Butch Please: Butch Gets Dressed

BUTCH PLEASE is all about a butch and her adventures in queer masculinity, with dabblings in such topics as gender roles, boy briefs, and aftershave.

Header by Rory Midhani


Note: As this particular edition of the column concerns clothing, there are pictures of me in my states of “butch fashion.” I felt very conflicted using my own photos, not because this isn’t a highly personal column, but because selfies are my forms of self-care and things I text to my crush, not things I want to post on a widely circulated article about queer self-expression. At the same time, I felt equally uncomfortable posting anyone else’s interpretations of butch fashion because I cannot guarantee the identities of someone based on an image, nor do I want to undermine anyone’s empowerment via their outfits, which I think is an incredibly essential and important and vital thing that queers need. So, you’re all going to be looking at my weird face and I’m going to deal with it.

I’d also like to note that this article is the experience specifically of a white butch speaking of the white butch interpretation of dapper queer. I have no intention of speaking for the identities of studs, AGs, doms, and queer people of color who identify as butch or otherwise, especially those who also identify as dapper or dandy. White butchness comes with immense and specific privileges in constant need of unpacking, and I am commenting on that identity in particular.

First, a little word to the people who have been reading this column and patiently waiting: I’ve been gone for a while, and I’m sorry. Retreating is a thing I sometimes do to people I care for a lot. If you put a different emphasis on different words in that last sentence, it’ll mean different things. All of those things are true. Every time I’ve referred to myself as “butch” out loud, there’s a little part of my heart that’s been tugging at the memory of this column. I want to send each one of you a love letter about the nights my binder wasn’t too tight and how that was just glorious, the way I can’t write unless I feel like someone’s on the other end, tightening the string on their tin can so I come in clearer. You’ll shout back and ask, so I’ll have to answer: What have I been doing instead of writing on here?

I’ve been working late shifts, coming home with numb feet and too much air in my lungs. My mouth’s so tired from pulling expressions over my buttoned-all-the-way-up collars that the night sky looks like the dream of a smile. Of course, the city can’t decide if it’s sleeping or just waiting for its old lady to finish her cigarette and get back into bed. Back in the mountains, I was used to nights that whispered and hummed under their breath; Philadelphia nights are singing at the top of their lungs, running from one end of the block to the other, belting out half-drunk renditions of Ethiopian jazz and Meek Mill and garage rock and fado music. Have you heard fado music? Somewhere in my neighborhood is an open window from which it often spills, pools in the corners of the vacant house next door. It sounds like someone cupping their hands around a song and crying into the space of their palms. I love it. I love that I can listen to someone sing in a language I don’t know, but still understand that they’re singing about the same aches and bruises of being poor and tired and the things that come with being queer. Remember when I told you how hard it is to milk those butch tears? Sometimes I let that music do the crying for me. I get wasted on that kind of stuff; I drink it up through my window screens to save money on Jim Beam.

I’ve been living from miracle to miracle, the Holy Miracle of the Rent Check Not Bouncing This Time, the Great and Wondrous Miracle of the Expiration Date Being A Suggestion. I’ve been preoccupied with shape-shifting, how easy it is when someone else does it for you. A girl kissed me so hard she chipped her tooth. She has a Catholic mother and a sticky red heart, so she told her mother she chipped the tooth on a bottle of beer. I love that in that little world she made to keep her mother happy and safe from the truth of my gender, I was a bottle of beer. I hope I was shaken hard and smashed on a sidewalk. I hope I’m still glimmering in the cracks somewhere. I hope two kids were so drunk on the idea of each other that they mistook me for fallen stars beneath their shoes.

Picture 624

queering masculinity: reachin’ to my roots

Lastly, I’ve been working two jobs, one of them in retail, which is a strange place to work when you’re willing to sell the clothes off your back for trolley fare. I still make my monthly budgets on napkins, and clothing never makes the list. I wear my pants until they fall off of me, or are taken off of me, or until the holes in them are big enough to show that I’m human after all. If you can see through the places where the denim ripped out, you can see I’ve got skin and kneecaps and blue boxer-briefs I bought from Label Shopper. I went and set them next to the register with a package of white undershirts. “Are you shopping for your boyfriend,” the cashier asked, and I held my laughter in for so long that I almost died in the parking lot.

I want to talk about shape-shifting, and clothing, and being a butch who wears things, because so much of butchness is tied up in the things I put on my body. Not just the boxer-briefs and the undershirts, but the tattoos that hide old and knowing scars, the oversized jackets, the snapbacks that girls tell me look cute when they’re angled to the side, the blazers that I wish understood hips and tits, the muscle shirts, the binders I mail-ordered from that medical supply company in Florida. So much of “coming out” as butch is wrapped up in the buzzing of hair and the transition to menswear, that moment at which one’s identity is capable of physical manifestation, like the end result of an incantation, like magic.

Let the record show that I love and I hate butch fashion. I love playing with identity through clothing and physical appearance. I love that a single outfit can be my commentary on a trend in masculinity and my said queering of such a trend. I love how I look in a shirt whose label says men’s because I spent a long time feeling like an impostor in the women’s section, but I also hate that clothing, especially menswear, is so tied up in the complexity of class, race, capitalism, sizeism, ableism, and the limits of the binary. Working in retail, specifically in a place where employees are meant to be fashion-conscious and dress as such, has made me have to constantly examine and re-examine the things I wear and why, and I’ve come to realize the intense limits in the range of “desirable” butch fashion.

