I wore men’s clothes for a month – and it changed my life

Motivated by Octieber and determined to combat the world of gendered clothing, Lucy Rycroft-Smith tries menswear for a month and documents her findings

, 7 January 2017

It’s 9am and I’m having breakfast at the House of Commons. I’m wearing a three-piece pinstriped suit, matching tie and pocket square, and the confidence of a mediocre white man. To my left, a man is pouring me coffee; to my right, another is listening respectfully. How did I get here?

Last year, I saw a few posts about an ‘Octieber’ challenge (wearing ties for a month) and immediately thought it would make an interesting experiment. I’m working in a big city right now and spend an average of four to five hours per day commuting. I’m quite public-facing, I speak at conferences and I generally travel on public transport. What might happen if I wore a tie every day?

Somehow, my first ideas involve making the tie ensemble more feminine. I had visions of swing dresses and loose, sexy, floppy ties, with the tie simply another accessory to my powerful femininity, like a bold new lipstick. But, shopping with my daughter, I have my Primarkian Damascus moment: Why is clothing gendered at all?

Why on earth have I spent the last 32 years plodding obediently into the ‘Womens’ Clothing’ section?

I look at my precious daughter. All her life, I have enjoyed cultivating in her a tiny subversive streak called feminism. It’s partly protection – otherwise she’ll be another ignorant victim of sexism – and partly straight-up rejection of society’s imposed values. I was delighted to overhear my other daughter (aged 11) explaining feminism succinctly to her friend: “It’s basically the idea that no-one can tell you what to do just because you’re a girl. Or a boy.” I’m sure my children are a veritable nightmare at school (they tend to yell ‘sexism’ alarmingly wherever they find it), but it’s been a privilege and a pleasure to teach them about feminism. We have analysed, deconstructed and sometimes raged against the patriarchy together.

So why on earth have I spent the last 32 years plodding obediently into the ‘Womens’ Clothing’ section?

I realise that this challenge should mean totally embracing everything about menswear – tasting all of the forbidden apparent penis-fruits that I appear to have denied myself for so long, willingly, like an atheist yet abstinent Eve. I want to look sharp. I want to be dapper. I want to wear pocket watches and cravats and waistcoats and starched collars and brogues. I don’t want to add a tie to what I already have, I want to know if it is possible to look formal and be comfortable at the same time.

If I were to draw a graph showing ‘how formal I look’ and ‘how comfortable I feel’ for the preceding twenty years, it would be what we mathematicians call a negative correlation – as one increases, the other decreases proportionately.

Looking formal, for a woman, generally involves showing more flesh, wearing tighter and more figure-hugging clothing, higher shoes, tights, Spanx, jewellery and complicated hairdos. It’s a list of things that make me feel physically uncomfortable and self-conscious. Any time I have left the house to do anything vaguely important, I’ve been uncomfortable, and the more important the thing, the more uncomfortable I’ve been.

We need to talk about pockets

This fundamental truth floors me. This is patriarchy in action. Not only have I been complicit in the societal conspiracy to judge me primarily on my looks, I’ve had to operate within a system that makes me less confident, more self-conscious, and generally in more physical distress than your average man.

My boyfriend appears from the loft with a three-piece subtle black pinstripe from French Connection he has grown out of. I try it on and it’s magic. It’s one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given, and on no particular occasion. Happy Birth-of-A-New-Freedom-Day to me. This suit does not make me uncomfortable or pained in any way.

It looks smart and stylish but does not dig in, does not cling, pinch or make me frown at my reflection where it could be a little looser, a little longer and a little higher. It just is. It is at this point that I start to fully realise how crowded my head is on a typical work day: how full I am of nagging doubts about what I’m wearing and how I look to others. I realise that I have been constantly looking at myself all day in mirrors and shop fronts and car windows and focusing on that bit and breathing in and sighing and feeling inadequate. Because womenswear is designed to accentuate your shape, and if your shape ISN’T ‘tiny-waisted-large-but-pert-breasted-and-no-stomach-fat’ then it always – but always – looks a little ‘wrong’.

