The Clothes Make the Woman

My love of women's clothes has always embarrassed me. When I was living as a man, I didn't understand why I liked wearing women's clothes, and I was embarrassed to let anyone know about it.

In my cross-dressing years, my femme wardrobe got sexier and more outrageous as time passed. People would tell me, "Your idea of being a woman is so superficial. It's all about the clothes for you. Real women don't care that much about their clothes." I acknowledged that they were right, but so what? I wasn't a woman, I was a cross-dresser.

After I completed my transition and settled into my new life as a woman, clothes became much less important to me. I stopped wearing outrageous, sexy outfits (most of the time), and just dressed appropriately for a woman of my age in any given situation. Looking back, it was hard for me to remember how important the clothes had been to me just a few years earlier, when I was a cross-dresser. I felt somewhat apologetic about it, but I just figured it was a phase I had to go through.

When I published my transition memoir, LANNIE! My Journey from Man to Woman, the editor complained about how superficially I wrote about transition, and couldn't I please put a little more depth into it? I couldn't, but I did try to justify my obsession with clothes in the book's introduction. When the book came out, Publishers Weekly mocked it's superficial and immature voice. While I didn't think mocking was appropriate, I had to agree about the voice. However, the voice was accurate for how I felt at the time. I was only writing the truth.

Recently, I decided to learn something about lesbian butch-femme culture. I read the classic of the genre, Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg, and the new classic, Butch is a Noun by S. Bear Bergman. Among the many surprises I encountered, I was stunned to read about how important the clothes were to these butch women. As youngsters, throwing off the yoke of feminine attire and transitioning to masculine clothes was a huge milestone for both protagonists. As adults, too, dressing in masculine jeans, T-shirts, and boots, or a natty suit, was an immensely important component of their identities. By the way, they didn't necessarily wear clothes exactly like men would. Perhaps their shirts and ties would tend to brighter colors, for example. After all, they weren't trying to pass as men. They weren't men, they were butches.

Butches and their clothes triggered a revelation for me. Clothes are hugely important to everyone! Nobody can tolerate the wrong clothes for long; but the right clothes fade from importance because they're just, well, right. In psychological terms, clothes are a dissatisfier; they can cause you to be dissatisfied, but they can't cause you to be happy. Money is another dissatisfier, for example while sex is a satisfier, if you see how that works.

Let's take a good look at clothes in other situations. To start with, would most men mind wearing women's clothes? Panties, a short skirt, heels? Even a lacy bra, if they have man-boobs? You bet they'd mind! Unless they're cross-dressers, putting on women's clothes is about the worst thing you could force a man to do. Maybe they'll do it as a joke now and then, but can you imagine a man meeting his friends at the corner bar and wearing a dress because all of his jeans were in the wash? No way! So clothes are immensely important to men, aren't they?

Clothes are important to women, too. We often say that while it is taboo for men to wear women's clothes in our society, it's OK for women to wear men's clothes. But that's not really true. Women can wear trousers and suits, sure, but they don't wear men's trousers and suits. They wear trousers and suits that are tailored for women. Their dress shirts even button on the women's side. You don't see business women showing up at the office in shiny black masculine wingtips, do you? That would just be weird! And is it OK for women to shop for their underwear in the men's department? Bear Bergman describes how her father pitched a fit when he found out she was.

But the importance we place on clothes goes far beyond just gender markers. Clothes reveal a lot about our identities, and it's important to all of us to get it right. Rappers gotta have the baggy pants and bling. Businessmen need suits and ties-a very conservative suit and tie if you're a banker. But a lot of men absolutely hate wearing ties. They'll tell you it's because ties are uncomfortable, but it's not physical discomfort, it's identity discomfort: They're just not suit-and-tie kind of guys, right?

With women, the importance of clothes goes to a whole new level. Our clothes indicate not only our business and social groups, but also if we're on the lookout for a new partner, or a quick fling. The jewelry we display says a lot about who our husbands or lovers are. The cuts and styles of our garments reveal much about our body images. You can probably even guess the ages of our children, simply by the clothes we wear. Clothes disclose a lot about women, and you don't even have to look closely to tell. Just a quick impression reveals so much.

You know con men who impersonate other people or people in various professions? Like Leo DiCaprio's character in Catch Me If You Can? I think one of the reasons these stories fascinate us is because the impersonators wear clothes that don't match their true identities. How much simply having the right costume contributes to their successes! How incredible, to wear the clothes and project the identity of another human being!

Speaking of impersonators, what about uniforms? Many businesses make their employees wear company uniforms to present a professional image and promote the company. Clothes are very important to them. And would you dare go walking down the street dressed as a Marine if you aren't a Marine? That could be bad for your health! You could even be arrested if you walked down the street dressed as a police officer. Clothes are very, very important.

Frank Zappa once put it this way: "Don't kid yourself-we're all wearing uniforms." All of us reveal who we are through our clothes.

So I'm going to stop apologizing for the times that clothes were very, very important to me. Heck, I was stuck in the wrong clothes for longest time. And do you know what? No matter how expensive my Italian suits were, they never did feel like me. When I finally crossed that huge psychological and societal barrier and allowed myself to start wearing women's clothes, is it any wonder it felt so great? Is it any wonder that I had to experiment with a wide variety of styles before I found the one that fit my true identity? Is it any wonder that once my female identity coalesced and I found a wardrobe that expressed it, that clothes didn't seem so important to me anymore? No, I now realize that none of that is in the least bit surprising. Clothes are very, very important. Clothes may not make the woman, but they most certainly express her.

—Lannie Rose, 8/2007

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