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Oct 21 2011

Fashion Friday: Gender

When I was a kid, I used to play dress-up make-believe with my friends Deeda and Susie. When all three of us played together, Deeda and Susie would typically get into a fight about who got to be the princess and who had to be the queen. But when it was just two of us playing, there weren’t any arguments — because I was always happy to be the prince. I suppose I could gas on about my incipient queer identity or how masculine roles have greater agency… and part of that is true. But it’s also true that the prince’s outfit in the costume box was just mega-cool. A gold lame tunic. Who doesn’t like a gold lame tunic? Major swagger. Way better than mint green chiffon.

When I was in third grade, there was this obnoxious boy who used to ambush girls and pull up their dresses and skirts. Most of the other girls responded with elaborate plans to always travel in pairs or groups. (Incipient sisterhood, I suppose.) I responded by wearing pants. Every day. And I got into the habit. I didn’t wear a dress again until sixth grade (except for special occasions like the Nutcracker or something). In fact, for years I insisted that I was never going to wear a dress again as long as I lived. I insisted it right up to Christmas in sixth grade, when I got an awesome mini-dress someone brought me from Greece, and I decided, “Yeah, okay, this doesn’t suck.”

When I started doing historical costuming and dancing at historical re-creation dances about fifteen years ago, I almost immediately gravitated to male drag. Part of that was that I’d rather dance lead, and I’d rather dance with other women, and male drag was an easy way to signal that. (That’s part of why I liked being the prince, too — at the end of the story, the prince gets the princess). And part of it was that male drag was a way of feeling sexy and sexually transgressive when my weight was up and I wasn’t feeling conventionally attractive. But part of it was… what? I’m not sure. It just felt more like me.

All this may seem deeply weird to people who know me. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, butch. My visual presentation is almost always unmistakably female. I almost never leave the house without makeup. My go-to outfits are dresses and skirts: that’s what I automatically reach for when I look in my closet in the morning, and I have to consciously remind myself that jeans or trousers are also an option. Even when I do go out in jeans and a T-shirt or tank top, I typically dress it up with a little jewelry. Apart from historical or other costuming, about the only time I seriously butch it up is at the gym.

But while my visual style is usually unmistakably female, it’s very rarely what I would call “feminine.” I don’t like lace; I don’t like pastels; I don’t like flowy, pre-Raphaelite lines; I don’t like floral prints unless they’re in a strong, abstract graphic. I like straight lines. Angles. Tailored jackets. Racerback tops. Aggressive colors. Boots. Even my wicked heels tend to be on the pushy, power-slut side rather than the delicate little sandal side. Sure, I like a flirty little dress — and I like it a whole lot better with boots and a black leather jacket.

And I love mixing it up. I love a racerbank muscle tank with a little black skirt. I love an elegant dress with a military-style coat. I love jeans and a tank top with sparkly jewelry and a fresh manicure. I love a severely tailored jacket with patterned black stockings and an almost-too-short skirt. I love a cheerful sundress with knee-high pirate boots. I love sleek, sleeveless dresses that show off my muscles.

I wouldn’t go so far as to call my usual look “genderfuck.” But it’s strongly informed by genderfuck. It’s definitely on the masculine end of the conventionally female spectrum. And I like that. I like taking the usual markers of “masculinity = power,” and saying, “Fuck that. I am all woman, and I am taking these markers and making them my own. Markers of power don’t belong to masculinity or to men. They belong to me. And if you try to take them away from me, I will fuck you up.”

And I strongly suspect that, as I get older, I’m going to butch it up even more, and go more overt with the genderfuck. Fashion and sexuality and aging are a huge topic for me, a topic I’ve written about before and plan to write more on soon, and I’m not going to get into much detail about it here. But that whole thing I said earlier about how, when I was fat, male drag was a way of feeling sexy and sexually transgressive even though I wasn’t conventionally attractive? I think that could work as I get older, too. A sixty-year old woman in a Marlene Dietrich tuxedo? That is smokin’ hot. It’s hot if she’s doing it straight-up butch; it’s hot if she’s doing it in black eyeliner and cherry-red lipstick. I would hit that in a second.

Anyway. I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I guess I just want to say: Fashion and gender — weird. Fascinating. Complicated. Hot. And most of all — big fun.

And I’m curious about how this works for the rest of you. Of any gender or gender presentation. Women who dress more feminine than I do; women who are more butch than I am; women whose gender presentation is more fluid and varied than mine; men who like to play with gender; men who might like to play with gender more but feel uncomfortable with it; men who are happy presenting themselves as masculine but still find this topic interesting; transpeople; people who don’t identify as conventionally gendered; queers; straights… everybody. How does this stuff play out for you? I think this is weird and fascinating and complicated and hot and fun, and I want to know how it is for the rest of the world.

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  1. 1
    sandy a

    Let me say, before I begin, that I really enjoy your blog even though I haven’t commented before (that I remember).
    Anyhoo, I almost always wear jeans or capris. I rarely wear shorts unless they are the longer variety. Being a tattoo artist/shop owner, wearing a skirt (unless its the longer hippy type) just isn’t convenient considering positions I need to get in sometime to do a tattoo. I’ve always just been more comfortable in pants or pant-like garments. For me it doesn’t have anything to do with gender-bending, or not, it’s just comfort. That said, I’ve never been one for pastels, flowers (unless it’s LOUD), and ruffles etc. It just doesn’t suit me. I really used to be all about fashion, but as I have aged (I’ll be 49 next week) I’ve really gotten to where I don’t care that much about the current trend, just whatever is comfortable and looks decent on me.

  2. 2
    cassmorrison

    I think I would like to dress fussy,feminine but end up dressing female. I never go out with makeup – and the more colourful the eye shadow the better – and am getting more into jewelry. At the moment, I find it difficult because clothes are generally snug fitting and tops low cut. Layering is work:)

  3. 3
    ZRAinSWVA

    Hello! You were cross-linked from boxturtlebulletin, and I’m glad.

    My sister is lesbian, and the diversity of styles across her spectrum of friends is amazing. Ditto for me and my gay friends. Mainstream America, not so much–unless the person has money or lives in a larger urban area.