Day one: We need to talk about pockets. The clothes I’m wearing now have bountiful, multifaceted, capacious pockets. I have nine of them today. I counted ’em. On a typical day of wearing womenswear, I have NONE. Another realisation like a wet herring to the face: the ‘handbag vs pockets’ thing is huge confidence-underminer, another terribly effective, if inadvertent way, to hold women down. I remember being crouched over my handbag, furiously ferreting for a business card while my male colleague coolly produced one from his manly chest-cavity as though he lactated them to order.

I remember having to smile and flirt queasily with a security guard to get through the station turnstiles because I had tucked my train ticket into my bag and it had swooped out unseen onto a toilet floor somewhere. I remember the guy who verbally harassed me on the street for fifteen minutes because I took my phone out of my bra and that meant I touched myself in public and was therefore ‘asking for it’. Having pockets (and pockets that are actually fit for purpose) is undeniably a feminist issue.

The men I’m mixing with will happily mix navy blue suits with black shoes, pink shirts with red ties and trousers with jackets three shades different, and appear to care not a jot

Today, I am experiencing the joy of symmetry. I walk without hunching lopsidedly over a bag. I can confidently locate my money, keys and purse because they all have allocated, easily-reachable compartments about my person. It is hard not to smile about this and everyone notices.

Day two: I feel it’s not really in the patriarchy-smashing spirit of this challenge to continue to ask my boyfriend to do my ties up the night before and leave them on the bedpost. I take to YouTube and it’s like entering Narnia though the unnoticed door at the back of Tie Rack. Call me ignorant, but I’d always just sort of assumed there was one (maybe two at a push) type of tie knot – ‘vaguely triangular-looking.’ But it’s all trinity Knots and Full Windsors and Half Windsors and Van Wijks and Tulips and the stunning cascade of the perfectly zigzagging Eldredge. I’m excited. I feel like this is a way to add flair and depth to my outfits without spending too much time or effort on them. A few hours of practice later, the Yonic Tie is born. I’ve managed to tie a tie that looks a great deal like a clitoris and I couldn’t be happier about it – the irony! I start hashtagging merrily.

Day four: I’ve been noticing the attire of men around me on the daily commute and I’m struck by the fact that no-one seems to particularly care about coordinating items. There are entire articles in magazines on the hot topic of What-Goes-With-What in womenswear. It’s one of the most frustrating things about dressing oneself – you find the right suit or the right dress, but then need to find the blouse, the jacket, the shoes, the belt, the coat, the hat and the gloves that all ‘go’ appropriately. Sometimes you have to start again from scratch. Sometimes you end up crying under the duvet.

I’m sure this stuff is pretty important at the high-fashion end of menswear too. But the men I’m mixing with daily (not just provincial men, but movers and shakers, CEOs and investment wankers) will happily mix navy blue suits with black shoes, pink shirts with red ties and trousers with jackets three shades different, and appear to care not a jot. I’m gleeful at the thought of such freedom. I wear the same pair of shoes for a week. I wear a waistcoat and trousers that aren’t quite the same colour. It’s so refreshing I could cry. The simple mathematics of permutations means I’m no longer stuck in an exponentially-increasing spiral of possible outfit-choices, but helpfully limited to the much smaller factorials of three suits, five shirts and a handful of ties (told you I was a mathematician). It saves time for much more fun things like eating and sleeping.

One thing that does strike me when shopping is the lack of norm-referencing between tops and bottoms

Day seven: I’ve now worked out, through trial and error, that I am a 38″ chest and a 34″ waist in menswear. It feels like so much less of a judgement than ‘14’, or ‘16’, but I’m aware that’s because it’s new to me and therefore doesn’t have the concomitant baggage. Now, I’m sure men have to deal with very similar “I’m X size but I wish it was different” issues to women, but one thing that does strike me when shopping is the lack of norm-referencing between tops and bottoms.

As a woman, clothing manufacturers will insist on trying to cram my top and bottom into the same label (when patently this is not the case for a majority of women). I can buy separates, of course, but there’s an implicit ‘abnormal’ judgement there and dresses are chaos. Men also seem to have options for collar size and chest that are more flexible overall. Is this because men’s bodies are more diverse than women’s? The evidence of my eyes seems to offer every possibility that this is poppycock.

