The TV star and Olympic champion discusses her approach to fashion and her favourite outfit – the Donatella Versace dress she wore for her first public appearance after transitioning.
This dress sticks in my mind because that moment was so extraordinarily important, not just for me but for the entire LGBT community. It was my first public appearance [after transitioning], at the Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly awards (the Espys) in 2015, and I couldn’t believe it when Donatella Versace said she would love to design my dress for the event.
In the old days, buying clothes was one of the most difficult tasks. I had a friend of mine use a debit card with her name on it, and I had a secure email address so I could buy things online – it was very challenging, because I couldn’t out myself. When Donatella had her tailors fly over with this dress, I couldn’t believe it – I thought: three months ago I couldn’t get clothes. Now I’ve got tailors flying in!
The dress was absolutely perfect. I had a pair of shoes made to go with it, but when I tried them on they had a really high heel. I thought: the last thing I need to do is trip going up those stairs. I was more afraid of the stairs than I was running the hurdles in 1976. At the last minute, I switched to a pair that were more stable. I told [the US footballer] Abby Wambach, who was doing an introduction on stage, to make sure I went slow. Then, at the top of the stairs, I said we should hold hands and give a little bow, because in front of me were all my peers, all of the sports world – she was in a tux, I was in this phenomenal Versace gown – and when you talk about diversity in sport, that was like the perfect picture.
I turned 70 recently, having transitioned aged 65. I went in for a physical and they said I was 6ft 1in. I was like: no way, I’m 6ft 2in. But they remeasured me and I’m 6ft 1in – I’m thinking: this is perfect, I can go an inch higher on the heels!
Like most transgender women, my hips are not as big and my shoulders are a little bit wider, so those are the challenges when buying clothes. I wear a lot of Alice + Olivia – the designer Stacey Bendet is a good friend – because their pants have really good length.
I remember talking to Kim [Kardashian, the daughter of her ex-wife Kris Kardashian] once about fashion and she looked at me and said: “Well, I am fashion.” She is totally right! She has been good for tips, and [Jenner’s daughters] Kendall and Kylie watch me closely, too, because I’m their dad. When I’m with them, I try to do things that are not too flashy. My life today is so simple – I just get up in the morning and be myself all day. There is no more going to places with two sets of luggage.
The one fashion thing that was tough was when I wore a bustier for the Vanity Fair cover shoot [when she revealed her identity as a trans woman]. Some of the family members, especially the guys, were like: why did you have to do that? There were other, more conservative, pictures that ran inside, but I had been sneaking around, hassled by paparazzi for years and years. When that cover came out, it was like: “All right, all you people who have been criticising me, there you go. Take that.”