    Me? I work on a university campus, and I think as this generation moves up-and-out we’re going to see even more diversity in style. These kids are all over the place!

    In any regard, thank you sharing your insight!

  4. 4
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    I’m a straight male, and mostly I dress like a child. Baggy gym shorts and T-shirts 90% of the time. Otherwise, I dress sort of like Bruce Campbell on Burn Notice, lots of khakis and button-up short sleeve shirts with palm trees and flowers on. I really don’t care about what I wear, I guess. If I find a shirt or pants that fit the way I like, I just buy the same one in three or four different colors. I’m actually a real fan of wearing uniforms, and I miss my days in the Marines where I could wear the same thing day in and day out for six months without having to do any thinking about it.

    I find it all interesting in an ‘outside looking in’ sort of way.

  5. 5
    daenyx

    This article really made me smile because I saw a lot of parallels to my own experience growing up (which I still consider myself to be doing, at 24, but whatever). Since you’re asking…

    When I was a kid, my mother kept my hair short. Looking back at old pictures, it was adorable, but I often got mistaken for a boy, and I hated that. I was a tomboy, but always strongly identified as female. So when my best friend and I played Pretend, I embraced the dresses and skirts (but I was always quite happy to be the queen and let her be the princess, because to me the queen had those signifiers of power)… except when we played Peter Pan. I had a video tape of the old live-action Peter Pan with Mary Martin as Peter, and she was magnificent, and I wanted to be her. Him. Whatever, it didn’t matter.

    In my preteens and teens, my hair was long, and I never wore skirts or dresses; the hair was enough of a feminine signifier for me, and I hated young women’s fashion at the time. (Everything was SO TIGHT. I was happy with my body, but skintight jeans are UNCOMFORTABLE, and that is an unforgivable sin.) This period ended shortly after I figured out I was bi, and at least somewhat comfortable with that identity, and now, my presentation is very similar to the sort of severe femininity you’ve described preferring yourself.

    I think getting my sexuality figured out made me more comfortable with varying my gender presentation just in general, because I’ll sometime swing in the other direction pretty hard as well.

  6. 6
    Gregory in Seattle

    Gay male here, 44 years old. My day-to-day style has largely been the same since high school: jeans and a button down shirt. For about a year now, I’ve been adding elements of neo-Victorian fashion because of my newly found love of steampunk. I figure, if I am spending money on waistcoats, watches and bowler hats for costuming, I may as well get some use out of them.

    Which has opened an area of fashion I never really considered before. The “dandy” of the late 1800s would definitely be considered feminine by today’s standards, with pastel suits and frilly shirts. Even corsets: for a time, men of fashion wore corsets designed to narrow the waist and emphasize a muscular chest and broad shoulders. I’ve never been interested in drag, but have been giving thought to how a steampunk Oscar Wilde might dress for an afternoon tea followed by a zombie hunting excursion.

    One thing I’ve noticed in “costumed communities” — science fiction, fantasy and now steampunk — is how many women cross-dress. Mostly they are straight women who dress in a more traditional mode in the mundane world. Very few men seem to do the same.

  7. 7
    RowanVT

    I don’t know where I would fall on the spectrum… any spectrum, actually. While heterosexual, I have always been labeled as a “tomboy”. And while I personally feel “feminine”, it’s certainly not what our culture considers feminine. I never wear a skirt or dress unless I’m going to something like a wedding. Only now at 29 have I started heading into ‘feminine shirt’ territory, but most of them tend to be almost tunic-style with oriental-style sleeves. And even then my most common outfit even outside of work is my scrubs. I never wear makeup. I wouldn’t even know how to put it on without looking like a clown. And while I may have long hair, it’s either hanging loose or in a pony tail. I never style it or color it. Shoes are either sneakers or flip flops.
    I’ve had male friends express that they are intimidated by me because of my physical strength and because I don’t act like a typical female.

    Sometimes I feel like I’m standing on the “male” side of a river going “But this IS the female side. I’m a woman, after all.” I’ve had people express to me that they thought I was homosexual, apparently because a “normal” woman wouldn’t dress and act the way I do.

  8. 8
    asmallcontempt

    Tomboy Style

    Yeah, there are few body shapes represented here, but while I’m still living comfortably below the poverty line and getting my clothes mainly at thrift stores, I do like to occasionally browse a couple of fashion blogs. Call it a guilty pleasure if you like, but I don’t see what I should be guilty for.

    For me, there is nothing sexier than a woman in an oversized pullover and tailored jeans (and I’m a married, hetero female! :D). Get yo’ comfy-chic on!!

  9. 9
    Susan B.

    When I was very little, I used to like to dress up in dresses, skirts, frilly tops, and so on. My favorite dress, which had flowers all over it and ruffled sleeves, I called my “princess dress”, and I used to beg my mother to let me wear it all the time. Suddenly, somewhere around age eight, I stopped liking to dress up at all, and just wanted to wear t-shirts, pants or shorts, and keep my hair in a simple braid or ponytail rather than a nice style that would show off my curls. I’ve been like that ever since, with the occasional concession to wearing a nicer blouse and a nicer set of pants if I’m going to something that requires a nicer outfit. (My mother still mourns for the days when I wore my “princess dress” with pride.)

    The one time I actually LIKE wearing skirts is when I go contra dancing. The norm there seems to be t-shirts and long swishy skirts, and that suits me perfectly. A good contra involves plenty of twirling and swinging, so I enjoy the look and feel of the skirts swishing as everyone spins. In fact, the best part is that a lot of the men wear skirts, too! I really like the men in skirts, not only because it’s unusual in other contexts but because it just looks good. It’s also a good predictor of who will be most fun to dance with at a contra, because it’s typically the most experienced, dedicated contra dancing men who are most likely to put on a skirt.

  10. 10
    Mr.Kosta

    Well, I’m a straight male, and I mostly wear jeans and T-shirts. Preferably rock/metal band T-shirts, I have a strong attraction to those, although I don’t wear those every day (I’m a long time metal fan, to be sure, but I also want to give some semblance of “normality”. That means no spiked accesories nor long hair, although I may get a tatoo one day)

  11. 11
    Flimsyman

    Hm, I’m a straight male, and my fashion runs almost entirely to what I find comfortable physically. I find dresses and tight jeans and such extremely uncomfortable, so I don’t bother.

