Given how I am received by people who don't know I'm trans, I have assumed I make for a fairly convincing female.
I put this down to being lucky enough to look fairy androgynous to start with, having over a decade's experience of crossdressing and having the financial means to buy expensive treatments and 'equipment'.
Should you also wish to disguise a male body as a female one, I'm afraid I am unable to help you attain the lucky genes or the experience but I can provide a guide on what to spend your money on. And this is it...
First of all, let me come right out and say that I strongly recommend avoiding spending money on 'specialist' trans services wherever possible.
In my experience they are overpriced and not as helpful to our goal of looking female as finding an equivalent that doesn't cater exclusively to the trans community. So whilst they may be helpful when you lack confidence in your birth given right to be trans, once you find that confidence I recommend moving on as quickly as possible.
And where better to start than with the clothes? But what clothes help disguise a male body as a female one?
Well, thankfully the internet provides us with handy little tools like this one: Identifying Your Body Shape
From there we can work out what clothes we should buy to help us achieve that feminine body shape we all desire.
The dress was from Topshop and the cardigan was from Wallis and, other than my breast forms, there is not an ounce of padding under my clothing. The illusion is achieved solely by the clothes I am wearing.
Speaking of breast forms, the internet has many providers to choose from. I chose mine from this site: Bustline. They were inexpensive (in comparison to 'specialist' trans sites), discreet, efficient and did not mind in the least that I am trans.
Once you have bought your breast forms you will need a bra to fit them. I would strongly recommend avoiding just buying a bra off the shelf but getting yourself measured properly.
Speaking to other trans women, I know of two shops on the British high street that will provide a discreet and efficient service - Debenhams and Marks & Spencer.
I went to Marks & Spencer and did not even bother to book first or even mention that I am trans. And this did not stop them from treating me just like any other customer.
As a result I have subsequently bought every bra I own from Marks & Spencer because I have confidence that I will find the service and products I desire there.
In fact, I buy all my underwear from Marks & Spencers as I do not bother with a gaff. I found gaffs extremely uncomfortable long term so simply wear a pair of control knickers to hold everything in place once I have "tucked".
Another difficulty for most trans females is finding large enough footwear that's also fashionable. Thankfully, as I'm around a size 6 (depending which shop I go to), I don't have that problem but I am aware that both Marks & Spencer and New Look do a wide fitting in larger sizes than most. I tend to favour these two anyway because I have deformed feet and find their footwear more comfortable than their competition.
Once you have the clothing sorted, I would recommend getting your hair right. If you are unlucky enough to have insufficient hair to at least style it androgynously, I would recommend visiting an understanding wig shop in person to get a wig fitted properly. They are cheaper online but a wig that's fitted properly - and cut and styled to suit your face rather than a generic one - is really worth spending the money on.
If, like me, you are able to grow your hair long then I would go along to a salon and have it styled professionally. It does take a bit of trial and error to find a hairdresser that fits in with your way of thinking and cuts your hair the way you want it but, of the three I've had, I've yet to find one who baulked at the fact I was trans.
Similarly, if you wish to have your eyebrows waxed or threaded, I have yet to find a salon who refused to serve me. And the same goes for manicures.
If you are serious about your female identity and maybe want to go full-time then I would recommend getting your "five o'clock shadow" sorted out. As far as I'm aware there are only two choices for permanently reducing your facial hair and that is either laser or electrolysis. I chose laser.
It is expensive and it does hurt but the difference is worth it's weight in gold! Before I started treatment, I would usually have to shave twice a day if I wanted to go out in the evening. These days, after 15 sessions, I can go three days without shaving and that makes a heck of a difference to your lifestyle when you're full-time!
And, finally, there is the make-up. I have left make-up to last because, to me, make-up is not an essential. Even before I went full-time and hadn't even started laser, I didn't always go out wearing make-up and I didn't draw any more attention to myself because of it! In fact, it is my belief that we run more risk of drawing attention to ourselves if we wear make-up than if we don't. Just look on your average high street and see how few women wear make-up these days, if you don't believe me!
However, there is no denying that wearing make-up is a special treat for special occasions. So, should you wish to learn how to get it right, then, to save time and money, I would recommend going to your local Mac store and getting a makeover. You may baulk at the price but, trust me, you will be getting value for money. I've also found the staff to be extremely friendly and helpful and you can learn a lot from them very quickly.
And I think that covers all the basics a trans girl needs to know. So let me just re-emphasise that, in my experience, there is no need to be nervous of approaching our high street shops and salons. Even if you're their very first trans customer (as I'm sure I have been on occasion), they're unlikely to turn away a lucrative source of income in these austere times. Instead, I hope you find - as I have found - that they welcome you with open arms and make you a regular. All you need is the confidence to step over your front step and through their front door.