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queering masculinity: prancing english schoolboi

I think butch is an integral space whose subversive power is not honored enough, maybe because masculinity is a tricky weapon to try and handle without firing. I genuinely believe butch fashion is an opportunity to critique trends in masculinity and upset patriarchal modes of power. I like my ability to shift between identities and tropes and genders and names as I switch between outfits. It felt strange in my coming out, then, to be prodded into a corner where I had to present my butchness in a certain way in order to be someone who was succeeding at their masculinity, their butchness, their queerness. To be a good butch, one who would be immediately recognized and respected, I felt an immense pressure to look the way so many other young white butches did, a look that’s referred to as “dapper butch.”

The dapper butch: A creature we all know and love, have fetishized and deemed attractive, have crafted from grandfather’s garage sales and Neiman Marcus alike. I have dabbled in the dapper, I’ll openly admit it. When I started presenting in a less feminine way, I felt a lot of pressure to be the dapper dandy. I think it’s a recognizable stage for most people who identify as butch, because it was an easy way to be correctly identified by others when I was first coming into my own. It’s also a state of being that has been deemed highly desirable, highly respected, and is just about the only thing you’re going to find on the Internet when searching for “butch fashion.” Google those two words and what do you find?

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Here is my unpopular queer opinion: I am over the “dapper butch/dapper queer” look that’s become so celebrated in the ranks of white butches. I am done with trying to emulate a certain type of class-reflective status and “educated rich white man” aesthetic that feels really overdone and not true to where I am as a queer person or a butch, period. I want to state for the record that I 100% understand and respect the mode of dapper/dandy via menswear that is being reinterpreted and reclaimed by butch bodies. I completely understand and respect the tradition of oppressed bodies to reclaim and reinterpret the effects of the oppressor as a method of survival. I get it because I’ve been doing it for a while, and if survival isn’t a necessary part of the way I dress myself every morning, I don’t know what is.

The thing is that I personally don’t feel empowered by bowties and button-downs anymore.

I just feel like I’m polishing up my appearance to be a kind of “proper dapper butch” that people will respect and recognize as part of some reinforced gender hierarchy. I feel like I’m denying my roots as a working class poor person who shouldn’t have to hide that part of themselves, and as a white person, emulating something that is so inherently tied to “whiteness” doesn’t feel subversive, especially now that it’s become a uniform. If butchness and butch desirability has its own power structure, dapper butch is at the top, which makes sense in a twisted and sad way when you think that rich educated white men, the thing that dapper butch is meant to emulate (either ironically or not – in so many cases I think a critical commentary is no longer in play or being utilized) are at the top of the macro version of that power structure.

Like so many other parts of queer masculinity, dapper feels good. It feels good to dress dapper because I know I will be immediately accepted by queers and non-queers alike. I know I will be considered attractive, I will be able to navigate queer spaces with complete ease, and my masculinity will not be questioned. I feel like there’s something to the fact that dapper masculinity is a very “safe” and less threatening form of masculinity that can almost act as a cover for queer masculine privilege. For me; dapper seems neutered and removed from more aggressive forms of masculinity, so it’s non-threatening to heteronormative society.

As a result of this self-examination, I’m in a transitory position in my presentation; my identity is the same, as I remain butch and masculine, but I’m ready for a new way to express and explore said qualities in my attire. Initially, I thought that adding more feminine touches to my wardrobe would be the answer, but it felt like I was only picking from one side of the binary or the other. I’m more interested in expanding the ways that we understand masculinity in our wardrobe. I want to think beyond suits and ties. I continue to shift from one outfit to the other, from one presentation to the next in the hopes that something sticks to my tired-out bones.

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queering masculinity: teen boy with ambiguous genitalia and a tendency to cry at everything

I do want to make this clear: the queer mode of existence has risen from so many complex and multi-faceted things, and by no means is any critique of a fashion trend a critique of the individuals who embody it. I think the agency to dress the way that makes a queer feel good should trump absolutely everything else, because expressing oneself is an essential form of self-care and I wouldn’t dare to take that away from anyone. Fashion is adornment and fashion is survival. I wear binders not just to fit into my favorite clothes or play with gender, but to blend in when I’m walking through certain areas, to feel safe and secure on days when I would otherwise fly into nothingness. I understand that how we present ourselves is a vital part of how we feel, and if bowties and suspenders make you feel like a champion, you keep on keeping on, friend. I just want my fellow butches to be simultaneously aware of why things are empowering, and whether or not our feeling better about ourselves comes at the cost of others’ comforts and rights through the shitty systems said empowerment may support.

None of this means I’m throwing away my bowties. You’ll still catch me in a suit when the occasion calls for it, but don’t expect it to blend in very well. I’m the broken glass on the sidewalk. Butch may be rough edges, but it’ll shine and glitter like nothin’ else when the light hits it.