    There is one exception: Skirts. I think skirts are really comfortable (and it doesn’t hurt that the women in my life think that I look really hot in a skirt or kilt), but there are different problems with them. One, a lack of pockets, and I carry a lot of crap around with me. Two, I don’t wear underwear if I can help it. My temptation is to wear a skirt or kilt with no underwear, as that’s about as comfy as it gets, but is obviously somewhat rude. Conundrum.

  12. 12
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    I’m trans. I have silicon breastforms I wear when I’m in need of particular femininity. When at work I wear mens’ suits. At play jeans, t-shirts, button downs, that sort of thing. However, underneath it all I usually wear either long socks or stockings underneath the pants.

    I wear skirts at home because they’re super-comfy. If I feel like I need to be more femme I wear feminine tops with pretty cuts that look very nice on me. A few days ago I wore makeup (*gasp*) a flouncy skirt and a stunning cowl-top to dinner (*gaspgasp*) with friends.

    I don’t need to wear feminine stuff to feel femme, though. Those pairs of long socks or stockings are enough to make me feel that way.

  13. 13
    Gregory in Seattle

    @Flimsyman – One word: Utilikilt! They have pockets, and while they are pricey, they are much cheaper than a traditional kilt and guaranteed not to wear out in the crotch or knees.

  14. 14
    Lessa

    I identify as more on the Butch spectrum of female. I wear nothing but t-shirts and jeans. I get called sir almost daily (despite the DDDs that obviously dominate my frame) I own one dress and it is a bridesmaid’s dress that was worn once and will likely never be worn again. For the past 8 years on Halloween I have done male drag, complete with facial hair. This year I am dressing as Ursula the sea witch and I am about to have a nervous break down over it! The very thought of exposing my cleavage and baring my shoulders has me almost in tears but I am going through with it. I never feel more awkward and out of place than when I try and present myself as feminine. It is amazing the power that CLOTHING has over my psyche

  15. 15
    Tiktaalik

    RowanVT:

    Yeah, that’s very similar to my experience. I’m a straight female, tomboy – short hair (which I also hated) as a child & long hair as I got older. To complicate matters, I’m a law enforcement officer and emergency medical technician, and I’ve fought wildland fire. Off duty, it’s mostly jeans (or Grammiccis) and T-shirts & hiking shoes. No or very minimal makeup (zit coverage). A LOT of people have mis-identified me as lesbian, although I have to say it’s mostly been men.

    Clothing choices do not necessarily correlate with sexual orientation. Clothes do not the man or woman make. I dress the way I do because of how I live my life and what I like to do with my spare time.

  16. 16
    FreebornJayne

    I am completely a girly girl when it comes to clothing — my wardrobe is full of florals and bright colours and things with ribbons on them. The most “butch” I get is sort of seventies-hippie-style, and even that is laden with flowers and smiley faces. It actually took me a very long time to accept that I was drawn to such utterly feminine clothing, largely because I emphatically did not want to be seen as the stereotypical brainless ditz. Now I am totally okay with saying “why yes, I do know significantly more than average about several academic fields, and why yes, my cardigan is covered with little pink bows. Problem?” I do appreciate the asthetics of blending traditionally masculine and feminine elements, though on other people rather than myself.

  17. 17
    DD

    Lesbian. When I was much younger I had a freedom to dress as I pleased and wore “men’s” clothes. More comfortable at a time when clothes for females were very form fitting and clingy. Now i know that i also had sensory issues that made certain fabrics and cuts irritating for mr and made (make) it hard to wear makeup. I would be mistaken as a boy now and then but usually seen as a babydyke.

    As I got older, culture restricted me to extremely feminine skirts, dresses etc. Sort of like Little House in terms of length and all. After I broke away into my own, now, I wear a very femme-y style of dress in that I like skirts and dresses and cute shirts. I don’t do light colors and lace and a that. I dont wear makeup at all. Mostly blacks and greys. I am sometimes mistaken for straight but I tend to do a rainbow something or a little odd thing here and there that signifies my gayness.

  18. 18
    Clytia

    I’m bi, and married to a woman. I’m a complete girlie girl, I rarely go out without make up, I love skirts and dresses, though I do mostly tend to stick to pants (just coming out of a very cold, wet winter! Skirts not so practical in heavy rain). Generally, I think people would assume that I’m straight, and while that bothers me, I like the way I dress, and I’m not about to change that. I love looking sexy, and showing off cleavage or wearing something form-fitting. I guess with my clothes I like to say “I’m a sexy, confident woman!” And, most recently, I have discovered the joys (and admitted discomforts) of high heels, and learned to walk in them! Yum!

  19. 19
    carolw

    This is a fascinating discussion. My own style has gone through several transformations as I’ve aged. Ad a child, I was a tomboy. I was dressed in Toughskins jeans so I wouldn’t wear them out climbing trees and rough-housing. I hated froofy dresses because they were uncomfortable. The nylon meshy stuff to make the skirt stick out itched. I hated them.
    In junior high, I shared shirts and wore hand-me-downs from my older sister, until I outgrew her. I was forever getting ink on my shirts (I chewed on pens), so I started getting all black shirts. I generally shopped at mens’ stores, because I didn’t have a figure. In high school, I started to wear a little more fashionable clothes, but was most comfortable in jeans, one of my dad’s t-shirts, and hi-top sneakers. In college I went through the thrift-store neo-hippy thing. Then, in my 30′s, I got fat, so I had to wear whatever was at the Fat Lady Store. Then I got thinner. Now I still wear lots of black. It’s like pulling teeth to get me to buy a color. I have a lot more figure now. I’d love to be able to pull off the androgynous look, but it would take a big ol’ Ace bandage and pain. I still live in jeans and Chucks. I wear dresses if I have to. I still don’t like froofy. And I borrow my husband’s t-shirts now.

