Dressing Bodies Handsomely

Over the weekend I read an article on NYTimes called The Masculine Mystique about a Brooklyn tailor named Daniel Friedman who expanded his business to include custom suits for transgender and female clients.

Screenshot 2013-12-02 17.19.15Mr. Friedman’s business decision was a collaborative idea between Rachel Tutera and himself. Ms. Tutera who runs a blog The Handsome Butch contacted Mr. Friedman, asking for a sales job and when doing so, brought up building the business to include new clientele, made up of female and transgender clients. Based on Ms. Tutera’s own experience, she knew there was a need for tailors with this speciality. In an article she wrote for The Huffington Post, Tutera expresses this need, claiming, “no off-the-rack suit will ever fit my (petite, queer, transmasculine) body.”

Screenshot 2013-12-02 17.19.08Mr. Friedman admits that he expanded his business for the money, but that has not been the rewarding part, rather, it’s the appreciation of his new clients. Many of his new clients, like Ms. Tutera struggled to find clothes suitable to fit their bodies and their identities–and often, they were left having to instead choose one or the other. For many, wearing one of Mr. Friedman’s suits was the first experience of self-confidence and empowerment, finally able to find clothing that both fits and expresses them perfectly. Tutera describes wearing her first suit as “revolutionary,” because “it revolutionized my relationship with myself.” It gave her confidence, making her feel “like the most self-possessed, at-ease, handsome version of myself that had ever existed.” This is the type of feeling Mr. Friedman and Ms. Tutera proudly help many clients now achieve:

“I studied architecture and urban design, but something was always missing,” he said. “And what was missing is that no one cared if I did a good job or not. Unless you’re the star in the show, it’s a thankless job. These people are just so thankful.”

Clothes are important to many of us–they contribute to how we present ourselves to the rest of the world. I have definitely taken the way clothes fit me or the type of clothes available to me for granted. When I go shopping, I have a handful of designers that I know will fit me the way I want, accentuate the parts of me that make me look best and transitively, feel my best. Feeling good about the way we look adds to our self-confidence, which is important in so many aspects of our lives. Imagine sitting in an interview, when you are already tremendously nervous and vulnerable, preoccupied by how your suit fits. I’ve never dreaded a wedding, because the thought of finding a dress was daunting, which Ms. Tutera recalls. When I bought my first suit for work, I took for granted that it already went in at the places I wanted (at the waist to accentuate the hips and breasts). This consistent characteristic of women’s clothing is exactly what makes it difficult for other women to find clothes that make them feel confident.

Ms. Tutera talks about the importance of clothes and self-confidence here:

I believe one’s clothes shouldn’t make one feel worse about things that already feel badly (like funerals), or not-good about things that are meant to feel good (like weddings), or — while I’m at it — things that may feel badly or not-good when they can actually feel good, like interviews. I know the word handsome isn’t perfect and not everyone relates to it, so I’d like to add that I think we all have the right to have our bodies and identities affirmed, honored and respected, and that’s not just something we do for ourselves and each other. It’s something our clothes do for us.

I think it’s amazing that the market, particularly suits and formalwear, is growing for transgendered men and females who want to dress “handsomely” so that they can feel comfortable and confident. However, it’s also important to think about why we needed this new market in the first place. And that’s because of the dichotomic structure of the clothing industry, that there are Men’s and Women’s clothing, that they can’t overlap or that we are all supposed to fit within one of those perfectly, how clothing works to bind us to certain identities, especially regarding gender–what it feels like when you walk into a store and there is nothing for you. In a world where there at times seems to be limitless choices, we as consumers have a limited ability to express ourselves; our choice is still governed by ideology. Clothing, in general, markets for one body-type and one gender and one idea of what gender means. And when manufacturers assume one cut, one fit, one style is right for everyone, we are repressed when we don’t fit within it or coerced so we try to fit within it. And if your body deviates, you’re suddenly (at least for women’s clothing) labeled something else, whether it is plus-size or petite or plus-size petite or tall. Additionally, it’s at great economic expense when alterations are made so you’re punished when you can’t fit into an off-the-mannequin outfit.I hope clothing manufacturers continue to branch out, especially into more casual and active-wear. There is no reason why anyone should continue to sacrifice self-expression for fit or the other way around. This hope, however, seems like a stretch, given the continuous comments from fashion designers who have no problem alienating customers, wanting only a certain type of person to wear their clothing. You can look to Abercrombie and Fitch or Lululemon or Karl Lagerfeld who can’t stop fat-shaming for such examples. Helen’s blog post also talks more about Lululemon and its body shaming remarks.

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3 thoughts on “Dressing Bodies Handsomely

  1. “Feeling good about the way we look adds to our self-confidence, which is important in so many aspects of our lives.” I agree with you, here, completely! It is incredible how integral clothes are to confidence. As I have come more into my own and become more comfortable with my body and with how I choose to present myself, finding clothes that flatter me and fit me right has been very important. Your mention of the Brooklyn tailor makes me wish the type of clothing he produces was available in a department store setting. I wonder why popular stores such as J.Crew, Banana Republic, Brooks Brothers, etc. are so hesitant to expand the genre of women’s clothing…

  2. Pingback: Elliott Sailors and Gender Expression | Girlpower

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