Special Note: Autostraddle’s “First Person” personal essays do not necessarily reflect the ideals of Autostraddle or its editors, nor do any First Person writers intend to speak on behalf of anyone other than themselves. First Person writers are simply speaking honestly from their own hearts.
Avatar of Kate

Hard-lovin' butch made of tears, sweat, and spit, in that order. Professional lonesome polecat. Kate is living proof that you can take the hillperson out of the mountains, but she's still probably going to run back to the mountains anyway. Kate prefers the trashy to the classy, and the tender to everything else. Full-time writer, part-time lover. Heart got so big and soggy that she had to cut off all her sleeves.

Kate has written 122 articles for us.

86 Comments

  1. Thumb up 24

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    “Here is my unpopular queer opinion: I am over the “dapper butch/dapper queer” look that’s become so celebrated in the ranks of white butches. I am done with trying to emulate a certain type of class-reflective status and “educated rich white man” aesthetic that feels really overdone and not true to where I am as a queer person or a butch, period.”

    Thank god! I thought I was the only one who felt this way.

    • Thumb up 5

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      Ey, me too. Even as my avatar is, ironically, me smirking over a bowtie. I dunno. I like to shapeshift. I find that in order to attract a certain “type” of queer person, I do better when I dress this way. But it no longer feels completely true, and so I’m re-navigating that. I wish it didn’t matter so much.

      • Thumb up 10

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        Dang, how did I delete my second paragraph? What I meant to add was, I’m not sure if this is an expansion of the same post that was on tumblr 2-3 weeks ago, but there was a good point about how the context changes somewhat when it’s a person of color repurposing the “educated rich white man” aesthetic. On the one hand it feels pretty good sometimes. But on the other hand, sometimes I want to flat out reject it, because gross.

        Sigh. My brain is still obviously kind of jumbled about it.

    • Thumb up 4

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      It’s such a hegemonic aesthetic. Don’t get me wrong I think it’s often a good look although it’s not for me. But last night I was out and there were a pack of hipster lesbians all wearing shades of dapper butch. I just felt so invisible, like no way will I ever be recognised for what I am, because I’m not sporting an asymmetrical fringe and a bow tie.

  2. Thumb up 11

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    What happens when you ARE a white, middle class butch? Are you saying that by virtue of my admitted privileges that I didn’t choose, I am somehow making life difficult for other butch women? Because this is how I like to dress, I spent years simply looking at cufflinks and bowties and pocket squares wishing I could wear them because I like them. I’m not making a conscious decision to emulate anyone other than myself. Would it not be worse if I were to try and emulate a group in society that I do not belong to, in order to ‘subvert’ it?

    I realise that sounded a big agressive, I don’t mean it to. I’m just wondering if I have understood what is being said.

    :)

    • Thumb up 18

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      I think what happens is you keep on doing you, with the understanding and acknowledgement that within queer spaces you are occupying a certain ideal – the presentation that feels right to you coincides with the one that’s most venerated in our community. And it’s most venerated in our community because, as much as we like to retreat to co-ops where we grow our own spelt, we function in a society that values wealth, masculinity, and whiteness. So maybe it’s worth unpacking how you made no “conscious decision to emulate anyone other than yourself” – attractions, preferences, tastes, inclinations, etc., do not happen in a vacuum, because unconsciousness doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

      • Thumb up 8

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        Exactly!

        I have a friend who is seen as the ideal of Western female beauty (tall white thin) and when we have our discussions (usually after a stupid Dove “real women” bs) she too would get defensive and say things like “it’s not like I choose to be this way!” Which she is absolutely right about! I just ask her to realize that it is so limiting and soul crushing for women who are NOT like her to want to feel and yes, be seen as beautiful, desirable and attractive. She is more or less the standard but it does not make her “the enemy” granted sometimes it feels in these discussions we are pit that way.

        We are all in this together ya’ know!

    • Thumb up 11

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      I think the point Kate was making is that a lot of people dress the way they do as a means of melding into cultural norms (relative to the queer community of course) and it’s simply important that we recognize where those norms come from and how they came to be accepted as norms.

      This was by no means a call to arms against dapperness. Nobody’s asking us to boycott bowties or eschew suspenders or any other clothing item that helps you express you. But the fact remains that many queer people (myself included) have come to accept this type of butch expression as in fact, a “type”, a uniform, an identifier, instead of the personal, individualistic expression from which societal need the trend was birthed.

      In other words, the question isn’t should we wear bowties or pocket squares? Or are they offensive? The question is simply how and why have SO many people come to adopt this means of expression? In essence, it’s the same question we ask of society when any once rebellious or non-compliant means of expression (fashion or otherwise) falls into the mainstream and is recognized as “safe” by “outsiders”. And it’s necessary that we keep asking that question.

  3. Thumb up 7

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    I just wanted to add, from my own comment on Facebook:

    From my personal point of view, the more popular (being dapper) got, the less individualism there were, every outfits were exact replicas of what you’d see in Ivy catalogs or GQ magazine with patterns and brands being the only differences. Not to say some people don’t look great when they wear their clothes with confidence and good coordination, and I got into it myself. Never could keep up though, and did feel the pressure to like the author mentioned. But the emulation of patriarchal and westernized outfits have always been an issue in the back of my mind.

    My parents have always tried to dress me preppy, but I hated it. We were poor and I was made to look like something I wasn’t, but my they didn’t want me to feel like we were being the typical amazing parents they were.

