Letter of Recommendation: Women’s Clothing

I remember a time before the whole business of gender, gender, gender, identities and signifiers.

When the straights claimed they couldn’t tell if the Beatles of 1964, with their slightly long hair, were boys or girls.  But the cool kids knew.

I remember 1967, with its thrift store finery, velvet, leather, lace and various military wear swapped with deserters. Gender didn’t much matter and being androgynous was not only cool but separated you from the straights. In those days we wore the label freak like a badge.

Then the 1970s when women donned blazers and rock and roll stars donned dresses.  It all smelled like freedom.

So of course the straights had to wipe that out.  In 1963 Richard Farina wrote a song with the line in it: “Society is never geared to men who grow a beard or little girls with holes in their ears, They’re liable to hunt you down and dress you in a wedding gown and offer substantial careers.”

Freaks stayed freaks and straights are still squares.

But now academics offer us boxes called identities, neat packages open to analysis and demographic studies.

But as someone said of me… I’ve always been an outlaw.

From The New York Times:  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/06/magazine/letter-of-recommendation-womens-clothing.html

By Kalle Oskari Mattila
Nov. 6, 2018

Last year, I walked into an upscale independent clothing store in Berlin and greeted the conservatively dressed, bespectacled woman hovering in the back. I’d seen a stylish male mannequin in the window, but it wasn’t clear that they sold men’s clothing, so I asked. “It’s all for everyone,” she said. “I mean, technically that rack and this rack are men’s, but I believe it’s outdated to think like that.”

“You know what?” I replied. “You’re right. Most people don’t get that.” She seemed pleased — until I pulled out a long women’s white underwear top and asked to try it on. Clearly, there were limits, and she tried to talk me out of it. The top was revealing, and normally would have been worn with a bra. This was Berlin, though, and I needed something daring.

Once I put the top on, in the privacy of a changing room, I saw how well it complemented the male body: its low crew neck and tight, stretchy fabric showed off my chest and arms. To the surprise of the shopkeeper, and myself, I bought it.

I came out at 18, in Helsinki, then moved to New York at 23, and I’d steadily grown more aware of the possibility to wear whatever I wanted, to use clothes to express myself in experimental ways. But dressing outside my gender’s section still felt like breaking the rules.

Berlin was supposed to be my only excursion, yet I found myself returning to the women’s department back in New York, where I realized women’s wear wasn’t appropriate for only German raves. I could wear it to work, dinner and the gym. In fact, there were myriad advantages to it for any man: a wider selection; more colors to complement the complexion; different, edgier cuts; pockets in unexpected places. Sometimes it was just practical: small, tight shorts worked better for high-intensity exercise than basketball shorts, which grew heavy with sweat.

I wasn’t interested in dresses, high heels or bras. I wasn’t cross-dressing as much as doing a kind of cross-shopping, which I later learned is defined as a type of anarchy: a single customer defying retailers’ marketing segmentation by shopping where he or she is not expected to. I wasn’t trying to challenge societal norms or explore my gender identity; I was merely searching for cool new apparel. If women can easily cross over for things like sweaters and overalls, why not men? I was single and wanted boyfriend jeans, too.

I am a cisgender man, and present that way, yet sometimes my outfits are a mixture of what is labeled men’s and women’s. Most people don’t even notice the difference. My look isn’t as unconventional as, say, combining a beard with a dress (I’m not sure I could grow a full beard anyway), nor is it about claiming a different gender identity than the one I was assigned at birth. Instead, I find that cross-shopping gives me a liberating sense of control over myself and my body — not necessarily overturning the designations of a gender, but instead widening my version of manhood. I can feel my most masculine in a colorful women’s blouse, my biceps bulging through its sleeves, whereas the softness of a men’s cashmere scarf, or the clacking sound of men’s ornate black leather dress shoes (which sound like high heels) can conjure in me a more feminine sensibility. I feel most comfortable in outfits that blend the feminine and the masculine. They feel truest to me.

Continue reading at:  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/06/magazine/letter-of-recommendation-womens-clothing.html

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