a rovin' a rovin' a rovin' i'll go for a durable wardrobe
March 26, 2017 8:53 AM   Subscribe

What are good places for a lowkey femme/tomboy/outdoorsy queer lady to find durable, comfortable clothes? I'm trying to move from fast fashion into maintainable-over-years items (as well as figure out this aesthetic) and would love any guidance.

I received some great advice re: clothing on the Green just before coming out as a trans woman in 2014. From 2014-2016 I explored a lot of different shades of femme, especially vintage dresses, punky outfits, etc. The bright, expressive aspects of femme presentation were really important to me and got me through a lot of tough situations, but as I've become (way, way) more comfortable in my skin, I find myself settling into a more lowkey femme/tomboyish space and feeling really comfortable about that. But I'm also realizing that much of my wardrobe either doesn't match my style any more, doesn't fit well, or is stuff that is poorly made and deteriorates rapidly.

This imgur album is a snapshot of where I'm at right now. My black jacket/hoodie (from Modcloth, pre Walmart acquisition) and the leather boots (Frye Engineer boots) have both lasted almost three years and been wonderful companions/are probably the best example of long-term durable stuff I own. But they kind of nudge my style more in the queer punk direction than I'm feeling these days. I'd like to find more items that are, for example, more suited for hiking and more of an outdoorsy and/or relaxed aesthetic (but more interested in like somewhat fitted women's flannel than oversized menwear, for example). I still want to wear bright colors, but in articles that are comfortable and practical and durable. I have been buying lots of tops from the Gap and Loft but am disappointed with the quality of both of them/keep regretting the things I occasionally buy -- my only plaid right now, the blue from the imgur album, is a Gap top that is already falling apart, for example.

I recently picked up the turquoise hoodie and a couple of more durable tops from REI and was super impressed with the quality. I think it's a good place to get more items from, but I want to be more strategic about which types of items to grab from them -- for example, I don't have a vest right now, is REI a good place for that or way overpriced? What about a light/rain jacket?

I've always bought pants from the Gap but am interested in getting a new pair from elsewhere -- I haven't actually been able to wear anything other than leggings/sweats for months due to recovering from a surgery, so this is a purchase I'd definitely like to focus on. I guess shorts too, because of summer.

Finally, shoes. Oof. I find shoes to be really hard. Any good suggestions for durable but not-entirely-uncute shoes to think about?

Any ideas you have at any degree of specificity - specific store for an item, ideas for learning to mend and maintain clothes better, etc - would be lovely. I don't have a big budget, but I feel like if I reframe clothes buying around getting quality, comfortable, durable, well-fitting pieces gradually that will last years it will be more affordable in the end. Thank you!
posted by elephantsvanish to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (24 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Have you checked out Patagonia? Very high quality, outdoorsy, women's stuff is feminine cut without being clingy/sexy. Also fair trade and the company has great business practices. I've been really happy with their clothes. I'm wearing a pair of cords from them right now! Not cheap but if you sign up for emails they have a lot of sales. I've been trying to go higher quality, ethical clothes and I feel like they fit the bill.
posted by john_snow at 9:16 AM on March 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

I discovered in the last few years that places like Nordstrom/Bloomingdales/J Crew have a discount cadence that goes full price/40% off/65%+ off. This means I've been able to buy a lot of higher end clothing at Gap prices by putting things on wishlists and then snagging them when then go deep discount. Depending on what size you are, I found that Uniqlo has great prices for shorts and a pretty decent range of lengths - but they run small.

