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Sexuality, statements, and suits (again)

August 29, 2010

I wrote last week about how the suit has, since its inception, mostly escaped from its gendered origins to instead become a marker of class. This is not to say, of course, that the suit is a unisex garment these days – or rather, that any particular suit is a unisex garment. Suits intended for men and suits intended for women tend to be easily distinguishable, and the differences read like a potted summary of gendered clothing-related expectations. Women’s suit jackets tend not to have pockets, for example – especially not the capacious inside pockets that men’s formal suits often have. There’s also the present weird trend for women’s jackets only to have one button, and to be cut to fit very snugly around the waist when that button is done up. Blouses often don’t button all the way to the top, or have substantial collars. And so on. Even so,  I really do like suits. Especially jackets. I love the way suit jackets give a bit of emphasis to my shoulders and make me look smart and academic – pretty much what they were designed for, I guess.

But I also find that sometimes, perversely, the various bits of gendered baggage surrounding suit design are helpful, because they provide a way of manipulating expectations. I’ve mentioned before how non-conventional gender presentations are almost always associated with, as it were, non-conventional sexualities – there is no word in English for a masculine woman, for example, that doesn’t include the assumption, or accusation, of lesbianism. The same thing goes for effeminate or camp men. (Edit: Rhiannon points out that there’s ‘metrosexual’ for the latter category. I think the point stands, though.)

And so the gender-markings of certain clothes on certain people are also – quite often – read as sexuality-markings, which provides the opportunity to widen people’s horizons a bit. To wit: next week I am going to a wedding, and I will be going in a nice grey suit, with a nicely contrasting waistcoat, and a Romantic-style ruffled shirt. I am also going with J, as it’s his mum who’s getting hitched.

I suspect a lot of people’s first interpretation of ‘short-haired woman in masculine formalwear’ is ‘butch lesbian’, and I guess a lot of the time they’d be right, as the pressure for women to wear dresses at these things can be pretty heavy. (Thankfully, J’s mum doesn’t mind/care.) Given that, I am secretly hoping that the combination of female+masculine dress+With Guy will make somebody’s head explode a little bit. (I am also kind of terrified? At least when I graduated I was surrounded by people I knew and liked. I know all of six people at this wedding.)

This feels like a big step. Working out where I stand in relation to gendered dress, and what I want to embrace dress-wise and what I want to reject, has already been kind of a long process and is guaranteed to be longer, but yeah . . . this feels like a big thing. Going out in shorts without shaving my legs (this summer) felt like a thing. Ditto going swimming with unshaven legs and a certain amount of abdominal wobble. Graduating, in a suit and tie and high heels (again, I do wonder how people parsed that) was another hurdle. Going to a big formal do where most people don’t know me, for whom me-in-suit (and heels again, probably – I like being extra-tall for a few hours now and then) will be their first and lasting impression . . . feels important.

We’ll see, I guess.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Seamus permalink
    August 29, 2010 8:48 pm

    Strictly speaking, the capacious pockets of men’s formal suits are given to us on trust that we won’t use them: they are actually sewn shut by most manufacturers, which narks me beyond expressing, and my first action upon buying a new suit is to tear open the pockets. Somebody once wrote that the definition of a lecturer is “a man who buys a well-cut suit and then ruins it by stuffing books in the pockets”. Make of the gender politics what you will; as a statement of sartorial orthodoxy the aforementioned is widely accepted.

    Are there no words for gender transgressors that do not carry the assumption of homosexuality? Perhaps not for adults, but among the too-young-to-vote crowd a tomboy and a mother’s boy wouldn’t raise any eyebrows by holding hands in the playground, and yet crossing genders is implied in those terms.

    By the way, it’s only related in a general sense, but R. Crumb — a man who once said, “I could never be attracted to a woman who can’t give me a piggyback” — invariably drew muscular, broad-shouldered women that provide an arresting contrast to the comic-book world’s usual slender-waisted possessors of the Most Common Superpower; see, for example, these images:

  2. August 29, 2010 10:17 pm

    That’s a good point about the terms we apply to children, actually. I bet it’s somehow related to the perception that children’s sexes/genders don’t count somehow – that kids who dress up, or have crushes on their same-sex friends, are just experimenting and will snap out of it. (And to be sure, a lot of kids experiment with stuff that doesn’t stick; but a lot of other kids are perfectly aware that they’re gay/trans/whatever quite early on.) Perhaps a certain amount of (‘harmless’) gender messing-around is something people are willing to tolerate/even expect from children, but not from adults?

    R. Crumb has his issues, but I do appreciate his drawing women whose physiques lie outside the Hollywood-approved ‘norm’.

  3. August 30, 2010 12:12 am


  4. August 30, 2010 6:31 pm

    Ah, okay: you’re referring to certain things he’s said on the subject of men and women? Fair enough, though his explorations of his feelings (v. My Troubles with Women, 1990) could never be called uninteresting at least. I’m inclined to trust Aline, his wife, on this one: if she doesn’t think it’s a problem, I don’t think it’s a problem — not that I apply moral judgment in the matter of artistic taste anyway; I am an avid fan of the works of nazis, tyrants, nazi traitors and killers.

  5. August 30, 2010 8:18 pm

    Didn’t have any of that in mind at all, actually – I’ve just always found his style a bit creepy. Maybe “I have issues with him” would’ve been more accurate.

    And I’m hardly about to take you to task for appreciating the works of creeps – I spent quite a bit of my dissertation in effusive praise of the work of a man who was a rapist, extortionist, cattle-rustler and serial traitor.

  6. Seamus permalink
    August 31, 2010 12:25 am

    God bless the a href tag, eh? I love doing that thing with the links. See you tomorrow!

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