Last week, I returned to the age-old question of what butches should wear to interviews. In a short poll, I posed the following hypothetical:
Imagine helping a butch lesbian decide what to wear for an entry-level professional interview (e.g., lawyer, consultant, finance, manager, gov't, professor, etc.). She usually wears men's clothes, but identifies and presents as female, though people sometimes accidentally call her "sir." She tells you, "I know the employers are kind of conservative, though I also know things are slowly changing. I'm a solid candidate but not a shoe-in. What should I wear?
I gave six choices and asked how to advise our butch professional wannabe:
#1: Fit in first, THEN change the system. Wear what other women there wear: makeup, heels, whatever you have to.
#2: Be yourself, but show you're willing to play the game. Wear only the women's stuff you're most comfortable in--skip the makeup and heels!
#3: Wear a combo to help you fit in a little--e.g., a plain women's suit, collared shirt, men's shoes.
#4: You like men's clothes; wear a men's suit and shirt and shoes, but no tie or other uber-masculine gear that'd alienate you from your interviewers.
#5: Men's clothes, including a tie. If they don't want you, you don't want to work there. If you can't get a job in the industry, it's not for you!
#6: As long as you wear something nice, clean, etc., it doesn't matter. People judge you for who you are, not what you wear.
Here are the results:
As you can see, I also calculated the average age for each response. For a small survey, these age differences don't matter much, and goodness knows this isn't anything close to a representative sample (of the population overall, of butches, or even of BW readers), but it's interesting to think about.
A few numbers that caught my eye, and possible explanations:
And finally, here's a sampling of the write-in comments:
Thanks for these great thoughts. If you're trying to figure out how to break into the profession you want without compromising who you are, you are certainly not alone.
I've been hesitating to write this entry because I don't know whether to make it instructional or confessional. Perhaps it is neither.
A few months ago, I was gearing up for a series of interviews in a very conservative (socially, not politically) industry. I was planning to wear my dark grey men's suit with the lovely, unstructured shoulders, complete with a purple checked tie. But one of my mentors got to me first (not you, CB). I should add that this woman is queer, in case that matters to you. I'll call her "MP" for "Mentor Person." This conversation occurred:
MP: So... You're not going to wear men's clothes to the interviews, are you?
MP: Look, you want a job, right?
BW: Right, but at what cost?
MP: Look, when you're at my level, you can wear what you want. But at this point, you want a job. You want to convey that you're like everyone else. And you don't want the interviewers thinking about your clothes.
BW: I don't care if they think about my clothes.
MP: Yes, you do. You don't want them staring at you thinking, "Is she wearing men's underwear?"
BW: I'll just walk in, wink, and tell them, "Nope."
MP: No to the men's underwear?
BW: No to the men's underwear! Well... today, anyway.
Okay, so then MP--who, let me stress, is someone I trust and who is invested in my professional success--tells me her hypothesis about gender conformity and clothing. Basically, she says that there are four components to a professional outfit:
2. Something over the shirt, like a blazer or jacket or sweater
MP's theory is that of these items, at least two need to be from the women's department so as not to attract undue attention/speculation/consternation. She tried, unsuccessfully, to get me to order a "shell" shirt from L.L. Bean or one of those other places. I told her I thought it was absurd. I resisted. I argued.
And then I gave in--partly.
On my way home that day, I stopped at Macy's and tried on approximately 15 women's suits. I do not like women's suits because they tend to lack pockets, to have too-short jackets, and to be cut in weird ways that make my hips look extra hipp-y and my boobs look extra boob-y. Finally, I found one that was relatively inoffensive, except that the jacket was a little too short. Whatever. I bought two, in black, plus a women's Ralph Lauren shirt that was lovely and purple and striped and devoid of girlish frills. (Not a "shell" or--God forbid--a "camisole"--I'm talking about a regular collared shirt.) I took a picture of myself in the new getup and sent it to MP. Her response: "Don't you think it's a little narcissistic to send me pictures of yourself?"
Ha. From MP, that's approval.
The next day, unprompted, MP loaned me actual, real pearls, because she said rich people can tell the difference between real pearls and fake pearls and I was likely to encounter people who had grown up wealthy. I am extremely skeptical of pearls, but since these were small and looked shockingly non-dowdy with my new, very sharp shirt, I went for it.
So according to MP's formula I was more than sufficiently girly: pants, suit jacket, shirt. Three out of four! (There was no way in hell I was going to wear women's shoes.) Plus pearls!
Looking in the mirror the day of my interviews, I realized that there was still no way anyone would mistake me for straight: my ever-present tiny silver hoops, very short haircut, and men's shoes gave me away. Even with pearls, I didn't look feminine, but at least I was closer to Ellen's look than to Lea DeLaria's. (Point of clarification: I like Lea DeLaria and her look; I'm not knocking it, just saying that I didn't want to embody it that day.)
Among the sea of other interviewees, I was still by far the least gender-conforming person. I might as well have been wearing a rainbow sticker on my forehead. Still, the cut of my suit allowed me to look conforming enough for interviewers not to dismiss me, and masculine enough that I felt comfortable. In fact, I felt like quite the powerful dyke.
Did I "betray" my butchness by wearing a lady-suit? Maybe. Would I have been more "true" to myself in a men's suit and tie? Maybe. But at the same time, I thought carefully about the degree of "compromise" I was willing to make, and what I was and wasn't willing to sacrifice to fit in. More gender conformity would have gone over better with interviewers, I suspect. Still, I have to admit that I felt proud of finding a balance that worked for me in this particular situation, and grateful to MP for giving me the heads-up that I needed to make a few changes if I wanted to be in the ballpark.
