Androgynous Seattle Shopping
September 12, 2014 3:17 PM   Subscribe

Where are the best affordable places for a genderqueer person to shop in Seattle?

A friend of mind is genderqueer, and is going through the difficult process of shedding a lot of preconceived BS about their clothes. Right now they present as female, with curvy hips and breasts and a thin waist, and they hate that about themselves, and the way all of their clothes cling and emphasize that, as well as the rest of the baggage that comes along with presenting as a woman today. But they don't want to present as a man, either. This is not a case of transition from one gender to another so much as a real desire for adult androgyny. They told me the other week that they look in their closet in the morning and start to cry.

I'm flattered that my friend has asked me for help in revamping their wardrobe. They are prone to panic attacks and debilitating anxiety when forced to deal with clothes and shopping, so it's slow going. Yes, they have doctors and are in therapy - this is part of the solution. I love clothes, queer fashion, dressing for communication, and giving yourself the power to change how others see you. I myself am a femme cis woman who has no qualms about pulling from the men's section and not getting embarrassed by salespeople, and I'm so glad my friend is ready to commit to working through this problem with my help, and a few other people in their life who understand.

My issue right now is that I'm just not sure where to go. Their budget is around $1K, accumulated over the next two months. They can do some tailoring themselves. They primarily need boring work clothes, and some fancy choices that aren't dresses. Mid 20s, not very tall, and emphatically not stick-thin model. Muscles and hips. They want to dress for supervisory promotion in a tech office. We've got a car and can drive anywhere in the Seattle area.

We're going to work up a plan for a basic capsule wardrobe but I already know we'll need to fill in work pants, jeans, button down shirts, henleys, a light jacket that's nice enough for an office, and two outfits fancy enough for weddings and formal dinners. Undergarments are a big sticking point - they have a cup size that needs significant support and structure. We're looking into sportsbras, undershirts with support built-in, and binders that are more comfortable than the very tight one they have now, but is there a place that is not emphatically feminine where we can try things on?

Are there any big stores that have good reputations for treating genderqueer customers well? For example, I've heard pretty good things about Men's Wearhouse, of all places. Is this true? What should I know about shopping in the men's sizes at places like JC Penny and Macys? Are there affordable stores that cater to an androgynous demographic that is older than college-age?

Thanks so much for any knowledge you can share.
posted by Mizu to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (7 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
So. I can't speak specifically to shopping in Seattle, since it's been over a decade since I lived there (someone else is going to have to chime in on that), but I can talk in general about dressing as genderqueer folks from both my experience and my wife's experience.

Firstly, I've had trouble nailing straight up androgyny on the head. Some days I wear women's clothes and present fairly fem (at least as fem as I can with my buzzed head and fuzzy legs), some days I wear guy's clothes and present fairly butch, and some days it's a little of both (today was one of my wife's guy's tshirts, guy's cargos, women's plain black Chacos, the remains of my toe nail polish peeking out. It worked.) The days I feel most androgynous are the days I wear the plainest clothes. Ruffles are scream fem. Three fourths sleeves, fem. Sleeveless shirts, fem, since men don't typically wear tank tops to work in office settings. Steering clear of overtly fem clothes is going to help.

I know you asked about clothes, but if I might note: a good haircut helps a lot with feeling one's gender presentation. They need to find a good queer friendly hairstylist (which should be easy enough in Seattle), talk about how they want to present, and find something that works on them. Right now I'm rocking a plain old buzz cut, no guard on the clippers, and I feel so much like me that it's not even funny.

Accessories help too. I carry a plain black men's wallet from Target, unless I'm doing superfem that day, in which case I have a zipper women's wallet from 31 to use. I carry a bookbag most of the time, since I'm still on the search for the perfect androgynous/manbag (I hate that term, but it is what it is). I'll carry a purse if I'm not at work and don't have enough pockets, but I'll just carry my phone and wallet in my hands if I'm not feeling the purse that day.

Undergarments are hard. Undergarments don't come in androgynous. The wife wears boxer shorts full time, and I wear women's briefs about halftime and boxer briefs the other half. Boxer briefs are just about the most comfortable thing I've ever worn, so there's that. All they can do is buy a couple pairs of each kind of drawers they can think of, and try all the drawers until they can decide what is most comfortable for them.