    Browsing /r/malefashionadvice on Reddit has made me hate indefinitely the preppy look when I (and others) are nowhere near that class; the blazer’s sleeves are too long, this cardigan is too feminine, cut your hair and style it like Gosling, your shorts are too short,… Fuck that, I’ll wear what I want to wear.

  4. Thumb up 7

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    “I hope I was shaken hard and smashed on a sidewalk.” POWER

    Once in Portugal a seemingly tired and aggressive lady serving me in a restaurant started singing fado and I could hear her heart relaxing into a smile. The entire restaurant started singing with her and my life was better forever. When this memory comes up, I think more about the experience and less about how great the sound was—until just now.

    Cheers to that.

  5. Thumb up 14

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    You’re really not deterring any of the million girls who have massive internet crushes on you with this one. Fantastic writing, as always – fantastic voice. I enjoyed this and will repost it on tomboyfemme because I think it could help a lot of people struggling with how to express their gender identity through their clothing.

  6. Thumb up 11

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    Phenomenal as ever. I wish you’d extrapolate more on the line between emulating (and thus honoring/privileging) a white aesthetic and avoiding the appropriation of aesthetics enculturated in defiance of whiteness. From my perspective – rich white fat femme – it’s difficult to negotiate/be recognized in queer space without feeling like I’m either co-opting an aesthetic I have no right to or capitulating to the internalized misogyny/femmephobia in the community by defaulting to oxfords and a button-down. I don’t intend that to be a complaint (lord knows I have it easy almost everywhere else) or to imply that race/ethnicity/class are completely analogous, but I’d be interested in hearing more voices talk about whitewashing and the appropriation of lqqks within queer spaces.

    Riese/Laneia/whichever Power-That-Be that happens to be wandering through comments today – I’ve been thinking about AS as a member of the lineage of canonized feminist publications a lot lately. I feel like I’m watching this generation’s body of important, powerful work build its home here, and it’s because of your editorial guidance. Thank you for what you do. Also, keep Kate, she’s very good at her job.

  7. Thumb up 20

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    THIS IS SO GOOD, LIKE I CAN’T, I MEAN, OMG!

    I like Oxfords, I like button downs and all the the dapper fierceness but oh my fuck I would be lying that part of the reason I dress this way is because as a person of color, I would be taken more seriously and not seen as a threat. It was something I had to struggle to feel comfortable in when I realized I was not so so femme but not butch but dapper, or something like it. I felt a sense of power that I realize for me I was not appropriating but assimilating to keep some resemblance of those rich white male CEOs. To not get frisked, to not have people talk over (is still happens but not as much), to not have old ladies clutch their purses, all the things I have to see as being a “threat” I tried to dress in a way to be seen as the opposite.

    I remember in DC I would hang out and hear people say “I love your outfit!” “You look smashing.” Then I would get those odd back-handed compliments, “Oh you don’t look like those ‘other’ black lesbians that dress like dudes from the hood, *haha*” I would sip my drink trying to figure out what the hell was being told to me but I was younger and stupid and laughed along.

    This takes me back to my viewing of “Paris is Burning” when one of the drag competitions was “executive realness” where the people dressed in menswear that so was so so dapper, like a CEO but the painful realization was that they would never be one given to the racist/classist systems that existed and STILL exist. “If one can capture the great white way, you is a marvel” (to paraphrase).

    I still dapper as fuck and I look good but I too have to be aware of what I’m projecting but it does not make me a bad person. I just have to remember to check my own privileges and assumptions on what I and people wear.

    Sometimes the clothes DO NOT MAKE the queer.

  8. Thumb up 3

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    Hmm…dapperness must be a thing within a select group of queermos. I never thought about this before, but I realize now that they only times I’ve ever seen butches dressing “dapper” is up north (Philly and NYC). I live in NYC now, but I’m a butch from the small-town South, and neither I nor anyone I know from know from home likes or does “dapper.”

    Interesting to think about.

    • Thumb up 5

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      I should note that I don’t mean no one ever dresses up. If I have somewhere fancy to go, I’ll always wear a suit. But it seems to me that dapper is more of a consciously ironic, day-to-day style than just looking good for a certain occasion…until I read this article, I just thought of it as the masculine queer version of a hipster. I hope I’m not being offensive, I’m just trying to parse my thoughts here. Does anyone else know what I mean?

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      Oh yea booboo, I know what you mean! It’s a prep thing but I don’t know maybe Carolinian dandies are rockin the seersucker shorts and pink flamingo bowties and we’ve just mistaken them for disguise? Ok that was an autocorrect of cis-guys. Hmmmmm….

  9. Thumb up 8

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    Dapper is such an interesting fashion to me. Because I was lesbian-raised (meaning where I first learned what lesbian and queer was/found community/started coming to terms with my own identity) in a house full of gen-X lesbians who were still stuck in the 80s and 90s, my tastes/knowledge of the community was seriously dated when I moved out on my own and started meeting people my age.

