Everyday Femme Radness
May 25, 2014 7:18 PM   Subscribe

What belongs in my starter femme/androgynous/genderqueer ensemble?

A little backstory: I have wanted to present in a more femme, androgynous way for a long time. Since reading the great responses here almost 2 years ago, I basically started and stopped with flamboyant socks (Happy Socks are great). I did pierce both of my ears -- but lost my nerve and let the holes close up. Though I stayed competent at managing my dysphoria at my clothes and appearance (which I shouldn't overstate, but I recognize is real), it hit me recently that this is never going to go away! This is how I am! So I might as well express myself and be me. It actually took a supportive friend/partner who unblinkingly saw me as genderqueer or gender fluid or whatever (nobody in my life has ever thought to ask me what gender pronouns I prefer) to realize that unless I stick my neck out there and act, everyone's going to coast on their socially-set default assumptions, and that part of me will never breathe the fresh air of open expression.

So I've started to act. I bought a few items that called out to me -- a skirt, a couple of dresses, a blouse. I started to shave my legs and armpits. All of these little things feel great. I love expressing my body in this way, which I think of as femme, and just lounging around the apartment in a dress feels so relaxed and wonderful. Last weekend, I just fucking went for it and wore a skirt out shopping and drinking. It was nervewracking, but also kind of calm and chill. My main impression afterwards was: good start, but I can pick a better outfit. In other words, I'm committed to the journey now (as much as admitting that makes me want to yell "never mind!" and forget the whole thing..)

I've decided that to really make this work, I can't just rely on okay skirts and a couple of dresses I'm nervous to wear out. I need to get together an ensemble of things I can mix and match on the fly. I'm thinking that I probably need tights(/stockings/ leggings?) more tops, women's pants, some nice shoes. As per an answer from 2012, I've been looking at queer fashion and really like a lot of the queer femme and various trans* looks. For a wonderful point of reference, pretty much everything here: http://qwear.tumblr.com/ I also think Laura Jane Grace is beautiful and like that kind of punky-simple black and white dress style, as seen here: http://thekey.xpn.org/aatk/files/2013/08/laura-jane-grace.jpg the look in this video is rad too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Tcm7yX0-q4

ACTUAL QUESTION: What specific items should I prioritize for a solid starter ensemble? My goal is to actually maximize my everyday usage -- so I'm thinking things like simple spaghetti strap tops, things I can layer, etc. It'll be summer momentarily, so simple things I can wear out proudly are rad too (I like simple. Smart and femme but not like cupcakes-level-cute. Pastels and white and black and purple, I love). I need shoes but don't want to break the bank with them. My budget for getting started is $250 total

Here's a glimpse at my first (very early) attempt: http://imgur.com/bABGc4z

Thank you so much in advance! MeFi has given me so much support and encouragement to grow over the years. I'm really indebted to you all.
posted by elephantsvanish to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (14 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Whoops, I forgot to link to the original thread: http://ask.metafilter.com/227337/More-femme-please
posted by elephantsvanish at 7:19 PM on May 25, 2014

I love a good shirt dress in a solid color -- easy to wear, easy to dress up or down, easy to accessorize (belts and scarves look great), great as a summer piece but also as a transition piece between seasons (add some tights and a cardigan and it's a perfect spring or fall look). You can get some simple cotton/poplin ones right now at Target, eShakti, etc.
posted by scody at 7:41 PM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

The black and white horizontal striped boat neck tee is very now, but still classic and versatile as heck. You can femme it up with a cardigan, or you can rough it up with a leather/moto jacket. It pairs well with jeans and skirts alike.

Also, find a black/gray/white print scarf without a lot of fringe or sequins or other embellishments. There's a video on YouTube called 25 ways to tie a scarf. It's super girly but hang in there. I think you'll find that the different knot styles make the scarf a really fluid accessory that can be as femme or androgynous as you feel on any given day. You can find striped tees and scarfs at good prices at Target and Old Navy.

(I'm a 41yo cis woman, so if I'm missing the mark here I apologize. I just like clothes!)
posted by kimberussell at 7:56 PM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

What you want is basically what I want in a wardrobe. Your first attempt was totally a success! I'm going to stick to your very specific question about what pieces to buy, but if you ever wanna talk clothes in general, or tips or whatever, then cool.

