Thursday, March 22, 2012

Asked & Answered: Shopping in the Men's Section

Welcome to Asked & Answered, a new feature where the questions you ask are answered by Lezsquire.  Reader Mallory recently wrote in asking:

“I am so glad to have stumbled across this blog; it's been so helpful already. I'm a 2L and am having trouble figuring out professional dress. I love those Levi's you have on here. I would like to buy some, but the thought of shopping in the men's sections intimidates me. Have you ever thought about writing a "how to" post on shopping in the men's section?”

Mallory, I am happy to help in any way I can.  Believe it or not, I also did not start shopping in the men’s section until late 1L/ early 2L year.  Don't get me wrong, I have always loved men's fashion.  But until that point I had allotted all of my shopping time in a desperate and more often than not futile attempt at finding "masculine" clothing in the women's section.  Why?  Growing up I had few if any queer friends for guidance, and coming from the highly conservative environment I grew up in, it just wasn't something that was done.  When it finally clicked with me that shopping in the men's section was an option, I experienced a personal style Renaissance.  A whole new world of fashion opportunity had opened up to me. 

With that in mind, I present Lezsquire's guide for to shopping in the men's section for lesbian women (& co).

1. Bring a friend.  There are some lesbians out there who have always shopped in the men's department and have no problem marching in there with all the dudes and picking out what they like.  For the rest of us, shopping in the men's section really means overcoming a social taboo.  A friend will vastly lessen your anxiety about venturing into this uncharted territory.  Particularly useful here are LGBTQ friends or a significant other.  They will be sensitive to your needs and, more likely than not, render fabulous style advice.
Turn to your LGBTQ friends for shopping support. (Source)
2. Know your size, roughly.  You shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it, but it’s better to go in knowing what you are looking for.  Knowing your measurements beforehand will give you a good place to start.  If you're only used to shopping in the women's section, men's sizing can be confusing at first.  You can find shoe, pant, shirt, and other conversion charts online.  You might even want to make a "cheat sheet" and bring it with you, so you can jump right into the sizes that are likely to fit and adjust up or down accordingly. 

4. Don't settle for the "wrong" fit.  One common mistake of women buying men's clothing is that they will settle for clothing that they are virtually swimming in either because they think it is the closest approximation to their "women's" size, or it is the smallest size available in the men's section.  My rule is to keep going a size down until I can no longer get the clothes to fit.  Then I go one size up from that.  This results in clothing that is well-fitted and tailored looking.  If the smallest men's size is still too big, my advice is to pass on it.  You may need to look in the boy's department if that is the case, and there is no shame in that.  Also keep in mind that stores targeted at younger men tend to have slim/ tailored fit clothing, which is more likely to flatter and fit your body than the alternatives. 

3. Pick the right stores.  Let's face it.  Some stores will be more lesbian-friendly than others.  This will be a judgment call on your part.  If you're new to shopping for men's clothing and anxious about it, stores that have collections of both men's and women's clothing in the same general area are a good place to start (and will be less like walking into a cave of leering men).  Places like H&M, American Apparel, J.Crew, and some department stores come to mind.  As you gain experience and familiarity with men's clothing shopping, you will be more comfortable with the prospect of venturing into "men's only" clothing stores if you so choose.  Also, keep your objective in mind.  Are you looking for shoes, a suit, or casual clothes?  Thinking about these things beforehand will help direct your plan of attack for where to shop.

4. Shop online.  Once you gain some familiarity with men's clothing sizing, how items of different sizes fit you, and the styles that look good on you, you can take your knowledge to the online marketplace.  Often I will find something I like in a store but they just won't have the right size or color that I am looking for.  Rather than giving up, make a note and see if the item you desire is available online.  The other great thing about the internet is that you will have a vast variety of men's styles that you couldn't find at your average trip to the mall at your fingertips.

5. Shop thrift and bargain stores.  The majority of my most prized pieces of attire are vintage or thrifted.  Thrift stores generally feature both men's and women's clothing, often times mixed in together.  At its best, this breaks down perceived gender barriers and allows you to assess a piece for it's intrinsic worth rather than its socially constructed gender value.  Ok, maybe I am getting a little too philosophical here.  Anyway, keep in mind that thrifting is more of a hobby or "process" than a shopping trip.  You can't go in looking for any particular item because you are unlikely to find it.  But when you least expect it, you might just find that perfect vest or vintage leather jacket that you never knew you needed, and it's all worth it.

6. Find a good tailor.  I am reluctant to recommend this because I have not yet in my life found a "good" tailor and I thus question whether this is a worthy investment.  Your first ditch effort should be to get clothes that fit you well from the get-go.  But, this can be difficult with men's clothes that were not made with lesbian bodies in mind.  So if you have the fortune of knowing a good tailor, take note that a nip and tuck in the right places can take your look from passable to outstanding.

Communication helps your tailor achieve the look you want, so be articulate.
So, Mallory, I hope that his article will be of use to you in your future Lezsquire shopping endeavors.  If something comes up that wasn't addressed here, you know where to find me.  My style advice is free and plentiful. 

Do you have a question you would like Lezsquire to answer?  Contact me to have your question Asked & Answered!

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