I don't wear leather other than shoes or belts, but I do have my butchwear standards. Butch style, though, is different by generation, ethnicity, geography, personality and income. For example, I wouldn't know how to dress appropriately for a dinner party on the upper east side of Manhattan. At gatherings that call for classiness, I get rebellious and wear jeans, a white button down shirt and a vest. That's always been and always will be my fancy function dress code.|
There's no rulebook, yet butches seem to have an innate sense of some version of butch fashion. Only once have I been blessed with sartorial advice from a vetted butch and that was my late friend Shelly, who led me to a wedding rental shop where we spent a goodly amount of time preening and judging, choosing and rejecting combinations of jackets, ties and cummerbunds. Shelly had fantasies of operating a Butch School which would include a butchduds course. Femmes, of course, don't need schooling, only a liberal shoe allowance.
Buying clothing that feels butchy to me can be a challenge. Whether I'm trying on clothes for size in the dressing room of a men's department or splurging on an accessory at a women's festival, I run through a wordless checklist wired into my brain. Dressing room clerks are less uptight now, but I remember a time when I was viewed with suspicion for bringing men's jeans into women's dressing rooms. At a women's festi booth I almost walked away before deciding that, yes, I was butch enough to wear that surprisingly handsome pink tie.
I've bought clothes in Army-Navy stores, hippie emporiums, discount and thrift shops; ordered them from L.L. Bean, J. Crew and Campmor. Currently, I'm being dressed by Wally's and Dollar General. I won't wear any shoe that has a pointy toe. As a kid, I thought I'd like the military because you didn't have to think about what to wear.
All this rumination on the subject of clothing the androgynous dykes of the world came up when I called my friend Tex a wimp for wearing earmuffs during a cold spell. She replied that earmuffs are considered butchly in Texas. I told her that in the wilds of the Oregon coast, hoodies, watch caps and baseball caps with earflaps pretty much do it for our ilk.
Then a Texas geek pal joined the fray. She sent websites displaying two acceptable ear coverings, one a hefty headband with extensions of the fabric for the ears. My sporty femme sweetheart wears one, but I would feel too girly in it. The other was a fairly technical fleece gizmo that looked like a watch cap with descending earflaps. Plus it had a pull-down, moisture-wicking, anti-microbial face mask that tucked into the hat. Uber-butch, dude.
For a number of years, I've been imagining a mostly denim clothing line for gay people called "It's In The Jeans." The designers would have a time of it. Neither the geek nor Tex are originally from Texas, nor am I a real Oregonian, although now that I'm in Florida I say that's where I'm from and that seems weird enough to explain me to Floridians. Once, in Massachusetts, a church lady mentioned that I didn't look like I came from around there.
Obviously I was displaying some dyke style not familiar to a New Englander.
What would the "It's In The Jeans" designer shoot for? When I think of the clothing in Provincetown men's shop windows I can only assume that there would have to be a small army of designers familiar with everything from gayboy beachwear (superbly minimalist black leather) to butchgirl raingear (something combining a military uniform and a rainbow flag), to queer vegan shoes (organic hemp with bamboo trim).
While conservatives seem to lump us all in one city-long, half-naked, orgying gay pride parade, our differences would make us difficult to deck out. I'll bet there are even lesbians and gay men who don't wear jeans.
I do, whenever the season allows it. This week, the temperature has gotten as low as 27 degrees hereabouts so thermal underwear wouldn't be out of order. But butch fashion outs. I've cut the sleeves off my Dollar General t-shirts and am wearing my sweetheart's favorite. In red letters on athletic-shirt gray it reads: Beer Pong King.
© 2010 Lee Lynch
Lee Lynch, Author of Sweet Creek from Bold Strokes Books