Day nine: shoes. It’s occurred to me that it’s not fair to embrace menswear without trying the footwear, too. I’m a size six, which is within the accepted ‘normal’ range of both mens’ and womens’ shoe sizes, so I buy a pair of canvas lace-ups from my usual shop of choice, which mimic my customary style at work, but are from the men’s section. I had naively expected very little difference, but I was so wrong. These shoes are wider, thicker on the soles and, without a doubt, more comfortable, despite exactly same price. Will the injustice never end?

Day 10: Someone I chat to about this challenge pointedly notices that I have gone to some effort to ‘feminise’ my outfit by keeping my hair loose and adding an intense shade of lipstick. Something that is keeping me going this month is other people telling me that I look attractive. I can’t deny that looking groomed and beautiful is still an important factor in how successful I am professionally and personally. But to me this is about making a point that I can wear this stuff without looking dowdy or unkempt or ‘blending in’.

I’m starting to feel like it’s ok to be big, broad and solid. This is the antithesis of literally every message women get about their bodies every single day

It’s an uncomfortable truth that the privilege of being white, average sized and reasonably attractive allows me to ‘get away with it’, and talking to other women about this soon reveals that anyone alternative–looking or what society might deem as ‘fulfilling the lesbian stereotype’ tends to get a much more negative reaction than I have. A male friend asks if I’m getting my suits tailored, as they fit so well, and I answer “No, it’s just because I’m built so good and manly!” I’m starting to feel like it’s ok – an advantage even – to be big, broad and solid. This is the antithesis of literally every message women get about their bodies every single day. I’m reeling because suddenly it’s ok to take up my own space.

Day 13: Today is The Big One. Today, I am taking my menswear experience to the next level. So far, when people ask, I’ve been saying, “Everything is menswear, apart from the bra!” Today I’ve decided to ditch it (gulp). Make no mistake, I’ve never done this before. I’m not one of your ‘skipping braless through the meadow’ types – and I have some considerable 38D jugs, too, so this is not a decision I have taken lightly. I’m doing it because it scares me so much. How can it be such a big deal? Why do I care so much? I realise one of my greatest body hang-ups is the idea of massive, droopy udder-boobs and lack of waist, and that wearing a waistcoat and shirt will probably give me enough support that no-one will notice except me.

I’m pretty sure no-one notices except me.

I post triumphantly on Facebook: “I’m the No-Bra Cobra!” I’m not sure I’d want to do it every day, but I’ve successfully confronted some of my greatest clothing issues and feel better for it.

Day 15: I’m going to a wedding today. Months ago (because I’m organised), I’d picked out a dress, shoes and accessories. This challenge was for work, so I’m not worried about ‘going back’ to womenswear in my own time – except I can’t. I try on the dress. It’s lacy and forest green and flattering, but it feels wrong. I’m cold and my arms are exposed. I try on a tuxedo and bow tie instead. “Is this ok?” I ask my boyfriend. He thinks I look awesome, but still mischievously introduces me as ‘the magician’ at the reception. ‘Day into night’ is exceptionally easy – I take off the bow tie and jacket, loosen a few buttons to get down on the dancefloor. Dancing is also appreciably more fun when the danger of overexposure while spinning is removed.

A man leaning on a wall addresses me: “You looking for something, baby?”

Day 16: I’m shaken. Today was my first truly negative experience (the bald guy leaning out of his vehicle to shout the self-evident “You’re wearing a TIE!” doesn’t count). I’m walking by the riverbank in the City and while following directions I’ve taken a wrong turn into a park. I turn around, seeing a no-through road, and a man leaning on a wall addresses me: “You looking for something, baby?” Something about his sleazy stare adds extra menace to the endearment, so much so that I am emboldened to say, simply, “I’m not your baby.”

And that’s the end of it, right? We’re all reasonable people and I’m lost. This is not the way to help and you’re surely not interested in pursuing some sort of sexual advance at the very obvious risk of making me feel unsafe in this dark park.

Except, of course, he was. Four words, nothing obviously offensive or harassing, but enough to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and, combined with the move towards me, enough to make me chilled with prickly fear: “Of course you are.”