  20. 20
    aproustian

    I’ve always strived for gender “neutral”, if such a thing exists (that is, I have a feeling what I want to be neutral is often coded masculine). Slacks, nice t-shirts, v-neck sweaters. I wear my hair the same way every day (long, in pony tail), and no makeup. Since abandoning church I hardly ever wear dresses. I guess I want my clothes to fade into the background and not used to label me, although I realize that’s not really how the world works.

  21. 21
    absent sway

    It strikes me that I’ve browsed so many fashion articles over the years and I can’t recall this topic being overtly addressed before! This is such a fun consideration. I almost laughed out loud at “flowy, pre-Raphaelite lines” because I live for that sort of thing! I’m not big on florals or pastels, but if I could walk around every day like I just stepped out of, say, a Waterhouse painting, that would be grand. I’ve always felt comfortable in very feminine styles, and it rarely occurred to me when I was younger that they could signify a lack of power because I wanted to look like a goddess, after all (which unfortunately doesn’t translate well into everyday life). I preferred the queen role to that of the princess. For the record, I’m a straight female. Probably the most important consideration for me is a flattering fit and it so happens that masculine styles typically don’t suit my body well. I often admire sharply tailored, masculine styles on other women but they do nothing for me.

  22. 22
    Frogisis

    Started typing because I think this is an interesting topic, and then started thinking about whether I really thought what I thought, then typing some more and it turned into me thinking out loud about this and got long…
    28 year old straight-leaning-towards-asexual dude…thing, kinda. I vary my look a lot because I bore easily, but it mostly stays in tight-fitting, moddish, “clean line” territory, with things like skinny jeans and tiny graphic design tshirts and button-ups, to plain sweaters and trim black pea or sport coats, though occasionally I’ll go more ratty, with ripped jeans and a faded tshirt or hoodie. A very good lesbian friend of mine always tells me I dress like a gay hipster, to which I can only shrug, really. I’ve also had a huge beard for the last 2 years, though, which I grew on a whim but based on people’s reactions it seems to be working for me so I’m just rolling with it for the foreseeable future. It pretty much dominates my appearance at the moment but it’s not a statement so much as serendipity and genetics and disliking shaving. When I check myself in the mirror before going out, the image that usually stares back is what I’d describe (with a lot of help from friends’ input) as “White upright-bass player in spoken-word/psychedelic jazz collective c. 1972″
    I was going to say that the way I dress and otherwise present myself isn’t based around any feeling of identity or expressing who I am (that’s not really a concept I understand, subjectively) so much as putting together something I think looks OK on the canvas I’m working with, but of course it’s much more complicated than that. Beyond taste itself saying something about me, if I’m completely honest, oftentimes I find myself picking things out to create a kind of “opt out” look: not clean or ordinary or prosperous enough to be assumed to be on board with the 9-to-5 crowd, but not so dirty or ostentatious or specific that it looks like I claim membership of any kind of subculture or identity/group, and like dark sunglasses just a little bit anonymizing so that any personality or uniqueness can be social instead of sartorial.
    The way I dress is unquestionably masculine (especially now with the beard), and my voice is deep to the point teachers in high school teased me about it, but don’t feel masculine or feminine whatsoever, and can’t really imagine what that would be like. I can’t see myself from outside, but don’t seem to get assumptions made about me as if I behaved particularly one way or the other, and I’d blithely wear dresses and jewelry and makeup if I thought those things looked good on ANYBODY – That’s an entirely different story that space is prodding me to compress to “because contrast but mainly synesthesia” – but suffice it to say it’s resulted in women turning me down with “I have a girlfriend” at a number greater than all the flowers on all the dresses I am unlikely to wear outside of a stage. It’s also resulted in many a time when the rugby-shirt-wearing potential adventure buddy I met at $2 Long Island Nite and then asked out after lighting her cigarette and sharing a pitcher of Optimator shows up for the date in full regalia, all glossy and baroque in a skirt and makeup. It’s a little frustrating but I appreciate it from a “wah-wahhhh sound plays, black iris closes on me mugging to the audience” angle, and it’s not like I can say anything or like I’m dating for more than just the fun of it.
    Well that was interesting to think about and write…

  23. 23
    The Nerd

    I used to wear rather gender neutral clothes in high school. Then the straight men in my life put a lot of pressure on me to femme it up. Then I came out as genderqueer and told all who spread such notions to kindly fuck themselves. Now I’m back to my boring ol’ nerdy self, and take my fashion advice from Bill Nye. Yay!

  24. 24
    Dhorvath, OM

    Straightish male here, I will not wear pants if I can help it, love shorts and as soon as I have two dollars to rub together I am so getting a utilikilt. Those things are the best! If it’s cool through very cold I wear hoodies – no zip – if I can get away with it up top, (super casual work space, thank you very much!) and ribbed long sleeves if I can’t, otherwise it’s T’s in solid colours.
    What I really love is shoes, big boots, runners, dress shoes, hikers, Chuckies, whatever. A different set of shoes can make or break my day, just the attitude adjustment is worth the switch. That also gives me more opportunities to show off my calves, which I love to do. (Yeah, shy, not really my thing.)

  25. 25
    DSimon

    Straight guy here. I stick with jeans or khakis, and a button down shirt over a t-shirt. Every friggin’ day. Without exception.

    And you know what? I’m tired of it. I’m geeky in a number of ways, most of which I like. My least favorite geek attribute, though, is that I don’t have much of a sense of style. I dress boringly because every time in the past I’ve tried to change it up a little, I just ended up looking silly. Eventually I gave up.

    But screw that, I’m gonna go learn me some style. If I can’t feel out the basics by gut instinct, then I’ll just have to do what I do with every other kind of problem: research it until it’s not mysterious anymore.

  26. 26
    fronkey

    Heterosexual female here. As a kid, I loved dresses and skirts, especially long full skirts that I could twirl. Then, from late primary school to year 10 or 11, I dressed almost exclusively in pants/shorts, and most of the time paid very little attention to what I was wearing. I remember one free dress day at school in year 10 (Australian schools all have uniforms), a friend commented that I actually looked like a girl (despite the uniform being a skirt, and I was wearing jeans on that day).