COTTON:ON is going to be your friend. They have a lot of edgy pieces for way cheap. They don't carry my size (but they carry yours!) but I used to buy their clothes for my partner frequently. This really simple black tank dress, for example, is just over ten bucks.

You've already got the right idea with tanks and then layering for colder weather. If you like pastels, purple, and black & white, stick to those colors. Develop a color palette so your wardrobe matches. (Replace purple with Navy and you've basically got my wardrobe).
For starters, try:
3 tanks in any colors of your choice
3 neutral shirts (tanks or Ts)
2 tshirts
2 blouses
3 skirts (neutral or colors, doesnt matter)
2 or 3 dresses.
1 pair of flats or oxfords
1 pair of heels (if that's your thing)

This should give you more than enough outfits. Try and match the colors so you can mix and match everything. You shouldn't have any piece that can only be worn one way, even the dresses. Tshirts over maxi dresses are really cute, for example.

Then, for winter, add patterned or neutral stockings, cardigans, and scarves and then tada, you're done.
posted by FirstMateKate at 8:47 PM on May 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

I second the notion of a wide boatnecked shirt, Audrey Hepburn style, possibly in different colors but at least black and white striped. There is a picture I can't locate right now of David Bowie wearing a similar shirt back in The Man Who Fell to Earth hair, and basically you and he and Audrey Hepburn have the same shoulders. Its a great neckline to accessories, pairs well with most pants/skirts and is classy as hell. Ballet flats in black are inconspicuous on days you're still feeling self conscious, but also help you show off a new snazzy pair of tights.
posted by theweasel at 8:50 PM on May 25, 2014

Don't waste money on shoes until you've saved more, because you aren't likely to find anything well made, "nice", and femme for less than $150, probably more if you're looking at boots. That said, for the Laura Jane Grace vibe, a pair of killer black motorcycle boots is just what the doctor ordered, so keep your eyes peeled for sales. Paired with cute thick socks and a black skirt, or fitted jeans tucked into the tops. Right now, probably a pair of Chucks will suffice.

Since you want to mix and match, you'll need to work out a color palette so you can easily add pieces and know things will go together without agonizing. A good rule of thumb is to pick one dark neutral, one light neutral, one warm hue, one cool hue, and one metallic. So in your case, maybe: Black, ivory, cherry red, lavender (since you say you like pastels), and silver. Then try to only pick up things that contain one or more of these colors. You can of course deviate, or get things with additional color (dark wash blue jeans, red scarf with gold thread, ivory bracelet with green charms) but it will keep you from getting that one piece that doesn't go with anything else. You might find that you want less color, and it's definitely easier to find things in all neutrals and metallics, if that's what pleases you.

(As another example, my wardrobe is basically navy, light grey, plum purple, teal, and silver. (I also have red and black and cobalt blue and copper as a subset color scheme, but I have a full wardrobe of feminine clothes and am a cis woman so I've had a lifetime of clothes budget and building.)

I agree with the shirt dress and scarf suggestions above, they're great ideas. Have you put any thought towards underwear? Camisoles are great to wear under slightly transparent blouses, or thin fabrics that need something smooth underneath, or under a low cut or unbuttoned top or dress. You might look into shorts to wear under your skirts because chafing is a thing that all right-thinking people want to avoid, and it will allow you slightly more confidence in public while in your femme clothes, in terms of range of motion and all that. They're also good for when you don't want to wear tights or leggings and your skirt is perhaps a touch too short.

Look into jewelry that you don't need a piercing to wear - necklaces, bracelets, hair ornaments. Right now colorful bobby pins are available at places like target - put two criss-crossed above your temple; it's like 20 cents for superfemme! Bracelets made of thin leather and a few charms are beautiful and pleasantly androgynous and currently popular. Pendant necklaces are simple and easy - you can replace the chain with a small black ribbon if the mood strikes.