    The butches I know and respect tend to have been born and raised poor in the city, are very street-smart and have tons of stories about rights rallies and radical activism and are heavily influenced by the AIDS crisis. They’re more inclined to wear worn-in, heavy men’s levis and tee shirts and even tool belts than bowties and suits. They have callused hands and braided or cropped hair and many don’t have college educations or know what it’s like to live without fighting every day to put food on the table. They’re also some of the smartest, toughest, most complex and powerful (meaning, the power and emotion they exude from their eyes and bodies, not powerful by the world’s standards) women I’ve ever met.

    I’ve never seen a dapper butch in real life outside of A-Camp. It’s interesting that it’s such a fad everywhere else (or maybe it’s more of a city thing?) I admit, when I see a dapper butch, especially one who seems to be dressing that way only to follow a trend, one of my first thoughts is “I bet she was able to get a college education and has never been hungry.” (which is *totally* unfair and I push it away pretty fast, but it does happen.) I have started getting used to it, though, and think some dapper butches are super cute.

    I guess at the end of the day, one of the best things is a woman dressing and presenting herself exactly how she wants to be seen/feels on the inside. That confidence is frickin’ amazing and I agree people should just be who they want to be.

  10. Thumb up 25

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    I just want to point out that there is a long history of black dandyism, so trying to look fancy doesn’t necessarily mean trying to look like an old white guy.

    Here’s a short profile (two men and one woman, this is clearly geared towards academics). http://chronicle.com/article/Black-Dandies-Fashion-New/135954/ I do think that it’s obviously upsetting that Dr. Gibson thinks he has to be far more conscious of his clothing as a person of color.

    but really my point is that looking fancy transgresses racial lines, and is based on different reasoning from people with different backgrounds (obviously).

    Monica L. Miller wrote a book on black dandyism that sounds fascinating and I’d love to track down. Short article here:
    http://barnard.edu/headlines/salon-just-dandy-associate-professor-monica-l-miller

    • Thumb up 5

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      Agree! I feel like I can understand what the author is saying about their own style preferences (not wanting to wear bowties/feeling pressure to look polished which doesn’t represent their roots) but also would have appreciated a better exploration of the roots of dapper/dandyism, which I’ve always perceived to have more to do with (re)claiming power in previously denied spaces (social, economic, educational) via previously denied styles and less to do with being polished to fit into “reinforced gender hierarchy.” I think it’s been popularized and perhaps transformed by trend (ahem, american apparel), and it seems like maybe the dominance of dapper in (certain) queer spaces is more like what Kate is responding to than the style & roots of dapper itself.

      Artist//Rebel//Dandy: Men of Fashion
      http://risdmuseum.org/exhibition.aspx?type=current&id=8589934728
      >>> this might be relevant to ur interests

  11. Thumb up 2

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    I too experience the pressure of self presentation inherent to the retail world. Some days I can hardly get out of the house due to, what I call, a wardrobe malfunction, which is partly caused by my incessant desire to please others, a lot effected by the fluidity of my gender expression, and our society’s comfort in the familiar, by this I mean the way we trust something we understand which has serious effect in a retail/sales environment. Recently, I decided to put forth a daily effort to be true to myself and my own expression, not just what I believe will make people around me comfortable… its a daily effort and growth towards finding my confidence with in myself. For me gender identity and the clothes I wear… well, everyday is a new day.

    As always, thanks for sharing. You have a magnificent way of speaking out with out speaking down. Kudos!

  12. Thumb up 1

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    I like the look of a bowtie on other people, but I personally think of PeeWee Herman and Bill Nye when I think bowties, so for that reason I don’t think they are for me. I love button downs, but I only like the look when I’m binding, and dammit my binder just will not stop rolling up.

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    your words make me ache with pain and beauty

    Also, I debated adding this next bit. Because I don’t want to objectify you or reduce your amazing brilliant articulate article to a pretty picture and because you’re already not 100% with putting your pictures up on the internet.

    But I also think that everyones insecure about their looks sometimes. And I’ve never shied away from giving compliments so I just wanted to say that the first picture of you is super hot and looks like it should be in a magazine.
    That door/wall also looks interesting, what is it to/where is it?

  14. Thumb up 8

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    I can understand the dapperness being a white thing (although I have known PLENTY of dapper elderly black men that just made me swoon), but I think it’s also a body type thing. My ex has the body type of a prepubescent boy and everything dapper is easy for her. I’m still struggling with my gender presentation, and I have hips, and boobs, and an ass, body parts I inherited from abuelita after abuelita, enisi after elisi, the kind that people call “childbearing.” Fitting this body into menswear is fucking difficult. Making it look good is difficult.
    And while I like button-ups and oxfords as much as the next person, I’m not comfortable in the dapper look because of my body. I’ve settled into a tomboyish, jeans-and-flannel-and-boots, Southwestern ranch sort of deal. Not super gay (actually, most of my shirts and boots come from my straight, tomboy mother), but not pearls-and-heels, either.
    I think being a lesbian, you’re expected to fit into a category. Lipstick lesbian or dapper. And I’ve realized that I’m not in either of those categories, and I’m trying to be fine with it. It’s been fun.
    But yeah, loved this, and really, everything you write. You’re pretty fabulous.

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        This is kind of stupid but can I just say that I got teary-eyed when i looked her up because, holy fuck, there’s someone who’s shaped like me but still taken seriously as a MoC human being.