    Now, at age 23, I wear skirts most of the time, including delicate floral prints and lace that I would have been horrified at six or seven years ago (though make-up is only for special occasions). I still love pants, but my body shape has settled down to a slim waist with large thighs, which means that I find that most pants I struggle to get over my legs, and yet they gape about 10cm at the back. Pants shopping usually results in me trying on about 10 pairs of pants, none of them fitting, and me leaving in a huff, hence a love of loose flowing long skirts that are guaranteed to just fit.

    As an aside, I’m currently living in Japan, which definitely has fashion rules all of its own. Lacy socks with sandals are cool, and after a few months, I decided to give it a go, and have decided that I quite like the look. I have also bought some really baggy pants with suspenders, and love them. Wearing them with a feminine button up shirt, I feel like I’ve taken men’s clothing from Dickens’ era, and turned it feminine. In Australia, something like that would be quite a statement, but here it is pretty mainstream.

  27. 27
    scramble

    Ha! It’s delightful to find other ladies whose moms kept their hair short as little girls! Do any of you ever wonder about that choice on your mother’s part? For my mom, I figure it was both deliberate *and* unintentional. She was quite career-driven, a feminist and valued gender equality very, very deeply. She wanted to raise me (and my brothers) to value these things in our lives as well. Accordingly, her fashion choices for me were deliberate, to encourage me to see certain things in myself, and to encourage me to avoid boxing myself into any socially-prescribed ‘femininity’. But she also dressed and groomed me according to her tastes and personal style (which was fairly simliar to Greta’s), as most parents do, I think, until their kids start asserting their own style. Frilly, lacy dresses started made their appearance when I was around 3 or 4 because I LOVED them-but the hair stayed short. Mom did not concede on that ever. It only got long when I was quite old enough to look after it myself.

    Hm. Greta, it occurs to me that I’d love to hear your thoughts on fashion choices parents make for their kids.

    But I digress. My hair has been long since my mid-teens (excepting a couple of unfortunate haircuts in my 20′s). This is definately to express my femininity, but it is also simply because long hair suits my face better than short. And, despite the hair, my overall style is a gender mish-mash. I love men’s shoes, and trousers, and suiting fabrics, and waistcoats tailored for women, and heavy rings. And I love any excuse to wear a fake moustache. But I also love a full-skirted dress, in a manly fabric, with some heels, a silk scarf and a masculine “grampa” cardigan, or suit jacket. And long stockings held up with a garter belt underneath it all. I like to juxtapose men’s and women’s dress as much as possible in my daily style-I like the contradiction, the slight wierdness of it, and the way it sometimes throws other people off. I am most comfortable being feminine and masculine at the same time. Not gender-neutral, its opposite….gender-polar? Among other things, I feel it encourages others to make an effort to know me, because it (somewhat) removes the ability to assume characteristics simply based on gender. I’m a straight lady, btw.

  28. 28
    Robin Raianiemi

    Trans female here.

    It’s funny, though, that when I was a child, I almost never wore my sister’s or mother’s clothes, as so many other of my MtF friends did. I just never felt “the urge”. Which is really kind of funny, now that I think about it; I was the kind of kid who probably would’ve slapped on a dress to freak out the family, but it really never occurred to me.

    In my twenties, I went through what I called my “monochrome years”. I only wore black, white or gray clothing. I’d mix it up, but my preferred top was always a white or grey button down shirt, often with one of those now-annoying thin black ties that made me look like Jeffrey Combs in “The Re-Animator”. Except blonde.

    For years before my transition, I wore khakis and polo shirts pretty consistently.

    Now that I’m in the midst of my transition, I’m wearing skirts and dresses. A lot. A skirt or dress, as a feminine signifier, is very useful to me. Besides, when most people see someone in dress, they’re going to assume the wearer is female, no matter what’s under the cloth.

    I’ve yet to wear a floral print, but I adore black-and-white abstract prints, and asymmetrical garments.

    I won’t leave the house without make-up. But I’m very utilitarian in the use of it. Foundation, powder, a little blush, mascara and lipstick. Simple jewelry. I want to be seen as a woman, not as a transsexual. Not that I’m embarrassed to be transsexual, it’s part of my identity. But I’ve claimed a new gender, and a new territory.

  29. 29
    PSG

    I am SO in love with genderfuck – both the term and the style. Bi female here, on the masculine side clothing-wise. And damn, Greta, this brought a lot out of me!

    My mom also kept my hair short, but it was really cute. I grew it out, got tired of fighting with my mom about (taking care of) it, cut it all back off, then grew it all back out. Never cutting it short again, too much maintainance and it looks better long anyways. I also had lots of frilly dresses as a little kid, always wore shoes, and at 9 or 10 started wearing pants instead of skirts at school.

    I was really pressured in HS because of my masculine dress. It is interesting now to look back and realize just how damn uncomfortable it made so many people for me to say fuck it and wear men’s clothes. For me, it was essentially practical – when your hips and inseam are the same length, there are no junior/misses pants that fit. Men’s do though. I femmed it up a bit towards the end of HS, mostly because of my romantic interest in some boys. Made life easier too – women’s jeans and baby tees were much more accepted.

    I am a creature who’s mostly into comfort and men’s clothes are just comfortable. In college I wore PJ pants and tees for a year, then fell into a (women’s) jeans and T-shirt w/ or w/o pullover hoodie style that I’ve mostly kept up. Thank you hips for (finally) appearing.

    I’ve worked in labs for nearly a decade now, so I’m accustomed to wearing pants and close-toed shoes year round (and clothes I don’t mind ruining in general). I don’t *do* style now, don’t have the time and energy, but I’m looking forward to having more of both soon. I honestly don’t own much in the way of shorts/skirts because I’m poor and can’t wear them most days of the week anyways. My hair is totally feminine, shoulder length, but often is in a bun or ponytail for practical reasons. I wish I had the ability and energy to wear it down more.
    -
    It’s so much less pressure for me to explore masculine clothes than feminine ones, because I’m not so worried I’m “not doing it right.” Too many women have policed my feminine clothing choice, thinking I didn’t know how, rather than I wasn’t interested in conventional feminine style. Sadly, I didn’t know myself how to correct them, which is probably why the concept of *genderfuck* as a style is so exciting to me.
    -
    These days, stylewise, I LOVE LOVE LOVE knee length skirts with knee-high boots and a scoop neck or tank top. Hot, comfy, and sexy as hell! I do sexy with little to no skin actually visible, which is my favorite way to it, *comfy sexy*. I will do a skimpy top but not short skirts/shorts.

