Shopping for Dresses While Butch and Trans

Donna liked the purple dress in the middle.

Donna liked the purple dress in the middle.

I went out and bought four dresses. Not for me. For Donna. She decided that, while her leg is in a cast, it would be easier to get dressed and undressed if she wore a dress. It would keep her from getting her knickers in a twist.

I suggested that she could go on-line and order a couple of inexpensive cotton dresses. Instead, Donna sent me to Gudrun Sjoden.

Gudrun Sjoden is not a store I would normally shop in. It is full of bright-colored, loose, flowing, and artsy Scandinavian women’s clothing. The clothes come in bold stripes and flowered patterns. They are meant to be worn in layers. It is a look that one either likes or loathes. Other than some striped socks, there is nothing in the store that I would consider wearing. While I wouldn’t wear the clothes, I am attracted to the kind of woman who does. It is Donna’s favorite store.

I arrived in blue jeans, a black turtleneck, a black Patagonia fleece pullover, and hiking boots. I brought along a flowered red tunic, from last winter’s collection. Donna wanted something just like it, but longer. All the other shoppers, and the sales staff, were wearing Gudrun Sjoden outfits. I felt uneasy; I knew I didn’t belong there.

I approached a salesperson, and asked for help. I told her that my partner broke her ankle, is wearing a cast, and wants to get a couple of dresses. The dresses should be loose, stretchy, and long, but not too long. Preferably in red, maroon, or purple; preferably striped or flowered. I showed her the tunic. She nodded and we looked at every dress in the shop. She picked out an armload of dresses that might work.

Then I remembered the last time someone handed me an armload of dresses. I was thirteen. I had already stopped wearing girl’s clothing. My father died, suddenly, unexpectedly. I was too heavy to fit in my old dresses or my mother’s. I didn’t have anything to wear to his funeral.

Klein's-Union-Square

In the midst of mourning, my mother dragged me to S. Klein’s on Union Square. Klein’s was a slightly seedy discount fashion store. I hated it because it had communal dressing rooms. They were full of women bulging out of their undergarments. I agreed to let my mother pick out the dresses. I agreed that I would take the first one that fit and didn’t need shortening. For once, I did not make an argument. She came back with an armload. I tried each one on.

I was embarrassed to get undressed in front of those women. I was afraid to look at their bodies. I didn’t want them looking at mine. I didn’t care how fat or how ugly I looked in each dress, I just wanted to get it over with. I can picture the dress we selected, a royal blue and white horizontal stripe short-sleeved knit, but I have no memory of wearing it.

I selected four dresses for Donna from the pile and took them home. Donna decided to keep two. I returned the others. The same salesperson helped me with the return. I still felt like an interloper.

On my way home, I stopped in at the Patagonia store. It is up the block from Gudrun Sjoden. I’d been thinking about buying a new jacket to layer under my Gore-Tex shell. I tried on a few of the men’s jackets, but the smalls were too long and too tight around my hips. The mediums were too big everywhere else. Discouraged, I reluctantly tried on the women’s jackets. They “fit” but I had a dysphoric reaction to the jacket’s contours (feminine) and how I looked in them. I felt myself start to panic. The salesperson suggested that I try on the boys’ XXL (size 18). I had tried the boys’ down sweater on last year, before top surgery, and thought it was too small. This time, it fit just right. And it came in black. And it was cheaper than the adult version. I bought it as the antidote to shopping at Gudrun Sjoden, and went back to being me.

Notes: To get a more critical viewpoint on the design aesthetic of Gudrun Sjoden, you can read the article “Glinda Would Be at Ease” from the New York Times. Donna fits into category “a” – the empathic therapist.

17 thoughts on “Shopping for Dresses While Butch and Trans

  1. Lesboi

    I feel for you bud but at least you got a cool new jacket out of it and Donna liked a couple of them enough to keep. It reminds me of the fact that I shop for purses for Candace and often pick out the ones that everyone compliments her on the most. She even makes a point of telling people that I pick them out. When she first started dragging me into high end purse stores I felt completely out of place but now I mostly get treated like I’m buying a bag for my wife and the sales people treat me great. Sometimes there’s an upside to going into the girly stores and buying for your partner. I’m sure Donna appreciated it.