I have no way of knowing if this behaviour was exacerbated by what I was wearing, whether he was encouraged by the confidence of my bearing or whether anything else about my clothing had an effect on this encounter. I do know I am wrong to feel even more indignant that I hadn’t led him on because of what I was wearing, and that thought needs confronting, dissecting and developing. But not now. Now, I just need to run away from a dangerous situation that a suit and tie can’t save me from.

Day 20: I’ve been posting all over social media and I’ve had so much positivity pouring in from other women that I’m grinning from ear to ear. After a difficult meeting, all I need is to see positive comments and I’m back to unstoppable in minutes. I’m lucky enough to be part of a large feminist community on Facebook (allied with the exceptional ‘Guilty Feminist’ podcast) and they’re giving me just the combination of support and challenge I need. I’m not sure I could do it without them.

I’m striding through the Houses of Parliament with an umbrella like I’m king of the world

Day 21: I’m trying hard to find a clothing company that makes unisex suits. The UK seems to have nothing. A friend suggests Kipper Clothiers in the US, and I’m delighted to see that they are incredibly forward-looking. I was beginning to think the whole clothing industry was indelibly invested in heavily gendering clothing. I contact them, and they offer on the spot to send me some samples.

Day 22: I’m striding through the Houses of Parliament with an umbrella like I’m king of the world. Could it be the suit and tie? Have other peoples’ perceptions changed, or have I?

Day 27: It’s nearly the end of the month and I want to try something new. Keeping the tie, I go for vintage, Bletchley Park-style glamour. I’m wearing a khaki pencil skirt and muted herringbone tie and victory rolls. It’s the first time in a while I’ve worn womenswear. Within an hour, despite the brown sensible shoes I’ve chosen, the back of my heel has bled through my tights, my bra underwiring has escaped and is now pointedly stabbing my flesh, and I’ve got severe pins and needles from trying to keep my legs together for an hour and a half on the train. I feel awkward and frustrated without pockets. Maybe there’s no route back.

Day 30: I’ve been blown away by the difference I’ve felt. Maybe some of it is the novelty value; my ‘rational brain’ tells me this is bound to be the case. But I can also say for sure that I’ve never worn clothes that have made me feel so comfortable, made it so easy to regulate my temperature and have been so simply flattering – never. Just putting on womens’ tailored trousers today – which at first glance may seem extraordinary similar to mens’ – makes me notice how tight and unforgiving the cut is, how clingy around the bottom and stomach they are and how there are no pockets. Have I mentioned pockets yet?

I can’t pretend I have any interest in feeling unnecessarily uncomfortable and self-conscious ever again. I started with #Octieber in 2016 but I see the need for another #NoGenderNovember in 2017. I won’t stop until I spread the message. We have choices, men and women. Gendering clothes is ridiculous, unnecessary and totally damaging. I refuse to be complicit in it.

Image descriptions and credits

1. Two suit-wearing mannequin torsos at the Why Not Boutique at 1348 U Street, NW, Washington D.C. on 1 April 2011. The left (background) model wears a pink shirt, light green patterned tie and a black jacket with just the middle button done up. The right (foreground) model wears a small-checked blue/white shirt, light pink/blue paisley tie and a grey jacket with very fine medium-wide white check and a grey/light blue paisley handkerchief in the pocket on the viewer’s right. By Elvert Barnes Photography, shared under a Creative Commons License.

2. White mannequin in jeans and a dark grey ‘digital paraphernalia’ hoodie with detachable sleevelets and a large front zipper pocket, described in entry on Flickr as “for your iPad”. By Sen Chang, shared under a Creative Commons License.

3. Lucy Rycroft-Smith, who is of Caucasian appearance and has shoulder length hair, stands in front of a white door. She looking to her right, with her hands in the pockets of the trousers of her smart and comfortable-looking navy suit. She also wears a dark purple scarf and tie that complement her lipstick. Picture supplied by author.

Lucy is a freelance writer, teacher and feminist. She blogs at The Introverted Teacher and tweets @honeypisquared

Comments From You

monkyvirus // Posted 8 January 2017 at 5:58 am

This was a very interesting read and I’m happy you’ve found clothing that makes you comfortable :) I do have a few points that came to me as I was reading:

1) I find men’s clothes very uncomfortable as often they can’t accomodate hips or breasts, I wonder if unisex clothing would work in terms of fit. Maybe we’d have to start selling by body shape rather than gender?

