Posts Tagged ‘Clothing’

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Caitlin on Changing Fashions

18 July, 2011

Written: Sunday, July 17. 2:07 pm. Alexandria, Virginia

Today I went shopping with Miss Allison. I enjoyed her company and we found some nice pieces, but the shopping experience was draining. Shopping for women’s clothes is a completely different activity than shopping for men’s clothes. A fact that few, if any, men truly grasp. It’s not in and out for women. The only thing my Midwest mind can compare it to is hunting, it requires craft, knowledge of yourself and your environment, and a fair amount of cunning.

Here is where men have it simple: the all-shop one-stop. Standardization exists in men’s clothing. There are three basic looks: casual (t-shirt , Hawaiian shirts, and jersey’s paired with jeans or shorts), work-casual (Polo and Oxford shirts paired with khakis or trousers) and formal (suits coats, sport coats, dress shirts, dress slacks) and there you have it. Within each class there is little to no variation. The color spectrum is, also, fairly uniform with few articles deviating from the standard black, white, gray, and blue. The flamboyant man may step outside the norm and purchase an Oxford in red, purple, yellow or—gasp!—pink, but other than a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western how often do you see them in a pink shirt with piping and a ruffled front?  Men can go into most any store and find what they need to purchase because sizes, cuts, and colors all meet a socially understood pattern. A suit is always a suit, a t-shirt is always a t-shirt, and a thirty waist is always a thirty waist. This is why men so easily go in, grab something off the rack, check out, and go home. This is also why they tend to have no fashion sense; when most decisions have already been made, it’s easy to forget about or ignore the few decisions you have to make. Get in, get out, convenience.

I am still a bit out of my depth when it comes to shopping in the women’s department. Which is why, when we entered the first store, which by-the-bye did not carry a full selection of women’s apparel, I found myself overwhelmed by the myriad colors, patterns, designs, cuts, styles, and inconsistent sizes and completely incapable of answering Allison’s first question: So, what’s your style? The answer to this, though once quick to figure and easy to articulate, came out as a halting, “I don’t know.”

Let me break this down for the men. As a male you go into the store to purchase a t-shirt. Either you get one with a design, without a design, or with a pocket. You know that if you have a paunch you should avoid the athletic fit and if you’re skinny you don’t buy extra-large White Castle shirts. Now, as a woman, I go in to buy a t-shirt. My first choice is the same as yours, design or no design. Simple. Well, not so much because the choices are just starting. Say I find a cute graphic tee. My first consideration is the sleeves. Does it have sleeves? If not then I should get a medium because I have small, teenage breasts and a large will hang loose around the sternum because there isn’t enough up top to hold the material in place properly. But, this shirt as an elongated V neck so it will emphasize my flat chested status, the other one in my size has a deep scoop neck, again showing off what isn’t there. (And boys, this isn’t just a transitioning issue. If you have a small chested girlfriend ask her how she looks in a scoop neck. On second thought, don’t; she’ll punch you in the neck and ask how you look in a bruised trachea.) Now, let’s say I find a shirt with a rounded neckline and no sleeves in medium. I try it on and, lo and behold, my flat stomach now looks like I’m carrying a sumo wrestler’s twins. Have I gained weight? Nope. But apparently a medium in this brand is the same size as a small in this other brand. Are you beginning to see the complications? Because that’s just a small segment. If I wanted I could go into sleeve length and styles. You know, capped sleeves for thinner arms, three-quarter length sleeves for thicker arms (note how they aren’t described as athletic for women), or how once you find a shirt that fits the shoulders it might hang too loose in the midriff and too tight across the chest, or how a shirt that flatters your flat tummy is too narrow for the broad-shouldered (a term which never would have applied to me as a man). Oh, and don’t forget to throw frills, sequins, patterns, and prints into the mix. And that’s just to buy a t-shirt, boys! Think of the complications involved in skirts or worse still dresses which join the multiple combinations of both the upper and lower body into a hellish conundrum of Gordian Knot proportions. Choice after choice, option after option. Slowly I turned; step by step, inch by inch. It’s enough to drive any sane woman mad. Did you ever wonder why your girlfriend or wife drags you along only to hide in the changing room and refuse to show you the piece? It’s because she needs an alibi for when the police come around asking questions about a fitting room attendant whose backside was violated with a hanger after bringing your gal one too many cap sleeved, size extra-small-mediums with a deep V neck and large, gaudy floral prints.