    Liked by 6 people

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Donna, although she is a wonderful person in most respects, is very picky about clothing, jewelry, and shoes. Early in our relationship I tried to buy her presents, but she either returned them, or didn’t wear them. So now I keep a list of things she has noticed or mentioned and hasn’t bought for herself, and try to give them as presents. I can’t imagine buying her a bag/purse without being told the exact make, model. and color to get it in. And you are right, she did appreciate the two trips I made to Gundrun Sjoden for her.

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
  2. PK

    What is this glorious new store that you just introduced me to. I love the styles at Gudron Sjoden. The prices on the other hand are something I would want to stay clear of but I really love this. I wonder if there are other stores that carry such styles but for less. Glad you found something for you as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      It is pricey, but the clothing is good quality, they do have sales, and Donna keeps things for years. There are hardly any stores in NYC that sell women’s clothes in bright colors and loose cuts. I also like that the sales staff and models are of diverse ages and body types.

      Like

      Reply
  3. Hart

    I wore a woman’s sweater for the first time in three years the other day. I bought it because I liked the color and thought it looked rather androgynous on the hanger. It sucked the joy right out of me with it’s scoop neck and dropped shoulder styling. It did give me some insights into the clothing I used to design for myself pre-transition. Not only had I been living vicariously through my mate by buying him all the clothing and accessories I felt I couldn’t wear, but the clothing I had made for myself was always tailored like mens clothing because I felt like that looked correct on me.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I’m envious that you can make some of your own clothing! It is really hard for me to find mens clothes that fit, or women’s wear where I can’t tell that it isn’t men’s.

      Like

      Reply
      1. Hart

        Having the ability to tailor and make from scratch definitely makes things easier but I know your pain. Best I’ve found is that slim fit mens anything works best on my body, even still it’s hit or miss.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. curiousmother

    Damn. I really like those clothes. As soon as I saw the pictures at the top of your post I was pulled in. But I read the article too and now I feel all squeamish about being earth mother-y (mind you, I’m still smarting from being called a ‘mommy blogger’ the other day. Butch, momma, hippy crunchy person – how our categories (and uniforms) define and constrain us!

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I agree. I admit that if Gudrun Sjoden had a men’s line, and some of those striped T’s were in it, Or if they had male models wearing them, I would undoubtedly feel comfortable buying them. It would give them some kind of queer seal of approval. But, since everything is marketed to women, I feel queasy buying them because “I don’t wear women’s clothing.” Ugh.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
      1. curiousmother

        I think I partly like them because they look comfy, they have gorgeous colours, and they look as if they’ve actually been made with enough material. One of the first ways in which my young trans son ‘transitioned’ was to start buying clothes from the boys’ section. I didn’t even think of this as a transition thing as it just made so much sense. I couldn’t believe how much cheaper and roomier the boys’ clothes were (with pockets!). GAH! who made up this stupid system??? (I know capitalism, sexism etc etc – but in the meantime I too wish Gudrun Sjoden stocked genderneutral clothes!).

        Liked by 1 person

  5. asynca

    I’m really short. For once in my life, I’d like to buy a men’s M that doesn’t come down to my knees (I’m too big for boys’ clothes). Until then, I’m wearing women’s clothes and avoiding reflective surfaces. Why do all women’s t-shirts have such scoopy necks???? Why??????????

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      It is a lot of work to find women’s clothes that don’t look like women’s clothes and also don’t look too “suburban” – which is a whole other style death (and petites tend to skew cute – which sucks if you are short – and large size petites are a contradiction in terms). If I had ever learned how to use a sewing machine, I would have been a happier person (because I could have shortened those T shirts and put a wedge of fabric in the bottom of button downs that fit at the chest but not at the hips).

      Like

      Reply
  6. Pingback: When a Butch Goes Dress Shopping - Butch +Tomboy Fashion| HAUTEBUTCH

  7. Geena Amandus

    Hi, I read this and like the perspective on clothes, though I am coming at it from a different angle. I find I need women’s clothes in a larger size and most chain store type outlets seem cookie cutter in their sizes. I will not name names to protect the guilty, but whoever does supply in many of these places must see all people as falling within some prefab margin: Apparently there are few women, for instance, who wear a shoe size larger than 9. No human evolution in retail world. Thanks.

    Like

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s