2) Women’s clothes can be very comfortable if you reject the “tight = formal” rule. So I think it can also be valuable to reject those restrictions within women’s wear as well.

3) Men’s clothing is very restricted in terms of variety especially in the office. I think a women in a slightly loose skirt and cotton blouse is far more comfortable than a man in a suit and tie in the middle of July, for example.

4) Men are not “allowed” to wear skirts, dresses, etc. which is a particular struggle for the genderqueer / transwomen. My partner and I are both genderqueer but I, AFAB, have a lot more choice in terms of presentation whereas my partner, AMAB, risks harrassment and violence if they wear feminine pieces.

daveyates // Posted 8 January 2017 at 4:33 pm

Nice work Lucy!
It’s good that you had the confidence to pull this off so well,I wish that there was an end to genderised clothes.
I’ve felt that it’s easier for women to pull this off than men trying to wear women’s clothes,although I appreciate that may be a generalisation.
I might join in on #NoGenderNovember :-)
Keep up the good work

Alan // Posted 8 January 2017 at 11:48 pm

Lots of good observations, I will just add a few more.

As Wu Tingfang wrote, “Fashion is the work of the devil” – but it should also be noted that it is not generally men (apart from a few designers) who decide what women wear. The biggest step towards being free of the dictates of fashion is to not allow oneself to be bound by them.

Most men AND most women prefer women to wear feminine clothing, but what is feminine is not so easily defined. Historically, it has differed considerably between cultures. In many cultures, men have worn what we might call skirts or dresses – yet they were deemed men’s wear, and women’s wear was still distinctive within that culture. Among the Inuit, women wore trousers to keep out the cold. The traditional women’s wear in Arabian countries is neither form-fitting nor revealing.

It is nice to be able to tell at a glance whether someone expects to be treated as a man or a woman, or someone in between. Fact is, we live in a society where we have to do this, and it can cause problems if we guess wrong. It’s good to have those visual cues.

But the biggest thing is this: even if we have separate men’s and women’s clothing styles, that doesn’t mean that women have to settle for clothing that makes them uncomfortable or puts them at a disadvantage. Why not encourage designers to create women’s clothing that is both feminine AND comfortable, and simple yet appealing? There’s no rule that says that women’s clothing must not have pockets – and there’s no rule saying that pockets need to go the same place they do on men’s clothing (there are actually some physical problems that stem from sitting on a thick wallet in a back pocket and I have taken to often putting my wallet in my shirt pocket, when I have one). There’s no rule saying that women must match their shoes exactly to their outfits (believe me, most men don’t even notice). There’s no rule saying that colors must match perfectly. (Men’s clothing colors tend to work by contrast, anyhow – but there’s no reason women couldn’t do the same thing.) Rather than designing unisex clothing (we don’t want to try that again – it was enough of a disaster the last time we tried it) why don’t women simply start patronizing designers who produce feminine yet practical clothing? I am sure that there are some out there, and if they start to be successful you will quickly see the other designers copying them. All we need is for someone to go first.

kona // Posted 9 January 2017 at 7:25 am

You look quite dapper! I would love to see more photos of you in a suit. If I may offer some unsolicited advice: it’s difficult to tell from just one photo, but to me it seems your suit is a bit baggy. You might do better with a more fitted suit: slightly narrower shoulders and/or slimmer arms. Not to feminize it, but rather just make it fit the way a (men’s) suit should fit.

Mary B // Posted 9 January 2017 at 12:25 pm

Pockets are wonderful; I sew them into almost all my clothes if they don’t come with them (the short sleeves from conference t shirts are a good size to hold a phone and the hem saves on sewing). Agree with the comment that not all of us have the body shape for suits to fit well – if your waist and hips would be different sizes, it’s not easy to find men’s trousers that fit (or women’s outside the US). But if you find the problem with skirts is your thighs chafing, men’s long legged briefs ate wonderful – done in high tech wicking fabric like exercise pants but not trying to make you look a size smaller. The flap front also works as an extra pocket for flat things like a phone ;)

KendraKroll // Posted 9 January 2017 at 4:22 pm

Excellent, Lucy. You’re a pioneer and one to actually DO what so may of us wish we could: say ‘no’ to the contortionist ‘styles’ women are programmed to compy with in order to feel accepted.

