Friday, January 13, 2012


Why do you dress the way you do?  A simple, yet important question.

For many of you (as fashion-bloggers), I imagine your answer is to create beauty and exercise your creativity.  I grasp that.  Yesterday, however, I noticed that there are other people who dress for different reasons.

Many people (most men, a few women) dress simply to cover their bodies.  They barely care what they put on; they're just fulfilling society's dictate to wear clothes.  You can see this attitude in their carefree (and even careless) choices of what they wear.

Some people, who are unwilling to admit this if they're even conscious of it, dress to display their class-status.  Most societies, including our own, have distinct class-structure and people announce their affiliation with (or aspiration for) a particular class by the clothes they choose.  Brand-selection and price are important signifiers of this.

A small number of people dress to express their gender.  There is a term used in the TG community called "presenting" -- it means the gender you are declaring to the world by your clothes and appearance.  You can "present" as male or female, regardless of your body-parts.  The term is gaining rapid traction because our society (or at least, the most enlightened parts of it) is recognizing that gender should be treated as a preference, not a biological fact.  Thus, serious discussion of gender uses this concept.

Let me tell you something interesting.  Psychologists who study young children have learned that kids think gender is something external -- that if you wear the clothes of one gender, the clothing makes you that gender.  They don't associate gender with body-parts or internal psyche.  It isn't until later in life when adults "teach" them otherwise that they view gender differently.

This explains why, when I was four and wrapped a bath-towel around my waist, I actually thought that made me a girl.  My confusion was when adults didn't accept my pronouncement that I was a girl.  They corrected and mocked me.  Then they forbid me from expressing myself in feminine ways.

When I dress in women's clothes now, I often do it with childlike innocence.  In my mind, the clothes allow me to believe I am female.  My imagination opens and unfurls into infinite scenarios in which I am female.  The clothes, mere scraps of cloth, are my ticket to ride.

Why do you dress the way you do?


  1. I don't often get to wear what I'd really like because at 5' 1" and a uk size 6 its difficult to get adult clothes to fit. As I get older it gets harder and harder to pull off the teenage clothes section look and I retreat further and further into bland casual jeans and t-shirts.


  2. For me it is definitely a form of expression. I do feel like the clothes I wear 'say something' about me. I want that statement to be a good one. I admit sometimes I dress to impress others, either an interviewer, or my peers, or my man... Although he seems to think I look good in anything. but to be a little hypocritical I really try not to think TO much about what others will think about my outfits. Sometimes I feel like I dress a little to 'provocatively' when we go out to bars. But as long as I am comfortable in my clothes and with myself I'm not sure why it should matter much to other people what I've got on. It can be a very hard line to walk.

  3. Wow, that piece of research sounds really cool - do you recall where you read it so that I can look up the original scientific publication?

    Right now I'm dressing for comfort and matching colors (can't ever go against that one), but I do also "present as" female because I keep wearing skirts a lot...

    By the way, I've heard that male suits, ties and watches are a mystery in themselves, with lots of tiny status signals encoded in details much less obvious than their brand or quality - since I assume you dress in suits for work, do you know the codes and can you enlighten us? Me, I'm just curious - but I imagine that trans-men or female cross-dressers would really appreciate the info for "presenting" reasons!

    Also - this is another thing which I've been meaning to express but couldn't put into words for the longest time:

    Painful as it may be, I think the experience of being one gender but being socialized as another gender is really, really valuable for the community in that it exposes ways in which people of different genders are educated differently, and which parts of gender are really just socialization (all hormonal / innate sense of gender differences that may exist aside).

    Because suddenly we have people who have at their disposal the "behavior set" of a gender they don't really feel part of, and could explain to those of the gender that they feel part of, who in all probability weren't socialized towards these behaviors, how to assume some of these behaviors if they wanted. If we learn from each other in these respects we can eventually overcome some of the gender-stereotypical behavior divides...