Wife wears sports bras full time, and that helps to flatten her (generous) chest. Wearing undershirts helps a lot to smooth things out too. When I need to flatten, I wear front hook bras cut like sports bras (this is the current favorite; I know it says "magic lift", but trust me, it doesn't lift a thing.) My dysphoria isn't so bad that I have to bind (thankfully; all of the men I know that have to bind have back and lung issues), but it is bad enough that some days, getting up in front of my classes (I teach college) with these ... things bobbing around on my chest is really difficult, and a good flattening front hook bra and an undershirt work wonders.

Since my wife wears men's clothes full time, she shops online 95% of the time. She knows her sizes, she knows what brands she likes, and so it's easy(ier). It's harder in women's sizes, but doable. Most places do free shipping over a certain point and free in store returns these days, so it's easy enough to order a pile of clothes, try things on, and return what won't work in the privacy of your own home. (I do this too, and so do a bunch of other friends. You want to stop carrying a decent selection of plus sizes in your store, Target? Okay, then you can eat the shipping, since it comes 'free' with my redcard.)

On the other hand, I tromp around the store, grab what I want out of both sections, and then try it on in the women's dressing rooms (sigh, but it is what it is); I've never experienced any issues shopping at all, from nice stores to Target, and I live in the middle of NC (granted, in one of the most queer friendly cities in NC). Maybe people assume I'm shopping for my husband, maybe they don't; honestly, as far as I can tell, most people just don't have the fucks to give about what clothes I'm buying. :) But again, I'm not getting nice clothes fitted (I'm lucky enough, being an academic, that I can go to work in jeans and a tshirt 80% of the time, but nice clothes are up on the list, so hopefully someone chimes in with thoughts about getting non-fem work/dress clothes fitted as a female-bodied person.)

I'm hoping other folks will chime in, because this stuff is hard. It comes down to, your friend is going to have to try on a bunch of stuff and figure out what works for them and their head canon of what makes them feel androgynous and just right, and some days that's going to be different than others. I still have days when I lay out one set of clothes the night before, get half dressed in the morning, and go "this doesn't feel right", and have the Gatsby clothes-on-the-bed scene until I figure out what does feel right that day. Some days nothing feels right and I just finally put on some clothes because I can't go to work in my damn pajamas.

So, in short: trial and error until they figure out what works for them and makes them feel best. Which sucks, and if anyone has any better ideas, I'd love to hear it.
posted by joycehealy at 7:15 PM on September 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think a good thrift store might be nice for having a wide selection of types of clothes to see what works/feels right. A bonus is that there not separate dressing rooms for men and women -- just a line for everyone and single rooms with doors to try stuff on. I can say that people of both genders shop in both gender sections and I've never seen anyone bat an eye at it at (at least at the White Center/Burien Goodwill that I regularly shop at). And while things are sorted into mens and womens sections, a large amount of both will be -ish, and some of it misfiled anyways. In Ballard, I think the Value Village has a better selection than Goodwill, and is also slightly higher priced. You can still leave either of them with a bag of clothes for around sixty dollars.

Also, if you come across any brands that are just perfect, than you'll know what stores to shop at.
posted by Margalo Epps at 7:45 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Go to Broadway one afternoon and check out Crossroads, Red Light, and Value Village. On Sunday, hit the Fremont Sunday Market for more vintage finds, and shops like Atlas, Hub & Bespoke, and the underground antique mall.
posted by oxisos at 8:27 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Lifelong thrift on Capitol Hill will be both very friendly to gender queer customers and affordable, but their selection varies pretty widely in terms of quality (obviously, thrift). They get a bonus, though, for being an AIDS charity!
posted by zinful at 10:41 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hammer + Awl is a great mens accessories shop, if your partner tends toward the dapper. I'm schizo-femme (I kind of present like Diane Keaton in Annie Hall; ask me about my hats, utility clogs and ties!) and I buy awesome cufflinks/tie tacks from there. I get a ton of fashion advice from Dapperq, which links to stores (we often go to Bellevue Collections to shop, which is a horrible place, but whatevs ). I own about 5 of the Gap's Modern Oxford shirts, from the men's collection -- they are some of the only men's shirts that fit me off the rack and I'm very curvy too (I only take an L in them, too). Locally, I think Nordstrom personal shopping is an excellent service and very friendly. Nordstrom includes free tailoring with purchases too! I don't have any experience with buying from either, but Suit Supply and Kuhlman both carry slimmer, more up to date menswear than Nordstrom or Men's Wearhouse. Kuhlman is very mod and punk rock.

