Uncategorized: Lez Casual
I’ve been at my office job for eight years, but can count on one hand the number of times I’ve put together a work outfit that felt both professional and true to my personal sense of style. As someone who’s not really butch or femme, it’s a little less clear what qualifies as business casual, and what looks like I’m vying to understudy Paula Poundstone (pictured). There’s a dyke that works at the building across from mine who pretty much always looks like she’s about to go on safari. This simply won’t do. I don’t want to spend a ton of money on power dyke drag, don’t feel comfortable in dresses or skirts, and know that thrift store irony often just looks frumpy after eight hours in a cubicle.
I feel like dressing for work is this daily personal statement–about my gender, sexuality, and professional aspirations. So far, I feel like I’m saying I’m a little boy that likes girls and one day wants to be a cowboy. To figure out if other dykes also wrestled with work wardrobe, I asked some friends for their personal definitions of Lez Casual. Apparently, the sweater vest is the lesbian desk job equivalent to the little black dress. Read their responses / add yours below the fold.
Jenny: I think 40% of why I wanted to work from home was because of this dilemma.
Sench: Every time I wear a suit I look like a women’s basketball coach. It’s really annoying. I just look like a dyke in a suit. There’s nothing getting around it. “Hustle in ladies! We’re running the picket fence play! Watch number 32! Number 32!”
Jeanni: I dunno, I enjoy dykes in suits looking like dykes in suits and / or basketball coaches! Personally, I’m a fan of the sweater vest layered with an assortment of (preferably vintage) collared dude shirts. That’s how I’ve learned to get through my day here at an office full of ‘mos. (Can we also just have an option for dykes to wear nothing? That’s always a winner!)
Stephanie: Once, I wore a sweater vest to work and when I got there I realized I would have felt less conspicuous amongst my middle schoolers if I had just wrapped myself in a rainbow unity flag. Still, I also stand by the sweater-vest. I’ve worn a button down/up(?) every single day of teaching except when we wear our school polos. I even have the most amazing Halloween teacher shirt. When my students talked about what culture means, fashion came up, and we talked about genders and fashion, to which one of my students noted, “Like you–you dress like a boy.” [Class Reaction] “What? What? No offense! I was just sayin!” I think the real challenge is shoes. Pumps? I think I would look more natural in clown shoes. Flats? I would get less blisters if I held matches to my feet. Chucks? Unprofessional. Sensible sneakers? I guess so.
Polly: My biggest beef is that I like wearing ties, but feel a little strange if I wear them because it is so out of the ordinary. My dream outfit is navy blue slacks with a v neck gray sweater and a collared button-up underneath.
Shauna: I dress like a half-baked art teacher in 1974: goucho pants, giant necklaces, secretary blouses, ballet flats, subtle triangle post earring. But I recently had occasion to accompany Maegan on her first foray into the double-knit world of biz-caz, and the plight of the butchish professional womyn, it is dire. It was worse than when we went swimsuit shopping. It was like Cathy, but with 700 pairs of black boot cut pants and another lady couple bickering in the next stall down. I dunno how you andro girls manage. She just kept murmuring, “Dickies.” We ended up spending $300 at the Gap again.
Maegan: My issue has always been is that it is hard to butch it up, even slightly, in women’s work attire. You shop in the ladies dept. and you end up feeling awkward cuz you’re wearing femme cut clothes that you would not have chosen were a paycheck not at stake. Or you venture into the men’s dept., with high hopes, and end up looking ill-fitted. ‘Cause you may be a little butch but you still got hips. Sigh. Anyway, I’ve found that wide leg trousers do the job nicely. They work with the hips and still look good. Also, I’m pretty adamant about there being no stretch (or as little as possible) in the pants. I like my pants to feel like real pants, you know what I’m saying? As for shirts– it’s a personal preference, but I like oxfords. And collared shirts in general (like polos). French cuffs are nice for the oxfords. Then you can layer and pair the oxfords / polos with a v-neck sweater or sweater vest. For jackets I’ve got a brown corduroy that I like, and a black linen affair if it has to be fancier. Shoes are always my sticking point. I hate, with a fiery passion, those bulky black numbers most people wear. I’d rather experiment with sedate slip-ons or a pair of boat shoes. Women can get away with more than men. Basically, if I have to dress up my usual jeans-and-a-hoodie self, I just pretend that I’m a dapper British fellow.