    For example, I assume that you were taught, as an assigned boy, how to be assertive, how to appear relatively rational-nonemotional, how to be competitive without conceptualizing it as something bad or resorting to meanness, how to feel physically capable, and how to feel that you're worth the pay raise as well as to properly negotiate it :). All this is stuff that I don't really know all that well... A trans-man, in turn, may have been taught how to communicate, cooperate, negotiate emotional stuff, be introspective and question himself, dress up and groom more than a bio-man because he was assumed to be a girl during his upbringing. But by virtue of crossing over to the other side of the gender binary, you are also in a unique position to compare and discover, and talk about, those socialization differences, more so than even a very gender-aware cis-person would be able to (as is evident by my very clichéd idea of what men and women are taught to do better than each other!).

    I'm not saying that trans-people are somehow obliged to become educators on gendered behaviors, but I think it's great if they do! So if you have any observations to share on this matter, please, please bring them forth!

  4. Oh... it's one of those brain picking questions .... :)
    For me it depends.
    Depends on how I feel, where I am going - who I am seeing.
    When I visit a customer, I usually wear a dress or black trousers and a nice top. Always heels, never peep toe or sandals - never cleavage. Nails must be impeccable and no really flashy jewelry. When its friends, I go for trendy and comfortable...
    There is one person I always have second thoughts dressing for and its a friend from high school. I've always liked him and make an effort not to over apply make up, wear anything showy around him - and I don´t know why.
    However no matter what I wear, I make an effort to look put together, like I care :) because I do.

  5. This is a great question. I feel like over the past few years, I would put together and outfit in my head and then say "well, I can get rid of this part. It's a little too much." Or this looks too weird so I'll skip this piece." However, I recently thought to myself that nothing is "too weird" haha. I should just wear whatever I want. No matter how silly or how big the bow on my head may be! I like to put together unexpected colors and things that people aren't used to seeing. I feel like most people are so concerned with looking normal and trendy that they aren't interested in risks. On any given day, I can count 100 girls in the same, boring uniform. Sweatshirt with jeans tucked into ugg boots. I could never walk around looking like everyone else. It's just so dull!
    I often get weird or dirty looks when I wear crazy tights or such dramatic bows and people probably think I'm a huge weirdo. But I also get a lot of compliments from random strangers who tell me how unique or refreshing I look, which makes my day. If you want to look different, you should only want to attract the people who "get it." Those who don't aren't worth it. It's kind of an easier way of weeding out people who suck haha.

  6. The clothes I wear affect my mood, so I mostly dress according to the mood/feeling I want to project. I wear green when I want to feel happy, I wear red when I want to seem powerful, and I wear blue when I need to calm down or focus. I guess it could be considered dressing from the inside out.

  7. I dress to make myself happy. There is nothing like a new outfit to lift my mood.
    I do know that I am far more comfortable in pants than in dresses/skirts. Dresses just don't *feel* right to me. Makeup is a big pain for me. I try it, but it just seems to be too much hassle. I also don't like high heels and never have. They just hurt too much and I don't like my feet to hurt. I don't sound too girly do I? I do love fashion though.

  8. Great post and comments too!

    I dress to express myself and to make myself happy in general.

  9. I dress to show my personality. It's hard to explain to people that I love science fiction/fantasy and I love fashion. But I'm not really goth, and I'm not really preppy. I guess I keep dressing up so I can understand who I AM through clothing. My clothes also "give" me the body I want. If I'm feeling particularly bloat-y or short, an exaggerated hourglass or mega-wedges can "fix" that issue.

  10. Hm, I think of myself primarily as a fiction writer (and college instructor). For me, dressing up is a way of trying on various personalities and characterizations...perhaps a way of inferring backwards for the presentation and making educated guesses about the core. I believe that gender is a continuum and that we all carry aspects of male and female within us, expressing it in a variety of ways. I have experimented with this quite a bit in my life time. I know at our house, we have a fat suitcase full of dress up clothes for the grandkids. One of the boys favorite things is a coconut bra...and they'll never hear shaming from grandma or grandpa.