My personal style is a little more femme and a little less outdoorsy than yours is, but I have found I got a lot of mileage from coming up with the shapes I want to wear and using them as a template. This year it means I'm wearing a lot of super comfortable and cute Adidas sneakers with flowy skirts and t-shirts or minidresses. If you think about proportion in what you are wearing, that will help allow for more comfort in cute shoes. I wear a lot of sneakers - Asics tigers are one of my favorites for comfort and color range - plus you can find them sometimes very deeply discounted on Amazon.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 9:16 AM on March 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

I basically live in outdoorsy clothes and have moved to investing in higher-quality pieces that look and feel better and last longer. I just got a pretty turquise puffy vest from Patagonia that was so spendy but so cosy and fits nicely (not at all boxy). I would also recommend tops from Smartwool if you don't mind merino- they have bright, pretty colours and also are fitted nicely. For work, I wear Icebreaker skirts & dresses - again, expensive, but I've basically circulated through the same few pieces for years and they've held up beautifully, and also, it feels like wearing sweatpants to work but still professional enough for my very casual office. Also, Ibex has cute tops (again, if you don't mind merino, which obviously I love). All of these are perfectly functional for a hike (well, maybe not the dresses but I have biked and paddled in a Patagonia morning glory dress! I'd recommend that one hands down, except I've heard they've changed the design).

For care, I wash all my merino separately with a mild detergent and hang to dry. No issues with fading/shrinkage even with things that are years old and worn often.

I hope this helps!
posted by bighappyhairydog at 9:29 AM on March 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

3rding Patagonia especially because you mentioned maintenance and mending. They have a robust repair program. Well, their maintenance and repair guides are worth bookmarking no matter what brand of clothes you end up getting.

REI is great and they sell Prana which is one of my favorite outdoors brands. Some of their clothes look like camping clothes but others just look like... clothes. Like I have the Halle pants which are a little more hiking-looking but I also have the Brenna pants that just look like skinny jeans. And I find with a lot of the outdoorsy brands you can pick and choose this way too--they have some t-shirts with hippie prints or skirts with technical details, but they also have stuff that looks more basic, and you can mix and match however you want.

I also really like Athleta, which is a Gap company but higher quality in my experience, but a lot of their clothes lean a little more urban/athleisure as opposed to rugged/outdoorsy. But for example, they have great skirts that don't look too girly/feminine so they go really well with the Prana/REI brands.
posted by mama casserole at 9:39 AM on March 26, 2017

Queer femme here. Most of my outdoorsy clothes come from Ibex, REI (check sales and outlet), Eddie Bauer, or Lands End. Title 9 is another great place to look, especially for dresses. My lazy femme look is usually jeans/tshirt /hoodie, with sneakers or boots, but t-shirt femme cut and often brightly colored.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:43 AM on March 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

My favorite fitted women's flannel of late has come from J Crew/Madewell (their frequent extra 40% off sale promotions make it surprisingly cheap, and if you're a student or teacher you can get an extra 10% off in store), and LL Bean's signature line. For a long time, all of the women's clothing at Bean's was pretty much just pink versions of their men's clothing, and the fits were awful, but the signature line is actually flattering and seems (so far) to be quite well-made and durable. It's a little pricy, but their guarantee is fantastic.

Jeans and shorts are tough because so much depends on your shape--I buy most of mine at Madewell, and they're pretty durable but they fit really differently than any I've tried at the Gap. If you're at all into thrifting, though, good shorts are surprisingly easy to thrift (unlike jeans).

Wolverine's line of 1000 mile boots are just as durable as they say, and mostly very cute, but also stupid expensive. I bought mine on sale online, and paid around $150, rather than the $500 they're supposed to cost. Perhaps worth looking around for a sale?
posted by dizziest at 9:48 AM on March 26, 2017

What is your shoe budget and what is your shoe size? I am an AFAB person with big-feet-for-an-AFAB person, and for many years, long before I switched to men's clothes, I wore the cuter kind of men's shoes because of quality and fit. (So littler shoes rather than chunky ones, shoes with broguing or other cute details, shoes in colors rather than black, etc. In general, people did not know that these were men's shoes.)

When I get new shoes, I often get them from Yoox, which stocks, basically, small Italian brands. Quality varies widely and the search function is sort of meh, but if you keep an eye out for sales, things can be quite cheap. (Don't pay full price on there.) I think I got some women's shoes in a 42 once, too.

So I have a pair of shoes sort of like these that would be pretty cute with skirts and tights, I have a pair of high quality blue suede chelsea boots that I got on clearance for $78, etc. They also tend to have fashion-y/cute Italian sneakers.