What I find so ironic about (the original undergarments made by) SPANX (and similar companies) is that, although I respect they give some women self confidence, the focus is prioritizing appearance over all else, and hence, perpetuating the objectifying of women. I’m not sure why that’s OK.

Meanwhile… kudos on the ditching the purse thing. I haven’t relied on one in over 9 years now. And don’t miss it. I’ve simply gotten used to putting the pockets on mySELF (literally.. lol!)

Keep pushing those boundaries, my friend… it is SO worth it.
Cheers to YOU.
Love,
Kendra

leemclean // Posted 9 January 2017 at 10:56 pm

I refuse to buy pants without pockets. I hadn’t thought of trying men’s clothing. Now at age 62, I might have to try this.

Lee Kear // Posted 10 January 2017 at 5:06 am

“happily mix navy blue suits with black shoes” what else?

warren // Posted 10 January 2017 at 11:12 am

There are many womens clothing options/styles that are physically comfortable, but these likely do not fall into the category of whatever fashion is currently trending, which seems to be quite important to Ms. Rycroft-Smith: a desire that can be met in menswear. However, I noticed that many of her complaints were less physical comfort-based and more emotional comfort-based, and that really has me wondering about her. It seems like she associates butchness so heavily with women who are not “like her” (i.e. whatever her stereotyped idea of what or rather who a butch lesbian is) that she hasn’t realized she’s butch. She clearly feels more comfortable psychologically/emotionally/physically in menswear everyday which is pretty much what one of the main definitions of butchness. Her writing reveals that she’s lived a life heavily insulated in heteronormativity. She might find many kindred spirits if she followed some blogs or other writings written by women who have embraced butch identities (regardless of sexual orientation). There is an entire queer movement going on that embraces diversity in gender expression that does not need to indicate anything about one’s sexuality. There are many straight butch women in the world. I think what holds many straight butch women back from expressing their butchness is fear of losing male approval. But why should lesbians be more inclined to love butch women than straight men? It’s time that we as a society, stop trying to make ourselves attractive to the most number of people, and instead let our true selves attract few people (or even one person) who is exactly the right fit.

Guy // Posted 10 January 2017 at 12:31 pm

You mention wanting unisex suits. That may be difficult to do, but I suspect that a trip to one of the bespoke suiting companies (e.g. A Suit That Fits) might get you what you want, which is a proper suit that matches your actual shape. Off the peg tailoring can also be altered for the convenience of those of us who are so inconsiderate as not to be the standard shape.

Speaking as a non-female – my name is, Guy (meaning man) André (from the Greek Andros, meaning man) Chapman (chap, a slang term for man) – I have always struggled to find suits that fit. That was true even before I did a lot of cycling and ended up with massive thighs.

Off the peg clothing, regardless of gender, is designed for some hypothetical shape that has never been observed in the wild.

Guy // Posted 10 January 2017 at 12:33 pm

Also: pockets. My wife’s biggest complaint. We both wear black jeans, but hers are for the ladeeeez, and have tiny pockets into which you cannot put a modern smartphone.

Maybe the ever-increasing size of smartphones might eventually lead to a fashion for women’s clothes with decent pockets. The women of the world will dance the happy dance if this happens.

ajcondeelis // Posted 10 January 2017 at 4:56 pm

Great article and experiment. Thanks for that.