  11. There are three ways I dress. Dress for work, Dress for home, and dress for Exotic outings. These three are very different styles.
    Dressing for work I have to look corporate, professional business like. In fact i am in the process of attempting to upgrade my wardrobe but failing miserably.
    For home, i dont give a damn what i wear. Most of the time I am home naked to begin with as clothes are not important to me, but for going to the store or this and that, i will throw on any frock just for the sake of putting on clothes and not even caring what the style is..
    For exotic reasons I have to take other peoples preferences as opposed to my own. My foot boys will not even look at the rest of my body, but i have to be sure that my feet are perfectly manicured, my stockings frame my legs, and my shoes are sexy, and accentuate the arches of my feet.
    For role players they need to see that i can not only dress the role but act it. By putting on a specific outfit or color you do get a sense that you jump in that role and exude power and femininity.
    When i dress I dress for men, and for ways to accent my greatest features...Whether it is my eyes, my ass, my feet, or just the round fullness of my body, The confidence is what makes men want to be at the mercy of my very whim.

  12. "Presenting"- that's a very interesting concept- I've never heard of it before. I think clothing can make an impression on others, it reflects your personality, your lifestyle, your career etc. Especially now as I'm working for a non-profit organization called 'Dress for Success', which focuses on suiting disadvantaged women for the workforce. As a job interview is the first impression, the clothing is very important.

  13. Thanks, guys. And yes, poet, you're right. Being socialized as a boy and spending decades among men has taught me all about male culture (the good, the bad, the ugly). I'm always eager to explain that subject to women and anyone interested. It wasn't fun growing up the way I did but the positive is that I've seen both worlds and probably understand them better than most people.

  14. I used to dress a certain way ("preppy") so as to blend in and not get teased more than necessary. Now, I dress based on my own personal preferences and what I feel most pretty in. I wear a lot of heels and rings these days. I'm old and "wise" enough to know to put myself first. It helps I'm in college and becoming pretty independent!

  15. I dress the way I do for a few reasons.

    First and foremost, I dress to make a statement, to tell people something about me. "I'm loud, I'm creative, I'm not going to be ignored." I think much of that is BS - I'm really a very shy person at heart - but it's how I WANT to be seen, and how I want to believe myself to be. For so long in my life, I've tried to please others and be what they wanted me to be (the good girl, the smart one, the sexy girlfriend). Now, I feel like I can be who I want to be, and if sometimes I'm not feeling it, my clothes can say it for me.

    Secondly, I dress how I do as armour. I'm very open about myself, but in a shallow way. I don't let a lot of people get very close to me, the real me. Much of the time I am doing the ol' "fake it till you feel it" and letting the clothes tell people what I want, instead of telegraphing who I really am. When I'm having a bad day or going through stress, there's nothing like putting on a kickass outfit to convince myself (as well as others) that all is right with my world. It works!

    Last, but not least, I dress the way I do because I'm proud of my body. As you know (I think), I lost 50 lbs five years ago. I hated my body, hated being trapped in it. Now that I have the freedom of choice (there is so much more out there when you're a smaller size, sadly), I revel in being able to wear a slim skirt or leather pants, or a sexy dress. One of the things I say when someone asks why I dress up so much is, "I work hard for this body and I'm going to show it off!"

    I enjoyed the comments above and your own explanation of "presenting" - thank you.

  16. Sheila's first two paragraphs sum me up ... and clothes definitely give you confidence ... when you know your outfit is fierce, it's easier to be bold and confident.

    One challenge for me over the last few years was that when I returned home, I gained a lot of weight ... some due to stress, some due to quitting smoking, some due to not running(and I mean running) up and down 45 stairs a million times a day and then my thyroid changed from hyper to hypo active ;-) and that had a huge effect on me. Its taken time to get confident in the body I'm in now.

    Love this post and the comments!

  17. I contemplate these things often as well. It's amazing to me that well into the 1800s it was acceptable, if not recommended, for boys to wear dresses throughout their childhood, but now that is suddenly seen as a total abomination by most of American society. Strange how times change. It just goes to show that the concept of gender is totally relative.

    Thanks for visiting my blog! I appreciate the comment you left :)

  18. I understand what you mean when you say that many people dress the way they do just to cover their bodies. I used to do the same thing about six years ago, because I hated my body and I wasn't confident about it. Luckily I don't think that way anymore.
    Anyway, this post was really interesting. Thank you for sharing this.
    Oh and thanks so much for your comment on my blog! :)
    Life is a romantic poem