Despite the complications we did manage to find some nice pieces: a flared, khaki-colored skirt, which will help create the illusion of a defined waist line; a light, almost heather gray pair of slacks with white pinstripes, great for accentuating long legs and flared nicely at the bottom for heels or boots; a stone brown, cap sleeved peasant blouse with a floral pattern, very hippie-chick chic; and a waist length, short-sleeved, black cardigan with a delicate floral ruffle, also done in black to avoid gaudiness. And we only had to stop at two stores to meet the day’s fashion goals. Pretty damned fortunate.

Now, extreme thanks go out to Allison and her patience with a newbie shopper and her sharp eye for the rare quality-style-price combo. Without her, a two and half hour trip would have been all day and not nearly as successful. And thanks are also due to my sister-in-law, Casey, without my first excursion with her and her primer in fashion I would never have had the courage to go shopping with someone else.

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Swimsuit Fashions

20 June, 2011

It took forever. We’re talking trial and error, purchase and return, hunts through racks and racks and racks and racks and more than my fair share of tears. It took forever. It took an hour at J.C. Penny going through their sale racks, looking for the right size, cut, style. It took mixing and matching pieces from different sets and re-coordinating them to get a new set that looked like it was sold as a single cohesive unit. It took forever. But it happened. I walked out of the store with a swimsuit I could proudly, comfortably, and–most important–safely wear to the pool.

I got home, rinsed off in the shower, slipped on the three pieces that make up the suit, grabbed a beach towel, a book, and my pass then headed out and down to the pool. In the hall outside the apartment I ran into one of my neighbors. I said, “Hi,” and introduced myself. She and her sister did not look pleased to meet me. That’s okay. No one said they had to be. They’ll get used to me or they won’t. Either way, I will continue as friendly and polite. Downright neighborly.

At the pool the lifeguard almost swallowed his whistle when he saw me. Granted, I didn’t have a wig on, but I styled my hair a bit so it had a feminine flare to it. Still, he glared and he followed me with his eyes as I found a deck chair, laid out my towel, and began reading my book. I planned on getting a chapter in before taking a dip. As, I read I listened to the kids squealing in the pool and wondered, if I stuck to the deep end, if I could get a few laps in. While I read the life guard had a few whispered conversations with the parents. One word caught my attention: predator. You don’t have to be a nuclear physicist to balance this equation. By nature of me being who I am and being at a pool when pre-teen children were present, I was automatically and without doubt a potential pedophile.

I never got in the pool. The eyes on me, following where my gaze went (from left hand page to right hand page) discouraged me from making full and proper use of my new bathing suit. But I refused to let them drive me out. I laid on that chair with a copy of Sookie Stackhouse and connected with the blonde waitress who can read minds. Both of us being something unique, misunderstood, and not particularly wanted around but too polite and well-mannered to be spoken against.

If my style of dress, and the fashion and gender understanding that goes with it, makes me comfortable, I will dress this way. I’m not doing anyone harm by dressing like this and they may interact or not interact with me as they see fit. But, as a culturally sensitive person and a member of the community, if my style of dress makes other’s uncomfortable does that count as harming them? Am I doing damage to someone else by being who I am? Am I within my rights to dress the way other women dress or because I have a bonus piece of equipment, do I not have the right to make this decision? I am currently troubled by this. Does the community as a whole have the right to dictate how I can and can’t dress? How I can and can’t present myself? How I can and can’t exist? At what point does my own personal need and preference override the community’s ill ease and what responsibilities do they owe me as a woman?

These are all troublesome questions and I don’t know if there are any answers to them. I don’t even know if there are any potential answers to them. Sometimes, being a TS woman gives me a very real, philosophizing headache.

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A River of Stereotypes

11 June, 2011

Dave Barry once wrote, approximately, the key to writing is having a great opening sentence. Once you have that great opening sentence everything else flows. Given the intense labor I consider writing, I have never penned a great opening sentence. Take this entry for instance. How hard can it be to come up with a great opener about a cadre of tailors, two department stores, and a spiteful shopping cart? Very. Apparently. So, instead I’ll start by telling you about a wedding.

