I wore men’s clothes for the best part of my teens, and it changed my life

Men in a line

I wore men’s clothes for the best part of my teens, and it changed my life, so when I saw this article appearing on my Twitter timeline I had to open it (I wore men’s clothes for a month – and it changed my life). The reason I did it is very different from the author, who did it out of realising she had been pandering to imposed gender norms all her life: I was actually trying to bury my being a woman to keep away the male glaze after being abused. Letting go of that and embracing those very same gender norms was the most liberating and arguably feminist thing I’ve ever done: it was about loving me and not letting men control how I live my life. I have a problem with people who make feminism about a specific worldview (and it’s without fail a left-wing one) instead of being about empowering women and making sure our society is a free one where this empowerment can be put into practice, but it’s her experience of the world and I don’t want to invalidate that.

However, I take issue with the universalising it that goes on throughout the article when, clearly, a lot of it is about her and the way she lived her life when she was pandering to the gender norm that included gendered clothes. She seems to be aware of it herself, but then still falls in some generalisations. Before starting to go in-depth into the lessons she learnt from each day, she goes: “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.” Guess what, not everyone does. I find trousers only less uncomfortable than unfitting tights and only in the case of skinny jeans. Wearing tights makes me feel naked and free. I hate the feeling of long trousers, especially on rainy days, and could only wear some models that happen to be exactly the ones that make me self-conscious about the size of my lower body, which is not exactly androgynous (and that was exactly how the problem with it started for me). My hair is hardly ever in complicated hairdos and it’s not like I’ve never felt formal enough on formal occasions. I love nothing better than a ball gown. We are all different, and we should embrace that. The impression, however, is that she doesn’t whenever she attributes anything that she has done before, or women kept doing all along, to the patriarchy in action.

On Day 1, she came to the realisation that she prefers pockets to a bag, recounting a series of situations in which having a bag put her at a disadvantage. I can sympathise with this since my bag is all over the place, but I know for a fact my mother could not. Her bag is probably more organised than an archive in the UK civil service, and if you ask for something and she tells you to get it she will know exactly in which pocket or pochette or wallet that item will be. It’s also really weird that she complains that women’s clothes have no pockets when I have pockets in most of my clothes. I can take the point if we’re talking about evening wear but surely it’s not that difficult to embrace tailoring clothes and have clothes that you like and work for you? Or, you know, adding pockets to what still doesn’t have them instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

On Day 4, she complained about the fact the men she sees seem not to care about mixing clothes that don’t go together and how there’s not that much pressure on them (clearly she has never been in a room with men working in finance going on about younger men wearing brown shoes, or looked at the dress code for most companies, or watched Suits) as there is on women’s magazines which exist basically to tell you what goes with what. Guess what, you are not forced at the point of death to care either. I don’t read those magazines, I find most of their advice to lack taste and only tend to match colours because I have an artistic education and are really sensitive to punches in the eye. It’s more out of an obsession with a certain aesthetics than any pressures from society. My brother is as conscious about that as I am, if not more. If someone judges that’s their problem, I’ve built enough self-esteem not to care. There’s an argument based on psychological research that your peer group makes or breaks you, so I’m not dismissing society’s impact on people’s insecurity, just saying that the issue is those insecurities in the first place. Without them what those newspapers say are just words.

She has a very valid point when talking about sizes, I’ve suffered all my life with a bone structure that doesn’t suit the tiny clothes that were made on one side of the border while it would suit the Northern European brands sold on the other. In UK sizes, I’m considered to be an M. I buy S from Scandinavian brands, I can’t fit an XXL in Italy. I can’t cut my hip bone to fit into something built around a different body frame and height than me. However, the final line in Day 7 seems to suggest she believes it’s all because nobody cares about women. And yet, don’t we all just make do with what we’re given and shop around for sizes from brand to brand? Perhaps if we were more forceful in demanding realism and uniformity across brands and only supported ethical ones things would begin to change…

Day 9, then, is really ludicrous. I’m someone with a half-size, so I know the pain of ill-fitting shoes. I also have relatively small feet for having a large frame, so buying wide-sole shoes for women is buying too large shoes for me. I have heard many men complain their shoes are too tight so guess what, you only feel those are wide because your foot bone is small enough to fit them comfortably. Have you tried to see your foot next to a men’s size 6? I have, and mine was still tinier. It’s not a big conspiracy to make small shoes for women so they are uncomfortable and easily controlled.

In Day 10 the point about (not) fulfilling the Lesbian Stereotype is a fair point, but it opens a can of worms. And while it’s great that you feel so much happier in your skin because your body fits a man’s suit, there could be a transgender woman out there struggling with the fact her body, too, fits a man’s suit so much better than the dresses that would allow her to express her identity. We should all learn to love our bodies regardless of what it fits.

About Day 13, I have a 40D bra size and have ditched my bra many times before. As you’ve discovered yourself, the world still stands and nobody cared. It was all about your own insecurities. Welcome to the club of women who don’t care 🙂

Day 15, it seems clear that your own personality suits the suit (pardon the pun) better, but I know plenty of women who are wild on a dancefloor on a dress and some of them (myself included) tend to be very stereotypically lady-like. Choose the right dress to suit what you want to do in that dress, simples.

I’m sorry about the experience in Day 16, as I know too well how that feels like. I mistakenly thought that male clothes would solve the issue, but really it doesn’t. To that kind of man who has a problem with women, you are still a woman.

Day 22 has to be my favourite. “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?” I always stride through the HoP like I own the world. I refuse to diminish the power of the amazing queens that have walked on those pavements for centuries using the word king. It’s not the suit and tie, it’s your outlook. And people’s perceptions too, as obviously people respond to your new confidence. If you thought you were a confident woman before, but this changed your life, then maybe you were not yet as confident as you could have been. You go, girl. It’s not like people are programmed to respond to three piece suits in a different way, as the woman whose bust is outside the entrance to the HoC showed us. She had a great, feminine style.

Day 27 is quite telling. I’ve had male friends complaining of blisters in shoes and women in high heels who seem to be barefoot as comfortable as they are. I know women who wear corsets as second skin. That style is not for you, and that’s okay. It’s not that male clothes are made to be more comfortable full stop. I hate the feeling of trousers’ crotches coming up too high close to my nether regions. And before you point out to Day 30 and how tailored women trousers are the problem, remember I wore men’s clothes for most of my teens, and skater clothes were in fashion for only a fraction of it (and those have a whole host of other issues…).

I don’t want to be negative, it is absolutely amazing to see a woman bloom into the best, most confident version of herself, whether it’s by wearing a Jessica Rabbit sexy dress or a three piece suit out of Harvey’s Specter wardrobe. But really, this is all that there should be to this article.

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