As you can tell, I'm still wrestling with it. I loathe the idea of compromising to "fit in." But I also loathe the idea of not getting the job I want because I was too stubborn to take off my damn tie. At least for me, being butch is partly about being true to myself, and partly about finding a balance that will let me be myself while accomplishing what I want to accomplish. (And finally getting some power, so that I can not only put my own tie back on, but hire plenty of other tie-wearing women when I'm the one making the decisions.)
I bet some of you can relate to this. For those of you in industries where you're likely to be punished for gender non-conformity, what do you do? What kinds of balance have you found, and how has it worked?
A few months ago, I put this question to readers: What is your butch "style?" How is it different (if it's different) from being a man?
One reader emailed me such a thorough answer that I've decided to feature it as its own post. If you have a take on butch style that you think is blog-worthy and you want to share with the world, email me and I just might feature it here!
This answer comes from BT:
I have been trying to define my butch style or what it means to be butch for me for awhile now. This is what I’ve come up with.
Once I came out and finally felt comfortable in my own skin I really started having this desire to be dapper. Which I guess I always had it because I realize now I projected it onto my ex-husband, dressing him how I really wanted to but didn’t feel like I could. I love ties. Regular ties, bow ties, ties with intricate knots. Vests, suspenders, wingtips, cufflinks, 40’s style hats and pinstripes…love them. Some day when I can afford it, I will have a suit made by Saint Harridan. To me, being dapper is butch.
2. Ruggedness (Country)
This could be seen as the opposite of dapper but it’s totally possible to be both. For me, ruggedness is butch.I am country at heart and to me these things are country and butch. 1) Working hard. I know you can work hard at a lot of things but I mean the being outside in 115 degree weather, digging irrigation trenches, putting up fences, plowing fields kind of working hard. 2) Trucks. That is, liking trucks, fixing trucks, and 4-wheeling in trucks. 3) Hunting, Fishing, Camping. There’s something about being out in the wilderness that really seems to bring out the butch. In addition, gutting and skinning animals, playing with fire and whittling. Along with those things… 4) Guns, knives, weapons of any sort. 5) Flannel, thermal, and big boots. Butch lumberjack without a beard. 6) Tools. Knowing what more than your basic tools are and how to use them. 7) Coors Light.
3. Other Stuff
Some other things that I feel are butch: 1) Smoking pipe tobacco and cigars. 2) Epic war movies. 3) Demonstrating gentlemanly behavior like opening doors and pulling out chairs. 4) Death metal. 5) Leather working. 6) Wood working. 7) My LazyBoy. 8) Being a romancer.
4. Butch Femininity
With all the masculine butch stuff aside, butch femininity. For me (and my lady) this is the most important ingredient. Without the butch femininity I’d just be a man. 1) Feminine intuition. Because of this I better know what’s going on with my lady. I see what she wants, know how to meet her needs, and can quickly tell when something is off or wrong. 2) My lady heart. All rough and tough on the outside but inside is a tender feminine heart with a great capacity to love in a way that only a woman can. 3) Sensitivity. 4) In a lot of ways I still think and feel like a woman so really being butch is the best of both worlds combined.
So there it is as best as I can describe at this juncture.
...Do you agree with all of this, dear readers?
What defines your butch style?
This is a mite tardy, but I hope it will help you find the perfect last-minute gift for your butch friends/partners/family. (And yes, there's still plenty of time to get free 2-day shipping on Amazon, so YAY.)
Some of these items are from my own wish list, but most are suggestions from BW readers. Enjoy, and feel free to post your own ideas in the comments!
What's on your wish list, butches? For a few more ideas, check out the Butch Store. Good luck with your last-minute shopping!
One of my favorite newish bloggers, A Lesbian in Pensacola, contacted me and said she'd like to post on BW about suitable butch beach gear. I agreed; it's hard to get more beach-experty than Pensacola, after all! Here she is:
Memorial Day Weekend is almost here, and tens of thousands of queers will head down to Pensacola Beach for a massive party. Whether Pensacola is your destination or you choose another beautiful beach this summer, a few essentials will keep you happy and healthy while enjoying your vacation.
The first rule of beachy butchness: nobody likes the boiled lobster look. Wear sunscreen (regardless of your natural skin color)! The beach is a lot more fun if you can go back the next day instead of lying in bed with ice packs and Ibuprofen.
[BW note: Not all tankinis suck. See?]
If you're a softer butch, your style options have expanded in the past few years. Tankinis that used to consist of generic-looking shorts and squared off tank tops now run the gamut of triathlon-ready to super femme. Athleta offers tons of sizes, and while a lot of them might be too femme for some, I love the running-ready variety. The tops fit like sports bras, and solid colors abound. [BW note: what do you wear under that for a bra? 'Cuz my girls aren't gonna be tamed by that tankini alone.] What we call the "classic Pensacola dyke" look is easily achieved with a women's bra-style top and men's boardshorts.
[BW note: I have this one.]
Rashguards will keep your skin burn-free and scrape-free. If you’ll be surfing, snorkeling, or on a boat, a good rashguard will be your friend. Rashguards are also a stylish way to cover your upper half, if you’re not excited about any of the bathing suit tops.
[BW note: Non-pastel colors!]
For butches who hate wearing women's swimsuit bottoms, the ever-present boardshorts are still ragingly popular. Women's boardshorts are often short, fitted, and involve pink. But there's been a lot of color and style progress recently, though most men's boardshorts will do just fine, as long as they're not so long as to inhibit your knees when you're playing in the water. It's maddening to try to stand on a surfboard and get stuck in a squat because your knees are locked in your shorts.
Other beach necessities include:
Safe travels, and see you on the beach!
[BW note: Thanks for those awesome recs, Pensacola Lesbian! You've not only inspired me to consider putting a "beach" section in the Butch Store, but you've made me want to visit Pensacola!]