To really dream, The Duchess in Portland makes amazing custom suits for genderqueer people and women. They're usually in the thousands, but I think there is a "basic" collection that is only $600 or something. They also make separates. That's my dream! Also, I'd love a custom Kelly Christy hat - but I tend toward the dapper. The big Seattle Goorin Brothers might also be a good place to find a hat - I find that accessories can really change presentation a lot.

Beloved on the green, Everlane is great for basics too. I also order stuff from this little store called The Grunion Run. Very cool organic ties, vests, suspenders, hats, etc - they're aimed at groom's parties and thus very cheap -- I have seen a bunch of genderqueer fashion blogs also wearing their stuff and they are extremely friendly to that! They get an A+ from me.
posted by sweltering at 1:07 AM on September 13, 2014

Consider asking some of the people from Dapper Q or Qwear if they can offer any regional advice. They are based in NYC and Boston, I believe, but they may know people with suggestions. Saint Harridan and Marimacho sell online if that aestheric interests your friend.
posted by radiocontrolled at 2:43 AM on September 13, 2014

I'm afraid I don't have too many recommendations for Seattle in particular, but wanted to offer whatever advice I can.

Having you there with your friend will be SUPER helpful. It can feel a bit weird at first, but just be very matter of fact -- "My friend is looking for a casual button-down shirt that would go well with a blazer and jeans. What do you think might fit with some minor alterations?" and go from there. It can help if the two of you have some good energy, and like you're OBVIOUSLY going to buy a shirt and just need some direction. The more confidence you portray the better it'll go. In my experience some of the older folks can look like they're curmudgeonly but they often have the best advice for which brands and styles might fit. I've often had worse experience with men working in the men's sections -- try to find a middle-aged woman if possible.

It looks like there's an All Saints store in Seattle. They have great clothing for both men and women, and much of it is fairly androgynous.

I'd also go to Nordstrom for things like blazers, a men's bag, and casual shirts.

Men's pants are REALLY almost impossible for non-stick-genderqueer folks. There just isn't room for hips and butts and it throws off the whole shebang. It's much easier to find MENSWEAR tailored pants in the women's section, and pair with masculine tops, shoes, accessories. It's a hard process.

Your friend might be interested in some of the specific suggestions in this thread: Help me dress like a monochromatic cyber-weird! They point to places with androgynous clothing - maybe it's too cyber/tech weird, but it'll offer a few counterpoints to boring mall shopping.

This process will probably take longer than either of you would hope, but the benefit is that slowly adding things gives you the ability to refine as you go. If you end up purchasing too much at once, you can start to make some decisions that don't make sense in retrospect.

I'd start with basic: good chinos in black and navy, good boots, a blazer and a shirt to go underneath. Then start to add pieces. And you're in luck, because fall/winter clothing (for me) tends to be the most masculine (in women's sizes, which is useful if you have a butt) and androgynous. Try out some men's scarves, a nice masculine/andro blazer with a tshirt underneath, some dark rinse jeans, and kick-ass boots. Maybe a vest as another option. Maybe a flannel shirt from Androgyny - they're masculine shirts made to fit with some chest&hips.

I'd HIGHLY recommend getting some shirts made to order. How a Well-Tailored Shirt is Supposed to Fit — Qwear. Getting a Custom Shirt From Blank Label.

Other links for tailored clothing and shirts. I'd really recommend building up to getting a suit made from one of these places - my friends (and partner) have done so and it's life changing.

Bindle & Keep
Saint Harridan
Kipper Clothiers
Fourteen suiting and clothing

I'd spend some time perusing the queer fashion blogs and looking to see which concepts might work. Have specific outfits in mind when you go shopping because then you're focused on specific items with the option to being surprised by an additional can be overwhelming when you're looking for ANYTHING.

Best of luck during this process. It is a process of becoming, of identifying yourself and your own style, of presenting yourself to the world and having those things start to solidify into one image. It can be a long and frustrating process but is SO WORTH IT.

You are an awesome friend! :-)
posted by barnone at 8:33 AM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

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