I am not familiar with the “Primarkian Damascus” reference and tried to look it up online with no success…help please

Holly Combe // Posted 10 January 2017 at 5:27 pm

Lucy may be best-placed to step in here, but my understanding is that the phrase relates to the following (with ‘Primarkian’ relating to Primark, as a clothes shop):

https://www.quora.com/What-is-a-Road-to-Damascus-moment-What-does-it-refer-to

xanthe66 // Posted 12 January 2017 at 7:37 am

Thank you! I cried a quiet Hallelujah on reading your article. It has inspired me to go with my gut and simplify what I wear. While I may not be at the 3-piece suit stage just yet, I think I heard you mention pockets, and that’s a darn good motivator and starting point.

jhoolya // Posted 13 January 2017 at 12:56 pm

thanks for your comments Guy, and your understanding.
Warren: have you tried women’s clothing? – there may be a vast range but they are designed for style and titillation (yes, even for larger sizes) not functionality and ease of movement and often NO pockets. All of my standard run of the mill workwear – sold by the major chains – lacks pockets. I have nowhere to put my phone, my keys, my small change.
And to concur with daveyates, as a counterpoint, I read an article some months back where a US school teacher decided to see what happened if he wore “womens clothing”. The first day he wore black jeans and a pink/black checked shirt – he was ribbed and heckled. The second day he wore a more feminine pink shirt – he was abused and derided. (Same teacher, same school). The third day he wore a skirt – he was verbally and physically assaulted. Why? because of a piece of cloth he had on his body. There is way too much tied up in the gender of clothing if it provokes reactions like that.

rella12 // Posted 15 January 2017 at 6:14 am

I am sooooooo short. 5’0. and I love being able to go to Target and buy a dress or a skirt because I don’t need to hem or shorten it. I LOVE the idea of going with men’s clothes, but I am far too lazy and cheap to address the alterations that would be absolutely necessary for me.

inezs // Posted 16 January 2017 at 7:36 pm

at 6′ tall, women’s size 12 shoe, and no waist due to scoliosis, I’ve migrated between men’s and women’s clothing all my life, especially because, at 53, I pre-date long-enough women’s jeans being sold everywhere. The best wedding I’ve ever been in, I was the Best Person for my male best friend and wore the same slacks, shirt, and tie as the other groomsmen. Cost me FAR less than any bridesmaid dress!

zonker // Posted 17 January 2017 at 7:47 pm

Excellent. You look good because of your attitude and confidence, not what you’ve wedged yourself into.

Also, at least in my experience, men’s sizing is more consistent than women’s. If you find you wear a 34″ pant, you can just buy one and it’ll fit, without all that tedious mucking about in the fitting room. Or buy online with little risk of having to return anything.

vancouverlori // Posted 19 January 2017 at 2:27 am

Hey Alan – while it would be lovely to insist on designers changing how they design women’s clothing, I have yet to find a way to do so! I can avoid buying uncomfortable clothing for only so long before I finally have to give in and buy a pair of pants, or a shirt. I’ve been looking for shorts that are longer than underwear (but not all the way down to my knees like golf shorts) for about 15 years now, and I’m still waiting. I have had to relent and buy a pair or two in that time, but they’re never quite right. Most women just assume that they’re supposed to be not-quite-comfortable in their clothing (especially the more formal items) because there isn’t much else out there.

BTex // Posted 19 January 2017 at 5:35 am

Your passing observation about how women are hampered with a lack of pockets and the addition of a purse… it’s not an accident of fashion, it’s a deliberate decision that was designed to hobble women. This article references some of it – https://mic.com/articles/133948/the-weird-complicated-sexist-history-of-pockets#.gicyZ5Af6

It should also be noted that women’s pockets ARE starting to change both size and frequency as a direct result of the ubiquity of smartphones.

I’m in textile sales (including unusual suitings!) and the history of fashion is a hobby of mine. I’m thrilled to see your experiment and look forward to replicating it myself!!

I have the same concern others have voiced, which is that although I do have and wear a few items of men’s apparel, I generally find that menswear doesn’t fit quite right with my more rounded hips, bottom, and breasts. However, I am now inspired to try looking again or sew my own.

On a final note, I don’t agree that women’s formal wear means tighter, more flesh, and higher heels. There is most definitely a wide range of stylish options that are flattering, comfortable, not revealing, and age appropriate. I used to be a personal shopper, I promise those options exist. In fact, I tend to steer clients away from tighter and more flesh because it’s rarely that comfortable or flattering for most women – you shouldn’t spend the whole evening fighting with your clothes or worrying about how you look.

