Fresh style insights, tips and commentary by Michelle Tea, Michael Braithwaite, Leo Plass, Page McBee and Carrie Leilam Love.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Strangeways Styleguide: A How-To for the Invisible Man

Style Icon: JT--He gets it right with just a little (well aimed) flash

So anyone who knows me knows that I seem to always find myself flapping in the wind of unsettled space. My gender identity is so complicated for others that there doesn't seem to be a word for me (I'm transgender-identified in a pretty broad sense, if it matters--and I don't think my gender is complicated at all).

Point is: my body presents unique challenges when clothing shopping (I've had top surgery but not taken testosterone, so my shoulders are narrow, my chest is flat, I'm thin and I'm 5'5--so I can basically not buy anything off the rack at 99% of boutiques, department stores and monster chains).

I appreciate, then, that "men's" (high) fashion occupies the often bizarre crossover territory of the hypermasculine (performance!) and the androgynous (art!). If I was a flashy dresser with a strong jawline and a trustfund, I think my closet would be full of Alexander McQueen + Prada + etc. + so on. I'd be like: ruffled shirts and manly short shorts! Whatevs.

However, to further my style troubles, I tend toward the classic--maybe it's my Libra moon--but I like feeling rebellious while maintaining a gentleman's sense of containment and an eye for details. Like this guy:

I realize I might not be the only masculine body out there challenged by a desire for stylish staples compounded by strange proportions/gender obstacles/etc. So I've put together this short yet handy guide of places to shop if you and I fit the same style bill.

First off, by necessity I've adopted a very European model of buying clothing--I shell out a lot for a few well-made items that last a long time. I have a tailor (more on Al next time) who has handcrafted me a suit, a shirt and two vests. It may sound decadent, but the sweet thing about having a tailor is that you pick out every detail and every piece is made for your body. Bonus: alterations for life!

My grey suit is solid and can be mixed and matched with both vests and the shirt. As Al often reminds me, I'm slowly building up a collection of gentlemen's garments that will look as excellent at a formal wedding as a beach bluff picnic.

I augment the expense of my tailor with regular trips to American Apparel who--for all their tacky advertising--is the only place stateside I can find a plain white t-shirt that fits me (xs! xxs!) There summer line is almost always awesome--rife with seersucker and fancy pants. And it's affordable!

My favorite new shirt for cocktail parties or beer on the deck:

White/brown seersucker

If I've got a little extra cash and time, I'll visit Topman's online store. Their XS or XXS both tend to fit this small guy well and I've found multiple sweaters, t-shirts and jackets that have been off the chain. My favorite drool-worthy items on their site are the blazers and jackets, which sort of toe the line between rock and roll and elegant modernist dinner party.

I've heard great things about Uniqlo, though I haven't yet had the opportunity to try something on. Generally, if I could buy only Japanese clothes I would be pumped: they've got the slim fit/small guy/well dressed situation down in a major way.

Finally, for accessories the world opens up a little. A great spot that I've found for all your dandy materials is Fine and Dandy, an awesome online store overflowing with pocket squares and tie jewelry. They also have a great blog with very dapper fashion insights (though occasionally I find them a bit costume-y, I appreciate their eye for "men on the street" like this guy):

Between my tailor and the few stores I know make clothes in my size, I have managed to put together a closet I'm proud of. Someday: a store where pants always fit. I'll keep you posted.