Fashion industry, retailers and the gender binary

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 28, 2014 at 9:31 pm •  Published: July 28, 2014
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NEW YORK (AP) — As a transgender woman who began her transition about a year ago, Kylie Jack is still figuring out her fashion style, but she wanted one thing right away: well-fitting bras.

Friends recommended Petticoat Fair in Austin, Texas, where she lives. The lingerie shop is known for one-on-one fittings, but Jack was denied access to the area where professionals work privately with customers after being asked if she was an anatomical female.

Jack, 39, a computer interaction designer, left empty-handed and angry. She took to social media to protest.

"It was unclear whether they had a consistent policy and I didn't know what to make of it," Jack said.

The owner later apologized.

A gender binary exists in fashion, and that's a challenge for those who don't conform. Masculine-presenting women are often destined for boys' departments or bad fits, while people born male who transition or simply like to dress in femme clothes sometimes don't know what to expect in sizing or from sales clerks.

"I was in Filene's Basement in Chelsea, which is pretty much the gayest neighborhood in America, and I said, 'Can I try on clothes here in the men's department?' and they said no. It's not as bad as it used to be but it's pretty persistent. There's this radioactive line between the menswear department and the womenswear department," said Susan Herr, founder of dapperQ, a site on masculine dressing for the LGBTQ community.

Online retailers catering to masculine presenters have proliferated as trans people enjoy a higher profile thanks to Laverne Cox of "Orange is the New Black" and other pioneers.

But mainstream fashion has done little to keep up with large-footed women, petite trans men, masculine-presenting lesbians or androgynous dressers in search of a decent, affordable suit.

At 5-foot-4 and 120 pounds, Gretchen Dukowitz is a lesbian who dresses on the boyish-androgynous side. Her style is casual and she doesn't like shopping online. Her No. 1 go-to place is H&M's boys' section.

"It's always fun to see who will be there, whether it's the moms buying for their kids or the lesbians," she said. "But even in boys' clothes, the fit is not right if you have any hips at all, which I kind of do. It pinches you in weird places. Even though you're buying men's clothing, you still have the shapes of a woman."

Small designers are trying to fill the gap, but often at prices not everyone can afford.

In button-down shirting, for example, menswear is often oversized, tight in the chest or hips. Women's tops may be too tight, too feminine or too short. The label Androgyny offers a signature fit with a "boob button" to minimize gaping, no darts, a slight hourglass curve at the bottom and a center box pleat in back for extra room through the chest and shoulders.

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