If the Shoe Fits

How genderqueering fashion could change the industry forever.

BY Diane Anderson-Minshall

July 09 2013 4:00 AM ET

At left: Tomboy Tailors CEO and founder Zel Anders.

For Anders, a butch fashionista, the love of menswear for women — what she calls genderqueer clothing — was a personal one, but it’s tapped into a huge market she describes as “butch/boi lesbians, trans-masculine individuals, and women of any identity who have a strong sense of self-expression and like to wear fine, custom-made clothing.” Tomboy’s bespoke and made-to-order suits have already found fans nationwide, as the clothier has hosted fashion shows (with mostly queer women and trans men as models) and fitting sales on a national tour that’s more akin to a rock star’s than a fashion designer’s.

The reason for the success is simple, says Anders.

“Female-bodied people should have options, just as male-bodied people do, for the fit and quality of their clothing,” she argues. “It’s very easy for a male-bodied person to walk into a tailor and have that tailor understand their suit sizing and adjustment desires. In contrast, I, as a female-bodied person, have had various experiences with tailors. Sometimes they’re confused as to why I would want a suit styled like that of a man, and sometimes they have flat-out attempted to alter the style of my suit to fit their traditional mold of what I should be wearing.”

It’s a classic lesbian complaint about fashion: many don’t want to wear women’s styles but don’t fit properly in menswear. “We’re the first made-to-measure company in America addressing this unique gap in the clothing industry,” says Anders. “We’re offering an opportunity to look good and feel confident from one experience with us.”

Oakland, Calif.-based Mary Going also understands this need. While the Paris runways are about androgyny and mixing up sex and gender markers for aesthetic value, Going, who founded the new lesbian-owned and -operated fashion label Saint Harridan, is filling a longtime need among masculine women like herself.

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