My e-mail conversation with reader Lianne – the one that sparked this post on dressing with a touch of butch – unearthed a very personal issue for me. Personal, surprising, and definitely relevant, so I wanted to share my quirky little epiphany with you folks.
I hit puberty in the late 80s, and went through high school in the early 90s. Girls my age didn’t really do skirts and dresses back then, at least not in my area. It was all about jeans. Over-sized jeans. Baggy tops, too. And that suited me just fine because pretty much the moment I became aware of my body, I became self-conscious about it. I wasn’t slim or traditionally pretty, I couldn’t afford the schmancy baggy jeans that the popular girls wore, and even if I could have I wasn’t popular anyway so I’m sure I would’ve just taken flak for being a poseur. Boys mostly avoided me … or adored me from afar, then expressed their feelings in obnoxious and infantile ways that just irked me. And I was a smart, driven over-achiever, which made me the target of teasing from all sides. I did everything I could to be invisible, and over-sized clothes were instrumental in my quest to go unnoticed.
Looking back, nearly all of my clothes from age 11 to age 23 were androgynous, even the more form-fitting ones. OK, a tie-dyed dress or two might’ve snuck in on occasion, but mostly I dressed for gender neutrality. It helped me feel like less of a body, less of a physical entity, to wear clothes that could go either way. Androgyny was a component of my personal shield, a tactic that helped me feel separate from and superior to my disappointing, foreign, inferior physical form.
A few years ago, several commenters asked if I could either link to more resources for androgynous dressing, or wear and post more androgynous outfits myself. I remember feeling affronted. Defensive, even. And I had no idea why at the time, so I kept my feelings to myself, knowing full well that I was overreacting for some reason. Corresponding with Lianne finally shed some light on that reason:
My logic-free emotional core was afraid that if I dipped back into androgynous dressing, I would undo the years of hard work that had brought me to a more peaceful, accepting place with my body. That I’ll fall down a rabbit hole, never wear a skirt again, and start loathing myself just as vigorously as I did when I was 15. Learning to dress my figure in a way that showed it off set me down the path toward seeing myself as a whole being – heart, mind, soul, AND body. And the style that made all of that possible expressed my personal version of “female”quite strongly, although that wasn’t the declared goal. My style revolved around skirts and cinched waists and heels. I felt good in skirts and cinched waists and heels. And although it is downright weird to believe that donning a fedora, vest, and trousers would make me suddenly hate myself all over again, that, friends, is what I was so afraid of. Androgynous dressing scared the shit out of me because, for years, it had served to simultaneously protect me and hold me back.
Since then, my style has shifted. Now I wear more pants than skirts, more jeans than dresses, and – of course – I haven’t spiraled downward into fear of or hatred for my own body. I’ve also learned that androgynous dressing is incredibly important to many individuals grappling with issues of gender identity, and that it is a more meaningful practice than I realized. I do my best to link to androgynous and butch blogs and looks as often as I can, and work to incorporate a range into my own outfits. And I know that sometimes going back can be part of moving forward.
Image via hgogo.