I second the Wolverine 1000 mile recommendation with additional suggestions: Sometimes Sierra Trading Post has irregular ones; it's worth checking out eBay for these; and if you do get a pair and will be wearing them in wet or snowy weather, it is worthwhile to get a cobbler to put on a sole cover. Wet weather will weaken the leather soles and they will wear away sooner. This is true of all leather-soled shoes.

Also, if you get a pair of boots or shoes that you like but that does not have a rugged sole, you can have a cobbler put on a thicker, chunkier sole cover. This won't transform a summer shoe into a winter boot, but I often do this with dressier boots with smooth soles so that I can wear them in icy winter conditions.
posted by Frowner at 10:14 AM on March 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Shoes: how do you feel about Chacos? These are the standard summer shoe among outdoorsy women I know. They're expensive for sandals, but I wear mine for pretty much six months straight (hiking in them sometimes) and they're ten years old and probably okay for another year-ish.

Also, 2nding Sierra Trading Post for outdoorsy clothes at a discount. The selection is variable and it's worth paying attention to the reviews, some stuff winds up on discount for a reason. They do have regular sales and shipping deals and a decent return policy.
posted by momus_window at 10:37 AM on March 26, 2017

(A quick point of clarification - women's shoes have always driven me nuts because "cute" and "durable" are pretty much in opposition. This is what originally, lo these many years ago, drove me to wear Italian men's shoes, which tend to be as durable as usual men's shoes but not drab and blah. In fact, if you're looking for cute flats, you can often find Italian men's loafers in colorful suedes, etc, that are functionally indistinguishable from women's but don't, like, fall apart in the rain.))
posted by Frowner at 10:39 AM on March 26, 2017

Also - and sorry for so many posts - I forgot about Camper shoes. I don't know what your definition of cute and sporty is, but I feel like they have some particularly cute and sporty shoes this season, like these fuschia nubuck oxfords, this bright royal blue riff on a sports sandal, the maroon slightly dressed up hiking boots, the minimalist sneakers with the multicolored soles, etc. They have a really good range this spring, although to my mind the better styles are further down the page. I used to get Camper shoes years ago and the quality is good.

You can sometimes find them on sale at Nordstrom Rack or Yoox, and the sizing is very consistent as long as you know your European size.
posted by Frowner at 11:00 AM on March 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

I dress a lot like you and my wardrobe is almost exclusively from Eddie Bauer.
posted by BrashTech at 11:09 AM on March 26, 2017

For summer shoes, I'd recommend the old queer lady classic: Birkenstocks! Super comfy, durable, and repairable. I'm also too femme for the standard Arizonas, and I find if you go to a shop that specializes, or look online, there are lots of cute options. Many people like the ones with the toe post. I have a pair of the Larisa model, which I like because you can mix it up occasionally by removing the t-strap.
posted by snorkmaiden at 11:25 AM on March 26, 2017

Keen for shoes. Sandalis for cute yet functional sandals. Order now they take 4-6 weeks but they come in sizes 35-48 or something like that. And are much, much better quality than you'll find in stores. If you have small enough feet you can get a ton of feminized versions of classics like Chacos, Birkenstocks etc which are basically just like the mens but the straps are more decorative.

And I don't know how tall you are but some of the brands here make all their womens clothes in teeny-short (Smartwool, Ibex, Prana). I don't know anyone over about 5'4" or maybe 5'6" who buys their stuff regularly. Clothing that more comfortably fit tall and broad shouldered women but have the same vibe are Mountain Hardware, Eddie Bauer tall, REI tall, Athleta tall, Champion, Nike, Backcountry's namebrand line (they keep changing the name but it's BC or Stoic usually) and Big Agnes (which is not a plus sized line). Patagonia, ArcTeryx etc are hit and miss for me, usually I have to size up to get stuff to fit and it's not always comfortable to wear.
posted by fshgrl at 11:42 AM on March 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Love your style! I like a skinny jean and I've been happy with these Rohan jeans for a skinny jean look that I can wear hiking and such. Their other clothes are cute too, made of functional fabrics, and often on sale.
posted by a sourceless light at 12:53 PM on March 26, 2017

And I don't know how tall you are but some of the brands here make all their womens clothes in teeny-short (Smartwool, Ibex, Prana). I don't know anyone over about 5'4" or maybe 5'6" who buys their stuff regularly.