Myriad words exist solely for toasting weddings. It seems these words, usually long and sounding like the scientific name for a flower–such as pulchritudinous–gather round the thesaurus’ water cooler and swap stories of weddings-past while they wait for their turn in use. I break their personified hearts today because of all the descriptors one could use the best for this particular wedding is: pending. It is my brother’s wedding to a wonderful, and feisty, gal slated for August twenty-first. A wedding in which I am the Best-woman.

As Best-woman, I will be in a sleek, fitted suit designed to work with the few assets I currently have. Because I don’t have such a suit I trolled store sites like Babe Winkleman futzing through the waters of northern Minnesota with his line played out behind him hoping to scare up a big’un. I’m not sure what shady shoal Babe will find his big’un but mine is on Chadwicks.com. A chic, tailored pantsuit with a unique and flattering design. It’s belt-style loops through silver tone grommets; the lined, v-neck jacket has long sleeves and a mandarin collar. The jacket pairs with slightly flared pants great for heels. The only difficulty was not knowing my current measurements. So I embarked on quest through the mall, a girl determined to get the measurements that make her the chick in the smokin’ hot pantsuit at her brother’s upcoming nuptials. I had no clue what I was in for.

As I have stepped my skirted-self about town, I have gotten use to getting odd looks and glares. These things come as recognizable landmarks in trans-territories and second puberty highlands, but was unprepared for actual bigotry. Worse, the bigotry came at the hands of the transwoman’s stereotypical best friend: the fashion industry. I visited two high-end department stores and three professional tailors and all five refused to take my measurements. My favorite two reactions were the Lord and Taylor staff who asked me to take a seat and then ignored me for nearly half an hour (had I not gotten up and left I would probably still be there) and the tailor who looked me in the eye and said, “We don’t do women’s measurements” while three feet behind him his colleague measured a slender, fine-boned African-American woman. It was at the third tailor’s, however, that I had my fill. I entered the shop and politely inquired of the lady at the counter, do you provide measurements for formal events? The woman didn’t respond. Thinking she hadn’t heard me I repeated my question a little louder. She still didn’t respond. Perhaps she’s deaf, I thought and turned to address the male staff member a few feet away. I got halfway through my query before he turned sharp enough on his heel to please a Marine drill sergeant and walked away leaving me . . .

. . . to abandon my quest and set off in search of groceries and, more important, beer.

Away to Shoppers and the politest check-out clerk I ever had. Now, consider this contrast. The fashion industry, which makes a fair amount off the whims and egos of drag queens, transvestites, transsexuals, and gender queer individuals, had zero tolerance and a fair amount of hatred for little old youdon’thavetocallmebeautifuljustprovidetheserviceyourjobasksofyou me. Then, in blue-collar and sales land, a courteous stock boy and a friendly cashier who complimented my outfit provide superior customer service. Do the stereotypes seem off to you? Their kindness, the compliment, and a twelve pack of craft beers mended my mangled spirit and I was again feeling upbeat as I bounce-bounced my cart through a parking lot boasting more lumps than homemade gravy.

Whether it was the heat or the washboard surface I will never know, but at that moment the cart’s front wheel jammed and the cart refused to budge. So I drug and tugged the ridiculously heavy cart with an immobile wheel across the lot one yank at a time. Half way to the car a white man in a crisp shirt and ironed trousers starts, “Let me help you, miss,” and finishes with “Oh, yuck,” and an about-face after glimpsing me. Chivalry among the white male is certainly dying if not dead. It is alive and well, however, in the Latino population. Back at the apartment an elderly Latino man volunteered to help me with my grocery bags. Going out of his way to carry them up to the fourth floor. “Are you having a party?” he asked. No, I replied, just groceries. “Pretty women like you should be invited to parties every night,” he said. My reply entailed a strong blush and soft chuckle.  I thanked him for his help and he ended my excursion on a positive note by saying, “It was my pleasure, darling,” before shuffling off.

Being a woman and navigating the inconsistent world of stereotypes is certainly a mixed Versace Patent Flap Shoulder Bag.