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      Yeah I really agree with this. All the dappers I seem to see are slender and I can’t recall the last time I’ve seen one with a big curvy bust or hips. Yeah, I could put on a tweed jacket and a bowtie, but I’ll never be able to perform the look ‘correctly’.

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        I have hips! I have hips so hippy that men’s AND women’s pants are terrible to go shopping for–if it fits my hips/butt, it’s too big in the waist and thighs…and I have serious problems buying shirts because of said hips. I’m seriously pondering figuring out how to add gussets to the hips of men’s dress shirts so they are easier to wear. As is, I can never button the bottom button and have to just tuck shirts into my pants far enough that you can’t tell. Sweaters/sweater vests are good to cover this business up.

        I’ve been told for years that I have an ass gay men would envy, so that should give you an idea there…

        Anyway, I know several dapper butches that have large chests, too, although some of them bind.

        Point is, if you want to do it, you can, but it’ll probably involve some alterations in clothing if you want to be comfortable. If you don’t want to wear masculine/men’s dress clothes either because you just don’t want to or you think you can’t do it “correctly,” clearly no one can make you. You do you. Although I’m very weirded out by the idea of “correctly,” I feel like that implies people who are small enough to buy their clothes from the boy’s department and who fit well into most clothing designed for male bodies, and I am obviously not that person.

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        Dapper queer here, large bust, wide hips. I get my pants from the women’s section of stores because if I buy men’s pants that fit over my hips, they’re too large at the waist and I like my clothes somewhat fitted. I get my shirts from the men’s department and they usually work okay; sometimes I also wear button-down shirts designed for women’s bodies. I wear vests and ties (not bowties, I’m trying to stay away from too hipster) which help when the shirts are too large.

        DapperQ.com has some good articles on dressing dapper with a curvier body. They also really recommend getting a tailor, but I haven’t gotten around to doing that with my clothes yet. (Poor grad student.)

        Mind you. I came to dapper style via steampunk – I liked steampunk style, didn’t like the gears and goggles so much, and realized what I really wanted was a neo-Victorian style. I stumbled upon dapper queer style and it was pretty close to what I was trying for. I also combine masculine and feminine elements because I’m not a boy and I’m not a girl and trying to be too male-presenting in order to be “genderqueer enough” for people to validate me just made me miserable, heh. As such, some of my above suggestions might not work so well for people who trend more distinctly masculine.

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    I’ve never been into the dapper thing myself. In my opinion it looks a bit stodgy. That said, there are elements of the dapper style that I do like, namely the button up shirts.

    I could live happily without seeing another bow tie.

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    I love this – this Butch Please and Butch Please in general. Kade/Kate, I recall you fear your “type” of person is overrepresented. But, god damn, I love your utterly specific and heart-laden voice. That you are but one single mind and life and person makes what you have to say not one gram less worthwhile. I want to hear all the voices. But I’m listening for yours.

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    Catholic mother and a sticky red heart. <– had mouth full of liquid and forgot to swallow, we just sat there, the liquid in my mouth and me. you could've stopped right there and i probably would've dreamwalked to the sink to floss and went right to bed with the oven on; i'm making fries.

    i like how you save $$ on jim beam and it sounds like we wear our pants (out) the same way and would v. much like to hear what feminine touches you were adding and how natural or unnatural it felt to add them.

    feel most comfortable in clothing that's more utilitarian than ornamental, personally. over the years i feel less and less comfortable in feminine attire, even though the people i'm most attracted to seem to dig it the most [fahhhhhh]. one night i put on a black satin bustier and it got a relationship started i couldn't finish. would really like more details about that stellar-cut jacket you're wearing with the eyeball hat?

    also i actually chipped both my front teeth, one on a beer bottle. how the hell does one break a tooth on a kiss?! her enamel must be even shittier than mine!

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    First: This. Was. Brilliant.

    Now, back to me: As a newly-unleashed queer woman of color, still figuring out her personal and artistic identity, on top of her sexual identity, this essay gave me many things: relief, hope, catharsis, laughter, much-needed insight…

    I’ve always thought style and presentation were spontaneous manifestations; talents, for which others had a knack that I lacked. I mean, I love clothes and I am a fashionable human; I understand colors and silhouettes and trends, etc. But I guess I thought analyzing what I wore, cultivating my style, selecting clothes with the intention of presenting a specific face to the world… would be disingenuous. And yet, my clothes have never adequately expressed who I am.

    I decided that when I came out I wouldn’t run off buying every flannel shirt and bowtie I came across, nor would I hire a barber, nor would I get a tattoo, just because I’m gay. But, this essay has helped me to understand that clothes have the power to say a lot about who I am and I should wield that power, consciously and proudly.

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    I love this article and, kade, your voice is on point as always. I also love the conversation you started on our individual relationships with this style aesthetic that is so lauded in much this community.

    I’ve been crazy busy lately, no time to read AS or anything else. This was a great thing to see at the top of the page today. I missed this place.

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    Really appreciating this discussion about butch/whiteness, I need to do so much more thinking on that.

    Also:

    “It felt strange in my coming out, then, to be prodded into a corner where I had to present my butchness in a certain way in order to be someone who was succeeding at their masculinity, their butchness, their queerness.”

