Over at the New York Times, John Leland tells the story of Rachel Tutera and Daniel Friedman, who together shook up a heteronormative fashion world and began designing sharp, affordable suits to make transgender and butch clients feel handsome by actually fitting properly–which, until now, have been sorely missing from the clothing market.
Tutera, who runs a blog called The Handsome Butch, describes herself as occupying “a very tiny space that exists between being a butch dyke and being a trans man.” She had long faced a problem when shopping: there was a dearth of suits that fit her in the way she wanted them to. She wanted a masculine silhouette, but none of the men’s suits fit her body properly, and women’s corporate attire felt too feminine.
In 2010 she went to a tailor in midtown to have a suit custom made for her. It cost a whopping $1,500. But she found that “The suit really helped me in ways I never expected it to. I hadn’t ever felt handsome before. I had put together these makeshift outfits for special occasions and always felt like I was being overlooked in some way. I felt like I was ready to be paid attention to. It brought me to the precipice of becoming who I am now.”
After this moment of awakening, she decided to contact Friedman, who makes men’s suits at Brooklyn-based company Bindle and Keep. In an email, she asked, why couldn’t he make men’s suits for women like her? With Tutera as his apprentice, Friedman expanded his business by catering to women as well, advertising bespoke suits that are expertly cut to avoid accentuating female curves. Instead, they play up a masculine silhouette, with a lowered crotch and straighter hips. Now, women and transgender men make up one quarter of Friedman’s customers. Tomboy Tailors, Haute Butch and Saint Harridan are among a crop of new forward-thinking companies accommodating the sartorial needs of queer and trans communities.
The story illustrates how fashion trends change to reflect a new political and social landscape. Before the 1960s, jeans were designed almost exclusively for men–which now seems absurd. Thanks to the Women’s Movement, the joys of pants are now available to everyone. (There are actual laws protecting the Right to Wear Pants–once upon a time in America, ladies in pants could land in jail.) Similarly, the Gay Rights Movement has finally raised awareness of the need for gender-bending in clothing design.
Tutera wrote a moving follow-up to Leland’s story on her blog, in which she confesses her desire “to measure everyone in the world for a perfect pair of pants.”