Vicki: I stopped working in settings where biz caz was expected more than five years ago, and this dilemma was totally part of the reason why I chose to tune in and drop out. Seriously, shoulder pads? Why do women’s suits STILL have shoulder pads?! Check out the first thing that Google brings up when you do an image search for “women’s business casual“! Ah, the flair white pant suit with shoulder pads on the right. And the bowed-baby-doll thing second from the left. And these looks are very edgy, considering. WTF?
Cara: I waitressed in a penguin suit for a few summers, but I’ve never worked in an office. I wear jeans and t-shirts when I teach or when I work. I guess I’m lucky. When I’m working on a ladder, faculty and others look down on me as though I were a monkey. Same as for my wardrobe (which is conducive to the tech aspects of my job), but I think I’m seen as immature, unprofessional, and slovenly. Beca
use I have a mini-mohawk, wear jeans, and have about 16 gallery keys I carry around. The important people never carry keys.
Suzanne: Well, since my new-found funemployment, I tend to wear pajamas, cut-off shorts and a tank with no bra or sometimes just underpants to work. No one seems to mind. Before that, I worked at a gay youth center, sooo, pretty much my work drag was jeans, shirt, and baseball cap. I tended to look like a middle school boy most of the time, and I loved it. I always, always, always dreaded days that I had meetings and had to dress like an adult. I always felt like nothing fit, my shoes didn’t match, and was self-conscious about my hair, ’cause there is no real way to dress up a devil’s lock. I always felt stupid. On those day, I longed to be wearing a homemade, moth eaten, stank ass t-shirt that said “fuck business casual” in big letters on the front. But I sucked it up and put on some slacks and the most flattering button down I could find. Summers got a little tricky too, especially for someone who can sweat through a mesh top in 20 seconds. Even though it felt totally weird to wear a skirt to work, I found myself pulling them out, if only to catch a breeze. This confused the fuck out of the lesbian young women at the center, who would persistently ask me, “What are you?! A Dom (butch) or a Femme? I need to know!!” To which I could only reply, depends on the heat index. But the boys were extra nice to me on those days because I looked “cunt-gay”, boy slang for feminine–the supreme and ultimate compliment.
Marla: I have gone through so many phases with this. I am lately wearing various H&M shirts (or “tops”?) and then cotton non-jeans pants. I got a girlier pair of shoes recently for more dressy days, and to wear with my brown suit, on rare occasion. And I have one or two pairs of traditional lesbo loafers, of course. It’s an ongoing struggle though. I still feel like I am embarrassed if I run into a friend on a day that I have to dress up at work. Working at a nonprofit, you really can’t afford nice work clothes, let’s be honest. So I try to find things on the cheap, at thrift and vintage shops, too. Here in San Francisco, that means Buffalo Exchange, Crossroads, and Painted Bird. I think with work clothes though, especially for carpet munchers, it’s vital to splurge every so often to get something that will make you happy when you need to dress up. I’ve done that with shoes and a Banana Republic suit (!). The best “work shirts” are ones you can also wear out with your friends, but I don’t think I’ve ever had work pants that I felt that way about. In summary, two words for you: sweater vest.
Gmail Bonus: This whole exchange took place over Gmail, and some of the relevant ads and links popping up to the right of this email conversation were: “Buy Girls Underwear Online,” “Girls Wear Thongs!,” “Need an Image Consultant?,” and “Kentucky Derby Fashion.” Perhaps within these clues lies the solution to the age-old riddle of dyke dress-wear.
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