I’d describe both my demeanor and style as urban cowgirl. My standard outfit consists of Levi’s, a black T-shirt and Frye boots. I live in New York City and that’s pretty much an acceptable dress code for everywhere. Maybe not Le Cirque or Daniel, but I don’t frequent either of those restaurants.
My wardrobe is not a question—or in question—anywhere except at work, where I am quite suspect. I'm out as a dyke, but still have to conform to an “upscale business casual” dress code for a boss who is very old school in her thinking.
For example, she has demanded I wear a suit to our next new business meeting. She actually bought the suit! NO, I don’t mean she chose it—she gave me her credit card and told me to “pick out a pantsuit [she knows I won't wear a skirt] that you will feel comfortable in and get two tops to match.” Generous, I suppose, if I actually wanted to own a suit. Which I don’t.
It’s a quandary how to dress, what to wear, and what to buy with limited resources knowing I have to satisfy a corporate boss while also maintaining my personal integrity. I figure my company loses about 25 percent of productivity from me because I cannot wear my Levi’s. Dress pants don't agree with me and make me feel uncomfortable all day, ergo, not nearly as productive as I might be either psychologically or work product-wise.
I’ve had a lot of discussions on this topic with my lesbian, other queer-identified peeps and straight women friends. The consensus is that it’s really hard to determine how to dress and navigate a workplace (or gauge the dress code for an interview) that generally doesn’t allow for individuality or appreciate a range of gender expressions.
I found this great blog post about how to dress for an interview as a butch dyke, which I think applies to a lot of not-butch women, too. It backs up what I thought already to be true: dress to be comfortable, be yourself and discuss what you can contribute, expound on your abilities and finer qualities and stress less about what you’re wearing. Your personality and skillfulness come across and your attire gets lost...sometimes.
I know there are designers and clothing company's catering to us no-label grrrls who are more tomboy-leaning than not. For example, Curve has featured Original Tomboy, dapperQ, Marimacho, as well as the UK-based Butch Clothing Company. However, these offerings are all very stylized in a way that doesn't (no pun intended) suit me and also out of my price range (and I would guess the same for many others). I was sad to see the demise of RIGGED OUT/fitters, who's creator, Parisa Parnian, now works as a designer for Guess.
A friend who also works in corporate America and I joke about our "fake dress pants," from Kmart. They are stretch-y Lee Riders that come in solid dark colors and also herringbone, and cost only $19.99. Fake dress pants have saved my life, as has Old Navy with solid dark 100% cotton Tees, sweaters, and twill pants. Plus, Old Navy has sales constantly, which makes their already reasonably priced clothing even more affordable. I don't frequent that company’s parent, Gap, or sister, Banana Republic. Both have become out-priced for me. And, while Uniqlo might be stylish (or not) and relatively inexpensive, the company's sizes only go up to XL, which actually fits like a small Medium in real-woman-land.
And that's the other rub: it's still difficult to find clothing that favors the average no-label lesbian above a size 10.
If anyone has suggestions about gender-neutral business casual apparel, please help a sister out and write in the comment section.
STEPHANIE SCHROEDER is a journalist who has been a Contributing Editor at Curve Magazine since 2005. She is a mental illness awareness activist and advocate for social and economic justice. A keen cultural observer and unrepentant news junkie, Schroeder's appetite for odd juxtapositions and interesting contradictions inform all of her writing. See more at stephanieschroeder.com.