When someone who went through puberty as a female rolls out of bed, tosses on some yoga pants and a t-shirt and leaves the house, no one will question her gender.
When I, or other transwomen like me, want to avoid questions about our gender, it takes some work. We need polish.
Part of this is that I haven’t had the resource to female my body. That can make a difference, no doubt, but for big-boned gals, not the ultimate difference.
Every woman has to dress her own body, creating line and flow with good choices, but for transwomen the there is more to lose, as Clinton Kelly noted when they coached a transwoman on What Not To Wear. For women who went through puberty as a female, the worst that can happen is that people find them unattractive or sloppy. For transwomen, we can get branded as “really” liars.
I remember Oprah on a makeover show lecturing the bigger gals in the audience about presentation. “People are going to examine you more closely,” she hectored, “so you need to make sure that you are always well put together. No worn shoes, no bad teeth, none of the little imperfections that stay little on petite gals but get huge on a larger woman.” Oy.
I love shabby chic fashion, the eclectic remnants of dramatic looks. I know of one gal who deliberately painted herself up in dramatic 60s eyeliner and then washed it off to go out, the residue remaining being the perfect blend of glamour and decay. It’s that whole motorcycle jacket with chiffon with vintage pumps look, the hair pulled up but with bits coming loose that signal both style and substance.
One of the first things we decide when we see another woman in the street is how hard she is working to be pulled together. Sometimes we decide she isn’t working hard enough, hasn’t polished herself up for the occasion.
More often, though, our first read is of people who are working too hard. If they look uncomfortable and over packaged, we wonder what they are trying to hide, wonder who they are trying to manipulate. Those are the “too matchy-matchy” women we read as having their clothes wear them rather than wearing their own clothes. For many crossdressers it is easy to read their clothing as costume, just surface deep and not really showing who they are because it is just working too hard to aggrandize their own eroticism, working to too hard conceal their daily lives.
This is why shabby chic is such a powerful look for women, allowing us to express our own dramatic and bold feminine style in a slightly ragged way that also shows our humanity. Sequins and jeans, leather and lace, tulle and leggings, a blend of the ephemeral and the earthy you can wear in the world. This can be part of the magic of drag, stylized creations that blend the feminine and the masculine with high drama, humanity showing between the angles and the curves.
Not having a network of girlfriends to offer eyes on my expression, I know that I tend to play safe. Becca at the MAC counter, someone who understands the queer power of art, changes her eyeliner and I can find a lesson for myself there, but that is very little nourishment,
And so, I don’t trust my own shabby chic, pulling back from more revelatory and bold expressions. Better safe than sorry. Or maybe, sorry is enough,