    I’m a BOLD color person, hate pastels, whites, and beiges. An asymmetrical hem, strong (large) pattern, or huge sleeves are an intant attraction for me when shopping. Things that are somewhat *weird* I tend to like, in that *fuck convention* sort of way I think.

    I adore boots of all sorts and am definitely a closed shoe person, though I’m also parital to tennis shoes. I love big earrings, choker-style necklaces, thick braclets, and all things silver. Lace irritates my skin and I don’t like the look much anyways, so all things frilly are pretty much out.

    When I wear makeup, I tend to do only eyeshawdow, and that in rainbow colors. I’ve done red, orange, green, blue, purple, silver, white, and shades in between. I’m big into alternative shades of nail polish when I wear it – blue, green, black, silver, purple, orange… Bold colors everywhere!

    Lately I’ve fallen in love with support tank tops and will probably wear one daily when I can afford it. I hate pantyhose but like the spandexy pants. As I’ve gotten heavier, I find I like a layer of tighter clothing underneath to “lock and load” me. I wonder if that will stay if the weight does not.

    I rock a fedora with a bun. I think I will play more with intentional masculinity in my dress in the next few years, as I find it to be an interesting look on such a feminine body shape. It was more natural for me to do as a teen, so I’m somewhat excited to explore that in this radically different body.

  30. 30
    Sneffy

    In my day to day life as a (female) student, I feel most comfortable in baggy, gender neutral clothing.

    When I go out I tend to dress more flamboyantly, and sometimes I feel traditionally feminine and sometimes I feel like a drag queen – in a good way! I would love to have more butch and/or masculine going out clothes, but I find it hard to find clothes that fit me and aren’t too expensive at the best of times. Trying to find suits etc that look masculine AND fit someone who’s 5 feet tall with E-cups and big hips – not easy.

  31. 31
    geocatherder

    I’m straight, female, old (52), and overweight, and I tend to extreme utilitarian in my clothing. I mostly wear pants or capris, and they MUST have two side pockets: one for my asthma inhaler and one for my cellphone. For tops, when I find a T-shirt or buttoned tunic that’s cut right, I buy several colors. I like neutral bottoms and bright tops. Not a big fan of really “girly” stuff, but monochrome prints, solid colors, and *gasp* tie-dye are my favorites — along with the occasional Hawaiian shirt. Oh — and they really need to be cotton or rayon, without the slightest taint of polyester. I overheat easily in polyester.

    I own one dress and one dressy pantsuit for occasions.

    I do like to dress up the utilitarian with jewelry occasionally, since making it is my hobby. This stuff varies wildly, but tends to the big and bold.

    Ever since the Loma Prieta earthquake in California in 1989, I’ve carried my keys attached to my waistband, since I was minutes away from being separated from my purse that day in a building that sustained damage. It’s ungainly, it jangles as I walk, and I’m embarrassed by it — but the memories of that earthquake, and how easily I could have been separated from my only transport by a purse with keys locked in an inaccessible building, override my embarrassment. Perhaps because I’m a budding geologist, the next Big One is more prominent in my mind than that of many others.

    Life is about to change; I turn my MS thesis in this week, will graduate in December in a brand-new field (geology), and begin starting to build my own business (Geographic Information Systems Consultant). I’m going to have to learn how to dress again. It scares me.

  32. 32
    Rejistania

    I have to admit that I again read this posting as if you were from a different species. I HATE miniskirts and cannot understand their allure. I think fashion and gender not as interesting but as a cruel way to deny women adequate (warm, protecting, comfortable) clothing.

  33. 33
    The Ys

    I’m straight and female, and I love my jeans. They have pockets, they don’t drape and catch on stuff or drag in the dirt/mud, and I like the fit and texture. They can be utilitarian or dressy, and I can wear everything from t-shirts and tank tops to linen and silk blouses with them. I do like long, flowy skirts, but I don’t like wearing them when I have Things To Do unless it’s ridiculously hot outside. I really do wind up tripping over them or catching them on stuff. And closing them in doors. Sigh.

    I like clothing that’s both functional and looks good. I dislike dresses because they generally don’t have pockets. I can find long, flowy skirts with pockets, so those get a pass. I hate having to carry a purse (I’ve been mugged), and I see no reason why my clothing can’t have pockets. Maybe estrogen prevents them from forming properly in a dress? idk

    I loathe high heels because they make my feet hurt. I don’t see any point in causing myself pain to live up to other people’s ideals of fashion…so I tend to pick flats, or stacked or platform-type heels. I also loathe makeup – it feels like a layer of plastic film on my skin. I dabble a bit with it from time to time (because it adds detail for the family pics) but don’t wear it as a general rule. I don’t spend a lot of time on my hair because, frankly, I’d rather do things like get an extra few minutes of sleep. Or read! Watch Stargate. Get mauled by my cat. Etc.

    I play in a medieval recreation group, and I wear ‘male’ or ‘female’ costumes depending on what I do. If I’m fighting, I’m in a doublet and breeches because I love them and they’re comfy. If I’m relaxing, it’s either doublet/breeches or an Italian Ren gown (also very comfy). If I’m out to impress, it’s full Elizabethan kit with hoop skirt, corset, and enough bling (costume jewellery) to blind people in orbit. I have no problem with those types of dresses because I make them myself and put pockets in them. :)

    Growing up, I enjoyed dressing up in a variety of costumes, both male and female. I never understood why there was a differentiation between the two, or why eople were discouraged from wearing clothing seen as belonging to the other gender.

    I still don’t, really.

  34. 34
    Rawnaeris, Lulu Cthulhu

    I love the idea of genderfuck. I want to get a men’s suit tailored to fit me. As a early 20′s hetero female, working in a job where I have to have enough presence to assure that I do have authority is difficult enough. Add in that I’m very short and as such look like a high-schooler most days, and my job becomes exponentially more difficult. If I am with a male, they are still the ones assumed to be in power.