    This really resonated with me. As someone who strongly identifies as butch I’m always surprised how many people assume I’m femme because my butchness isn’t “the right kind.”

    Obviously femmes rule, but I’m not femme. I have long hair cuz I dress like a fuckin hesher. I wear a snapback, sneakers, loose band shirts and a denim vest every day, but so many queers see the long hair and the hips (can’t get rid of those, yo) and it’s like some switch in their brain says “femme” and their opinion is set. The queers I’ve known who’ve met me and been like, “Oh, you’re one of those mystical long hair butches, huh?” are like diamonds to me.

    I don’t want to make this sound like it is the World’s Most Important Problem, but it’s strange to have your identity be so fervently not believed because of these set conventions around the kinds of masculinities butches are allowed to embody.

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    to me (and i recognize this is not necessarily a general view), dapper is very much associated both with a queer esthetic, and an academic/intellectual one (not necessarily always at the same time/on the same person, but they’re def connected in my mind), and coincidentally those are both very significant parts of my identity, so it’s a great fit for me. (which is not to say all of the time ever, but especially in work related settings, or when i just feel like dressing up)
    so yeah maybe i am appropriating menswear but i don’t personally feel like i’m emulating, as kate suggests, i feel more like i am claiming that identity, or rather, it IS my identity

    (i like this post and the discussion going on here!)

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    Thanks for this article, I found it very interesting. As a white, cis female, I have stacks of privilege and attempt to check it/educate myself as much as possible, so this has given me lots to think about.

    I wanted to offer a (hopefully) useful contribution to this too.

    I like to wear suits and ties. Doesn’t happen often though, as it is not practical day-to-day, due to the nature of my job. I am a performer that is lucky enough to sometimes have an excuse to wear a suit and tie on stage.

    I am also very partial to a female in a smart suit and tie.

    I was born and raised in the UK (in case that offers insight to any potential cultural/class structure differences).

    I started wearing shirts and ties at 6 years old, as part of a mandatory (state) school uniform. My family was certainly not well off. In fact my school uniform, replaced once ever couple of years, was the only set of shop bought clothes that me and my siblings ever got to own (aside from socks etc). The rest were kind donations from family friends or made by my mum. So up until 16 yrs old, when I started earning wages, my school uniform was always the fanciest and newest set of clothes I had.

    Rather than a shirt and tie being something that made me somebody higher class that everyone else, it made everyone else the same as me. Even the richest children in my school wore the same clothes as everyone else.

    I think that’s the main reason I am so partial to it now. It is something that is familiar and comfortable to me. I wore it most days for 10+ years growing up.

    Also, let’s be honest, the best thing about a uniform is you don’t really have to think about what to wear.

    I consider myself slightly MOC. Not femme. In the middle of the spectrum mostly. I am not upper, or even middle class. My family is working class through and through. I am not college educated. I do not have a slender, stereotypical tomboy body type. I do have long hair though.

    I like some outfits that would be considered posh. Although I despise any kind of elitism. Also, I don’t like to assume that an outfit is any reflection on the status of the person wearing it.

    I am still looking for even a tenuous excuse to wear a tailcoat – although that desire originates 100% from wanting to dance like Fred Astaire, than wishing to look like an old school Eton boy.

    I will never be upper class, or rich and am never likely to be college educated, but then, I couldn’t really give a flying fuck about that.

    So basically, what it mainly comes down to for me is an inherent lack of motivation to plan outfits.

    Damn.

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    this is EVERYTHING! as a blogger/writer/film-maker who writes about dapper style a lot and as an activist who does a lot of organizing/training, i’ve struggled with my fashion/identity a lot. lately, i’ve felt extremely uncomfortable dressing dapper/dandy, and your article speaks to everything i’ve been feeling, even when i haven’t been able to put words to it.

    thank you, thank you, thank you.

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    I have never associated the clothing I wear with my sexuality, so that was interesting to actually sit and think about! I don’t claim to be butch, or femme. I am just… me. I pick my clothing out because I 1. loved it in the store.
    and 2. liked how it looked when it was on my actual body.

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    This is great. In the past I’ve thought a bit about why I like to dress the way I do. Mainly I figured out that my moves around the country have influenced me a great deal as well as my family being blended and coming from different walks of life. This piece gives me even more to think about.

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    I’m masculine and I *hate* bowties. I also work in a professional job and wear oxford button downs and wingtips; and, when meeting clients, suits. That’s not about a performance of rich white man (I’m not rich or white), that’s a performance of “office culture” where the choices are that, or more feminine business wear. I’ve also been dressing masculine since I was three years old and had no idea what queer theory is. There’s a lot of presuming to know why people make the choices they do in this article that I think is endemic to self-referential queer writing. Which brings me to…

    This article rubs me the wrong way for a couple of reasons:

    1) It’s interesting to watch white people quibble with other white people about their aesthetic choices in a column like this (if it matters to you, I’m not white), because, despite your disclaimer, it erases a whole multitude of people. Let me explain – this article makes it seem like what white people are doing in (very often toxic) little queer scenes in North America is the BE ALL AND END ALL of queer culture. Like their choices are SO IMPORTANT, and everything every one else is doing (including, to name a few – older people, Black dandies, immigrants, people outside of the queer scene by choice or circumstance or exclusion) is marginal to where the conversation needs to take place.