BarbaraBAB // Posted 20 January 2017 at 3:44 pm

I recently bought a suit tailored in high-end fabric to fit me in a feminine style – no lapels. The purveyor sells primarily to men but seems interested in expanding to women. The suit has pockets – deep ones at the hip that allow me to stash whatever, ones in the coat for business cards or a credit card. I’m now convinced that the fabrics are what make men’s clothing so much more comfortable. Well-tailored fine fabric in ‘suiting’ adds a fluidity to movement and contributes to confidence. Women need access to fabrics and clothiers or tailors that men have had for years.

EG // Posted 21 January 2017 at 11:59 am

Great article. For very short women, older boys’ clothes and shoes can sometimes be an option.

betsynicke // Posted 29 January 2017 at 6:14 pm

I so much agree! The pockets! The POCKETS! I’ve often bought men’s jackets for the interior pockets, so I don’t need the handbag. That, as several others have mentioned, is a really big deal. Traveling, moving around on public transportation, paying attention to the present moment rather than working on making the outfit behave as I move is the big difference.
When I work, I need to not worry about what shows when I bend over or move around. So, pants are essential. I run an art gallery and teach.
My confidence in a suit and my improved posture (one equals the other) makes me avoid skirts or dresses and wobbly, girly shoes. There was a great article about women wearing menswear made for women in the New York Times this past year, too.

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/21/fashion/mens-style/danielle-cooper-sara-geffrard-mens-wear.html?_r=0

johnd // Posted 30 January 2017 at 4:29 pm

Similar to Guy I have oversized thighs from cycling and found / find male trousers don’t fit / aren’t particularly comfortable. If they have enough space on the thigh then they’re too loose on the waist.

To answer jhoolya’s question, yes (following going in drag to a fancy dress event) I’ve tried women’s jeans, trousers, suits and they’re generally good for me. They’re cut to accommodate a higher thigh to waist ratio, and the slight stretch included in women’s lines and not men’s generally makes them easier to move in. This has caused me to experiment with gender fluidity and I’m finding my UK employer and colleagues more tolerant than the US school teachers experience.

As long as I stay in trousers, style gets commented on but not in the way I expected, people over 40 (ish) seem to think the look has a 70s feel to it, and comparing 70s men’s suits to contemporary ladies trouser suits does show some similarities. Younger people seem not to notice or care so much.

I do think it would be great to de-gender clothing perhaps finding a different basis to maintain some of the variety. Physical comfort aside, the biggest driver for me now is in choosing the type of emotional support I want from the clothes. A blend of more stretchy female jeans and a loose top leaves me feeling relaxed, female and even male suits seem to drive subtly different moods and I find them all useful for different types of work.

I’d use them more if they had pockets. Not because I’d always use pockets (it’s bad form for a man to put too much in the pockets as well) but sometimes you just need a phone and a key.

sugarmouse // Posted 1 February 2017 at 3:37 pm

As a woman with slight mobility problems I find ‘women’s’ shoes a particular problem. It is almost presumed that women should wear heels or wedges or if they are flat ballet pumps. I struggle to stand in these let alone walk. On the other hand I love the colours and sparkles and diamantes which are clearly missing from men’s (or rather boys shoes as being a size 4/5 men’s are a non-starter). I want bright coloured, exciting but well-fitting shoes but have had no luck in finding any.
I don’t think that many women’s clothes are designed for any shape other than tall and skinny with a flat stomach and the vast array of slim fit, skinny fit and even super skinny fit jeans and trousers are proof of that. Scouring shops for a pair of ‘normal’ jeans as in ones which do not bag at the waist, squeeze at the hips and cut off circulation to the knees has left me with the feeling that my body is currently unfashionable and I will have to wait until the pear shape is back in season. Men do not have to put up with this rubbish. Nor are they different sizes in every shop. I am apparently a 10/12 and sometimes a 14, visiting different shops on the same day. I also have both short and regular legs and I am a small, medium and occasionally a large. Men know they have a 34 inch waist and a 34 inch leg. They know they have a 38 inch chest and a 15 inch collar and they know that whatever shop they enter that will remain consistent.
Men are still dominant in a society where women are assumed to want to wear shoes they can barely walk in and have to try on 3 different sizes which alter in every shop.

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