    The more we fuck with and can alter power-perceptions via clothing, the better my professional life will be

    On the day-to-day personal preferences side of fashion:
    I prefer wearing men’s jeans and a baggy hoodie when I go out, especially alone. I’ll often wear my steel-toe Doc Martins or my black leather Chuck Taylor’s. My hair is short enough that if people don’t look at me closely, I can pass for a 16 or 17 year old guy. I really enjoy working to pull off the androgynous look. I’m trying to grow my hair out at my husbands request, but I prefer having it in a short style that I can easily spike.

    I do enjoy dressing up-both in dresses and in suits. I love the way a tailored suit and a pair of heels work together. If I’m going to take the time to wear a dress, then I like to go all-out–I actually prefer formal gowns to party dresses. Since I never have chances to wear formal gowns, this means that my wardrobe is heavy on the slacks and button down shirts. I especially like the military style shirts that have long sleeves that can be rolled and buttoned short.

    I don’t wear makeup. I like how foundation can even out skin tone, but I seem to be allergic to all the brands and types that I’ve tried. So I pretty much just say “fuck it.”

  35. 35
    Ali Marie

    I have no idea how to classify my “fashion”… if it can even be called that. I’m a teenaged straight (possibly asexual, but in a long-term hetero-romantic relationship, so straight’s close enough) female, going into a highly male-dominated field (geology). So, I dress like a geologist: jeans, unisex t-shirts, hiking boots, practical jackets, nothing particularly distinctive as either feminine or masculine. I also wear no make-up. None at all. I have never felt I’ve needed it, and it’s just something else to take up time in the morning. Plus, when you go out and work in the field for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, in 100+ degree weather all summer, no one really cares what you look like anyway.

    My one feminine “splurge”, I guess, would be my hair. I have insanely thick dishwater blonde hair, which I like long. I also dislike getting it cut, so I’ll grow it out for two or three year at a time, until it gets waist-length or longer, then cut off two feet and donate it to Locks of Love or Wigs for Kids. Occasionally, I’ll leave it down, during one of my rare stints of wanting to look pretty (I like combat boots and nice sweaters, particularly in cold weather). The rest of the time, it’s back in a pragmatic low ponytail or simple braid. And because I’ve got the build of a 12 year old boy, I would be entirely androgynous without the hair.

    I guess personally, the “feminine” and “masculine” roles, particularly in regards to fashion, but really with anything, don’t matter much to me. I don’t know if that makes me butch, androgynous, or what, but whatever. I’m going to dress comfortably and practically, and anyone who tries to say differently can get out of my way, because they aren’t worth the time.

  36. 36
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    I have to admit that I again read this posting as if you were from a different species. I HATE miniskirts and cannot understand their allure. I think fashion and gender not as interesting but as a cruel way to deny women adequate (warm, protecting, comfortable) clothing.

    That’s not entirely true.

    Societal expectations for clothing styles and “standards of dress” also serve to deny men options, proper cooling (men’s dress clothing means long pants, long sleeves, usually a jacket, and dark colored everything), and airflow (whatever SOB first invented the necktie should have been suspended by one). (And they feed the idea that dressing like a rich person is a sign of a more worthwhile human being, which is right up there with transubstantiation on the idiocy-popularity diagram.)

    On the other hand, with regards to what Greta’s actually talking about, you’re painting with a pretty broad brush and becoming a broken record.

  37. 37
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    As for me, I haven’t particularly experimented with gender-transgressive clothing, at least not since wearing a cape to a school dance was cited as part of the reasoning for the worthless cowards at Mira Loma High School revoking my interdistrict transfer. My priorities in dress are 1) comfort and 2) pockets that will comfortably hold what I want to put in them, with “generally flattering” as a third. (Well, the steel-toed boots definitely put utility ahead of comfort). I do wear a brown aussie-style fedora (which people tend to recognize as an “Indiana Jones hat”, to my mild annoyance since that was pretty far from my mind in selecting it)…and I might be more interested in gender transgression in a more supportive environment or if I were more socially astute in general.

  38. 38
    Kat

    Female, woman-identified, straight-ish twentysomething here. I spent my entire childhood being mistaken for a boy due to my mom’s utilitarian approach to haircuts. It frustrated me endlessly then, but now I cut my hair as short as I can, despite my boyfriend’s protests. I somehow feel more attractive and confident that way! I find myself most attracted to androgyny – women with short hair and small breasts, men with long hair and delicate features. I was thrilled when Sutan won RuPaul’s Drag Race – a genderfucking drag queen outcompeted all the ultra-femme ones! I also don’t wear any makeup, I basically don’t know how, and I remain in awe of drag queens’ knowledge of the art of decorative femininity which I’ll never master. At the same time I own more skirts than pants, and can’t walk in heels. Screw gender expression rules!

  39. 39
    Jalyth

    Lesbian here. In high school (when I was straight) I wore men’s jeans and t shirts. But that was mostly because I have long legs and women’s clothes were just too short on me. My mom wouldn’t let me wear short skirts.

    I have tried different things. I don’t do super girly, although I have determined that this winter I will almost exclusively be wearing skirts. That’s because I want to show off my legs, and shorts are inappropriate in cold weather even when skirts are okay. Also, I have little money and I hate the jeans I currently have. I bought a couple cheap bike shorts to wear under skirts when I ride my bike. I don’t know why I love that concept so much, but it’s what I’m doing right now.

    In the 20 years since high school, there has been a great improvement in the clothing industry. I am a little fat, but with no hips. I can’t shop at the fat woman’s store because the clothes hang on me. But I can shop at say The Gap and wear the biggest size, but it’s cut in a way where you’re not supposed to have hips. I looked at some fashion shows recently, and I really hope the high waste pants don’t make a come back. They literally hurt to sit in.

    When I femme it up, I often feel like I look like a dominatrix. I’m 5’10″ and when I put on a black leather skirt and some heels, I think I actually come across a lot more “butch” than when I wear jeans. Or “toppy”, if not butch. Heels do make me feel very strong and dominant.