    2) Very often in your articles, you talk about wanting to be a teen heartthrob. What’s that aesthetic all about if not about a 90s white middle class fantasy, which was packaged to and meant to appeal to a specific kind of middle class white girl? I don’t say this to shame you or make it seem like there’s something *wrong* with that, I don’t think there is. But, if you’re willing to call out others in the way you did in this column, a healthy dose of being humble may be in order.

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      THIS.

      2) especially I’ve wondered about. Can it be understood as less offensive to want to look like Justin Bieber (or whoever the white teen heartthrob of the day is) than a dapper/dandy? I don’t really understand this and consistently haven’t understood this. Maybe also I’ve realized I’m too old to dress like a teenage boy (I’m 25) and that’s why I don’t understand the appeal of teen boy style vs…I don’t know, a style that is somewhat more adult/mature? Something that you can present in the work force and look like you made an effort.

      I understand people may jump all over me for this, but yes, I think it’s important to make an effort in many work fields. I can’t show up to a conference or give a presentation looking like Biebs and expect anyone to take me seriously, and whether or not that’s okay or it’s classist (it’s definitely classist) it is still the way things are.

      Maybe this is meant to appeal to people younger than me. I’ll keep my buttonups and sweater vests though.

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        Thanks for the response! Actually I was partially inspired to add my voice after seeing the recommendation for Monica Miller’s book you posted above (I had just picked it up a couple of weeks ago, but haven’t had a chance to read it yet). I so feel you on the buttonups and cardigans. It’s my go to for day to day wear.

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      wingtips <3 Sorry, I'm just gonna keep responding to this. I forgot to address how very true it is that in an office environment often choices for a woman do boil down to something that might look like "dapper" or "dandy" or traditional women's wear. Academia is the same way. I really did struggle with what to wear for more formal events for quite some time, so I feel you.

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    i loved this essay. thank you for coming back and writing things about yourself and your life. it definitely was important that you prefaced it with that paragraph about your experience, and i appreciate that – especially when people identify with what you say across identities/backgrounds. your words are valuable, and they are also beautiful.

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    Kate, I am so enamored with your writing. I love it I love it I love it. Your intro made me want this to be a novel and I love how you balance the personal with the public, also acknowledging those of us that may not relate to or share your experience. WAY COOL.

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    Huh. You know, I have an MFA in writing and taught writing to college students for seven years or so (before I quit . . .before the small college prof bitterness set in). You write some nice stuff. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that writing is gonna make you rich and famous — lol, I am most fortunate that the love of my life pays the bills and loves math and programming and things this world pays for because writing is a BAD way to pay the bills. But I will tell you that I hope you write stories because I would like to read stories written by you, I think. And even if you don’t write stories: I read the lines about the beer bottle three or four times. Then I read them out loud to someone else, and she said “Wow.” And that whole image was a lovely gift. So thank you.

    And I selfishly hope you keep writing, even though
    It might be nicer for you if you became a retail manager or something.

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    I agree with everybody here about the beauty of your writing style.. it’s fab. The beer bottle metaphor was so fucking beautiful that I re-read the whole piece about ten times. You seriously should do more writing, as you got that thing on lock.

    Oh, and you inspired me to get a new cap. Thanks! :)

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    Have you even read Stone Butch Blues? Do you even know what “butch” means or where it comes from and its history? Butch, please get over yourself. Bois can be dapper too.

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    I can so agree with this. I’ve always felt like I have to look a certain way to gain respect and be deemed “attractive” by the queer and non-queer world. Honestly, I love my jeans, shorts and tee shirts! I love feeling comfortable and whenever I try and be “dapper” it feels weird…though sometimes I do like it in certain spaces. I tend to identify more with the “Old School” Butches and Bois than with this new Dapper stuff. But to each their own, wear what you want, wear it with pride and confidence and you won’t need a bowtie.

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    Assumptions based solely on clothes can be misleading.

    For example, I’m femme as fuck. You can put me in anything masculine and I look ridiculous, I feel ridiculous and frankly my boobs are angry that no one is paying them any attention. I feel the most comfortable in six inch heels and a sparkly barely-there-top. This generally does not label me as lesbian, and most people question my queerness. It’s a shame that when I feel the most like myself I’m not adequately “queer” and therefore omitting a big part of who I am. It almost makes me feel guilty sometimes walking next to my very-dapper gf who is so obvious about her gayness. She, on the other hand, often gets random comments about being a sexuality in totally non-related conversations. I think people read into clothing way too much, often times the wrong way.

    I guess the point is that fashion tells the world who you are, wether you want it to or not. But, more importantly, fashion is flexible and forgiving, and every day can be something different. I know it’s challenging to find an outfit that says, or doesn’t say, everything you want it to about you…but just do you, and wear whatever feels right that day.

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    My family been broke since I can remember. And I have had that shoved in my face for the same amount of time. Wearing a suit helps me feel like I’ve broken the chains of socioeconomic status, even for a few hours. As a musician formal wear is now required for concerts. I’m not sure if you meant bowtie formal, but I try to have the long Windsor knot tie corporate look. In my field it works because it’s professional.

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