is no better way to conclude than with an absolute crowning of trans-representation and trans-visibility in Ryan Murphy’s Pose. Premiering in 2018 and changing the course of television since, the show features the largest amount of trans actors in any scripted television series in history, including Dominique Jackson as Elektra, Indya Moore as Angel, Michaela Jaé Rodriguez as Blanca, Angelica Ross as Candy, and Hailee Sahar as Lulu. The drama depicts African-American and Latino ‘Drag Ball’ culture in New York City in the 1980s. Competing at the balls with their chosen families known as Houses, Pose’s characters wear some of the most trailblazing fashions.

Elektra is a glamazon, whether when wearing her Marie Antoinette-inspired look or in her dominatrix thigh-high boots, leather two-pieces, and luxurious fur coats. “I look too good not to be seen,” says Elektra, the mother of the flamboyant Haus of Abundance. Angel is sweet-natured and lovely and just is her fashion. In one of the iconic scenes, Angel comes out in an intricately webbed white gown and reveals an icicle tiara beneath her veil. Bianca’s wardrobe, on the other hand, screams 80s nostalgia, with the off-the-shoulder leather jackets, vibrant color-blocked bombers and tracksuits, accented with big belt buckles and prominent gold jewelry.


All of the aforementioned characters, and many others not mentioned in this article, are trailblazers of today's gender revolution and future of fashion & beauty. They shape the public's understanding of trans people, influence the way that trans people see themselves, and inspire the global fashion & beauty industry.

Nikola Marković (they) is a non-binary Serbian artist, researcher, and writer currently based in Vienna. They are about to start their doctoral research at London College of Fashion. Previously they graduated in Fashion under the mentorship of Hussein Chalayan and Grace Wales Bonner. Their artistic practice and research aim at disrupting the binarities/hierarchies of gender, class, ability, and subject-object dualism.