    I had a male friend tell me a long time ago that virgins (he was talking about me) who wear really short skirts were “false advertising”. Possibly sexist, but also possibly true. I wear slutty clothes because I’m trying to advertise that I’m available. And slutty. I own my sexuality and sometimes display it.

  40. 40
    Rejistania

    Societal expectations for clothing styles and “standards of dress” also serve to deny men options, proper cooling (men’s dress clothing means long pants, long sleeves, usually a jacket, and dark colored everything), and airflow (whatever SOB first invented the necktie should have been suspended by one). (And they feed the idea that dressing like a rich person is a sign of a more worthwhile human being, which is right up there with transubstantiation on the idiocy-popularity diagram.)

    I guess I did not think of the cooling aspect since I never show my legs, no matter what the temperature. I do not agree on the latter part though. Not all catholics accept transsubstanciation, not all people are catholic. It is actually WORSE.

    What I, a biological female who feels confused about her place in society, am wearing is generally quite comfortable: long pants (must have at least two pockets for keys, MP3 player and wallet), preferably black, brown or beige, and depending on the weather t-shirts or sweatshirts (though I have recently discovered hoodies which have the advantage of keeping my ears warm and they can be used to hold the cellphone like a headset). The nerdy message is optional (people told me that clothes do convey a message so I set out to confuse people). I wear crocs as shoes since they are the most comfortable kind of shoes for me. I cannot wear heels. Evwn at a level which most people find okay, it is painful to me. This confines me to men’s shoes or unisex ones (it is HARD to find shoes without a heel for women). I like to cover myself. If it was accepted to do so, I would wear a burkah to leave the house. Even so, I sometimes wear a headscarf made out of specific materials to keep my (short, but not short enough, society does not allow women to shave their heads) hair out of my face.

  41. 41
    russellmartin-jenkins

    I am also fascinated by gender and fashion. My parents were full on 1%er bikers, a subculture where even the women dress with a strong ‘butch’ flair. That coupled with a strong identity as a rocker (Elvis Aron Presley…my personal lord and savior) has led me to dress in a primarily masculine style but with what are often considered feminine touches…501s (always and only), old flannels or button downs (usually unbuttoned as low as weather permits…we’re talking like 2 or 3 buttons buttoned tops), and a penchant for vintage 60s and 70s heeled boots (florshiems, preferably)…all of this usually accessorized with anything from a leather jacket and aviators to scarves, jewelry, excessivly large belt buckles…it’s not uncommon for my to get mean mugged by the ‘backwards white baseball cap, button down shirt with a graphic on the shoulder’ male crowd and even have my sexuality questioned but frankly i don’t give a damn (and let’s be honest…their girls like what they see..lol). I don’t mind the occasional ‘miss’ i get when my hairs long even though i find it a little funny (my body type is uber masculine) and i love watching people trying to figure me out…all in all, fashion (in my mind) is about feeling good and looking good…whatever form that takes is an individuals choice…

  42. 42
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    …wait, button-down shirts are considered “feminine?”

    The HELL?

  43. 43
    Jalyth

    Azkyroth, they can be. Depends on the cut, the color, and the fabric. I have a red silk one that has stitching to make my figure more womanly, for instance. Or cleavage showing. I think the way some of my gay male friends wear shirts is pretty feminine. Imo, that’s why fashion is fun and interesting. The way I wear something is different than the next person in the same outfit. :)

  44. 44
    renniejoy

    Lots of books about women’s “style” break down possibilities into four or more categories: Classic, like Jackie O., Jodie Foster, and Katherine Hepburn; Romantic, “girly girl”; Sporty, “tomboy”, pants, easy shirts, little or no makeup; and Dramatic, “unusual”, “artsy”.

    Unfortunately, “Ethnic” is usually classified under “Dramatic”, and I don;t remember where “Bohemian/Hippy” goes when it’s not its own category… :(

    Clothing is interesting. :)

  45. 45
    Julie paradox

    My mother (who had five daughters) kept our hair short until we were five for practical reasons. We wore dresses mostly: I remember getting a pair of cord trousers to be in a show and it was a big thing (this was the seventies).

    My Bestest Dress Ever had a thin velvet ribbon belt and MATCHING KNICKERS OMG!

    I also remember having a dress which was almost the same as that of one of my friends – hers was navy where mine was turquoise.

    Why would you want to be princess rather than queen? Queen is the one who tells the princess what to do.

    [I am almost entirely straight - find some women particularly attractive but have never felt the urge do do anything about it. Had 25 dolls by the time I stopped playing with them, and can still remember all their names.]

    I had unstyled hair from 17 to 41 (told the hairdressers I wanted a sylist who was older than my style) then had it cut short. Not initially as short as I wanted because the stylist thought I’d hate it ;-)

    No real reason for this, just a feeling that haircuts were a bit frivolous.

    At the moment I mostly wear casual trousers and tops (I don’t have a job), either from charity shops or as we get a bit more affluent from Tesco or even possibly a catalogue I’d like to buy an entire wardrobe from. Working on this. I’d really like to be a mixture of Parisian Chic and Seventies Bohemian…

    I came of age in the late eighties, when everything seemed to have shoulder-pads. As I have pretty wide shoulders anyway, this didn’t really work for me.

  46. 46
    Julie paradox

    bleh. Too much wine.

    “to do” and “stylist”

  47. 47
    Elin Burdg

    Dude.. I ‘m not much into reading, but somehow I got to read lots of articles on your weblog. Its amazing how interesting it is for me to check out you very often. -

  1. 48
    Fashion Friday: Menswear, and Some Thoughts About Gender Roles | Greta Christina's Blog

    [...] is a woman; we both tend to dress on the more feminine side (although I do venture into butch and genderfuck on occasion). Menswear really isn’t in my [...]

  2. 49
    On Display: Clothing, Breasts, and Power | Almost Diamonds

    [...] we don’t get to choose to say nothing by our choice of clothing. On Friday, she wrote about her relationship to clothing as an expression of gender. The whole thing is interesting, but I was struck in particular by her statement that “male [...]

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