I think you're on the mark in terms of tops you can layer. For bottoms, try to find one great long skirt in a light flowy fabric, which you will likely find extremely comfy in summer despite its length, one medium length a-line or circle skirt, and one shorter pencil skirt, maybe in a canvas or denim fabric. Wear the short one with leggings, the medium one with fun socks, and the long one with sandals.
posted by Mizu at 8:52 PM on May 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Scarves. Scarves make almost any outfit more femme, even when worn by big burly dudes with beards. Buy a couple of styles and learn to tie them--I like this diagram, but there are literally hundreds of tutorials out there.

Possibly google capsule wardrobe--there are many people who've done it, and the objective is to come up with a relatively small number of clothing items/accessories that are designed to work well with each other and be appropriate for almost all situations. You can browse to see what other people have chosen, and when you find someone who has a style you like, you can use their wardrobe as inspiration.

For shoes, at this point, I'd just go hit up a random shoe place during a sale and pick up a few cheap pairs that you like. They won't last forever and they won't be well made, but my experience with shoes is that most people have one or two styles that they love, one or two that they hate, and a bunch in the middle. Experiment with cheap shoes to figure out what you like, and then start looking for nicer versions of styles that you know work for you. (That said, ballet flats are super summery, pretty in right now, and remarkably comfortable--plus they're cheap and cute.)
posted by MeghanC at 8:56 PM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

My budget for getting started is $250 total

I suggest blowing a fair chunk of your summer budget on sandals, maybe something like these from Keen or a cheaper version of these from Fluevog. (The Boston Fluevog store is a good place to try things on, by the way.) A friend of mine has had luck buying her shoes on eBay. Your sandals may carry you into fall, if you also invest in some warm stockings (these $20 fleece-lined Italian-made tights come in 'tall' as well as 'large'). And meanwhile, there is the joy of toenail polish.

For everything else: thrift stores are great for throwing diverse togs at the mirror and seeing what sticks, so to speak.

Your 'first attempt' photo is super-fetching -- perfectly androgynous/femme while not trying too hard, and with your own flair.
posted by feral_goldfish at 9:08 PM on May 25, 2014

Depending on sizing--height can sometimes be an issue but often you just have to try, I've found the sizing to sometimes vary considerably from what's on the package--you can often get colorful tights really cheap at Target or wherever and a couple different colors of tights suddenly turn the same skirt/dress into pretty different outfits. Get some kind of shoe that you like wearing with tights and a skirt and ideally one that will also work for knee socks and a skirt, if you like fun socks. Also see Sock It To Me, Amazon carries lots of them and they're extended-size-friendly compared to a lot of socks. They have a lot of patterns that are nifty without being cupcake-y. Skirts in basic black/khaki/denim are particularly good for mixing up like this.

And learn how to do your own nails, it goes a long way and you can switch up as often as you want, and nail polish is pretty cheap.
posted by Sequence at 11:45 PM on May 25, 2014

I need to get together an ensemble of things I can mix and match on the fly.

Something that can help a lot with mixability is to choose a limited palette of colors and start there ("color capsule wardrobe" is one of the terms I've seen). The article I started from suggested three neutrals and one accent color; I chose black, white, and stone/natural, plus red as the accent. After a while, I let the red expand into similar warm colors (oranges, russets, that kind of thing). It makes choosing an outfit a lot easier because everything goes together at least in terms of color.
posted by Lexica at 9:58 AM on May 26, 2014

Ballerina wrap sweaters are really versatile. They can be sturdy or very delicate and are great for when you want a little extra coverage or whenever there might be a chill.
posted by Room 641-A at 10:02 AM on May 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

Maybe try out shirts with different necklines (boat neck, scoop, v) to see what you like?
posted by ITheCosmos at 4:15 PM on May 26, 2014

Scarves, for sure.
posted by travertina at 10:06 AM on May 27, 2014

I highly recommend We Love Colors for tights. Huge color selection, lots of sizes -- they're accommodating to plus-size or tall people. As someone who has wasted considerable money trying cheap tights, I think you should spend a bit more on each pair of tights once you commit to wearing them. They're so versatile -- they feel feminine but can easily look androgynous depending on what you pair with them.
posted by myntu at 8:15 PM on May 30, 2014

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