I'm the one who mentioned Prana, I'm 5'9" and even wear their regular length pants (granted I have a long torso and I never wear shoes with any sort of heel). Their regular inseam is 32" and they also offer many of their pants in tall lengths which is 36". Athleta has talls too.
posted by mama casserole at 1:20 PM on March 26, 2017

Aesthetically I came in to suggest Eddie Bauer, and as far as hard-wearing basics that seems to have not totally abandoned its reputation for durability, L.L. Bean. I have literally never had to let go of an L.L. Bean item because it wore out...only because I was fucking tired of it after 10 or 15 years.
posted by drlith at 1:22 PM on March 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

Also, don't be afraid to check out eBay once you get a sense of the brands you like if you're looking for a sweet spot between price and durability.
posted by drlith at 1:29 PM on March 26, 2017

Response by poster: ahhhh this is so helpful!! just wanted to quickly add my height: I'm 5'11". I don't own many specifically Tall items, but am frequently dancing on the edge/have had several tops shrink past the point of wearability, unfortunately. but yay so many ideas!
posted by elephantsvanish at 1:38 PM on March 26, 2017

Sierra Trading Post ftw; through them and 6pm I've discovered the same thing, that clothes made by brands that focus on hiking/outdoorsy pursuits is almost shockingly well made in comparison to gap&etc crap and though the price point is high it's made up for in construction and style. My favorite brands that I now scope out sales for are Aventura, Royal Robbins, Prana, Fossil, GH Bass, Lucky, Neon Buddha, Woolrich.

Royal Robbins especially does awesome colors and patterns in durable fabrics and good construction techniques with an eye for feminine detail without resorting to cliche. GH Bass does great shoes with a history of colorful gender neutral footwear that they usually live up to. Fossil's got a bajillion and one accessories that are classic and functional but they also do a few totally goofy cute things a season that are just adorable but won't disintegrate if rained on. Lucky does a huge range but if you can filter by fabric content their things made of linen cotton silk & other natural fibers are durable but with lovely patterns and generous cuts, and you can find a lot on deep discount at department stores and outlets. Woolrich outerwear is incredible and their stuff is made to last.
posted by Mizu at 4:55 PM on March 26, 2017

Your favorite outfit looks pretty much just like mine and I buy most of my shirts at J Crew.
posted by potrzebie at 6:36 PM on March 26, 2017

Also, Jane is adorable. At least her feet are!
posted by gingerbeer at 9:56 PM on March 26, 2017

Eddie Bauer, definitely. Quality is generally pretty good, and they have a lifetime guarantee on their clothing, so if an item goes crappy/shrinks beyond wearability/whatever after a few washes, you can take it in to any Eddie Bauer store and they'll take care of you.

Try their tall sizes. It's a revelation if you've been wearing things that are *a bit* short your entire life. (I'm 6'1" and 35 years old, and didn't start buying talls until my early 30s.)
posted by nosila at 12:54 PM on March 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

> just wanted to quickly add my height: I'm 5'11". I don't own many specifically Tall items, but am frequently dancing on the edge/have had several tops shrink past the point of wearability, unfortunately. but yay so many ideas

Duluth Trading Company is calling you! I'm 5' 10" and am outdoorsy and I'm wearing my new DuluthFlex Fire Hose Slim Leg Cargo Pants right now and I love them so much that I USE CAPS TO TALK ABOUT THEM. Their shirts also fit well, even though they're not specifically Tall sizes -- they're about the only company who I'm happy to wear standard sizes from.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:19 PM on March 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

Excuse the late comment but - NICE Pogues reference in your title!
posted by mulcahy at 9:34 PM on July 18, 2017

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