Rules of the game
For those of us who were socialized female, knowing and understanding the rules of men’s fashion fills a pretty big void. Some of us grew up watching our dads dress – I vividly recall watching my dad shave in the morning, and that he LOVED (I don’t really know why, but maybe I should try it) dickies (not the company, the faux turtleneck under the shirt thing) and that he was known to wear sock garters. And he always wore a ribbed A-frame undershirt – it’s not really a surprise that I often favor this kind of undershirt myself.
As much as I loved watching him dress, it wasn’t something to which I paid a whole lot of attention. When I started to really explore and understand my butch identity, what that meant to me, and how I wanted to express myself through fashion, well, I was at a loss. There wasn’t much out there as a guide, so I turned to men’s magazines such as GQ and Details for some advice and inspiration. The only problem with this is that all of their advice is tailored to men. And I’m not one. And I don’t have the body of one. So I had to take what they gave me and tailor it for me. Along the way I picked up some other tips from some exceptionally knowledgeable femmes, and some sharp dressing butches. Here are some (not so) hard and fast rules that I find typically applicable to butch fashion plates.
*Belt and shoes need to match. I know you’d think this was a no-brainer, but sometimes even I get confused as to what to wear. Black with black, brown with brown, but what about other colors? Not all of my shoes are black or brown, and I admit, I own a white belt as well (though some have told me that if I wear it, I’m flashing “hipster,” which isn’t really the look I’m going for) and what then? Red and blue shoes tend to go with black and blue fairly well. But be careful on the blue – light blue and black are good combos, but sometimes navy and black don’t really go well together. Gray can be hard. Black and gray go hand in hand. Also, get a couple of different shades of brown belt if you can. A dark brown belt with camel or lighter brown shoes can look a little awkward. And if budgetary constrictions affect your belt procurement, consider a “flippy” belt which gives you both brown and black all in one with a “flipable” buckle.
*Pay attention to your socks. This is not to say that your pants and socks have to match, but give it some consideration. For formal wear, absolutely, socks and pants need to be in the same color family. For more casual dressing, or jeans/khakis, express yourself!! I love cool socks. And when paired with a fairly monotone outfit, a bright sock can really make a good look! Also? Unless you’ve run out of dress or “real” socks and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it, keep the athletic socks for wearing with sneakers or at the gym. A glaring white sock can really take away from an otherwise well-put-together outfit. Additionally, unless you’re wearing shorts, ankle socks are a no-go. Crew length or higher. Really. You don’t want your ankle peeking out from under the hem of your pants when you sit down; it just doesn’t look good.
Buying socks can be an issue too – I have a men’s size 5.5 foot. This means that men’s socks absolutely do not fit my feet, and bunch down when I try to wear them. Buying boys’ socks eliminates this problem (unless you have very, very, thick calves – then we might need to think of some more alternatives), and as a bonus, they usually cost a bit less than men’s socks do.
*No pleats, ever. Really. Unless you’re wearing a Utilikilt (and yes, I have one), you should never ever wear pleats. Flat front pants only. Seriously. I don’t care if you’re bigger in the middle (sometimes I tend to be) and feel like pleats cover more – they DON’T. They just accentuate what you’re trying to hide. On smaller, people they tend to make this really unattractive bunchy bulge around the waist. Really. I mean it. NO PLEATS. I cannot say this enough. Flat front is the way to go, and they don’t only help in the front; a flat front pant helps keep the rear end in line too. Side note? If you have a partner who really likes you in pleats, well, like I said earlier, these aren’t hard and fast rules and if a particular look is going to get you some action, who am I to tell you to avoid it?
*Learn how to tie a tie. The majority of masculinely-expressed people I know seem to use one knot, the “4 in hand.” It’s a nice knot, easy to learn, and easy to tie. The problem with it is that it is not 100% symmetrical, and well, I like symmetry. I also like knowing how to tie a few different knots so that I can choose one that works best with the shirt I’m wearing. Remember, different shirts have different collars, and can make certain knots look good or bad depending on the style. Also, if you’re a bigger person, you don’t want a tiny knot (like the 4 in hand) because it can make your face look bigger. A fuller, wide knot like the Full Windsor might be a great choice. I have designs on making a few video posts showing you how to do this, but if you can’t wait, the men’s style guide at Ben Silver has a really good selection of knots. Remember, it’s the little things that really make you stand out – selecting a different knot for your tie will separate you from the pack.
*The white after Labor Day thing. This is stupid. I mean, yeah, you’ll look silly in the white cotton pants in December if you live in New Engalnd, but really? If you wanna wear white, wear white. Personally? I LOVE white shorts (I got a few really awesome pairs at H&M this summer) and wouldn’t wear them if it wasn’t hot out but I let the weather dictate what colors I wear, not an arbitrary date. And if you live in the South or West or Southwest? White is practical.
*Get a watch. Really. Yes, I know you have a cell phone. Yes I know (I’m just going to throw a Mr. Manners tip in here because it fits. Do. Not. Text. at the table, on a date, mid conversation, or while driving. It’s rude and or dangerous) it tells you the time. But a good timepiece, whether a wrist watch or a pocket watch, once again sets you apart from the crowd. It shows you have style. It doesn’t need to be expensive or flashy, but it should express your style. There are SOOOO many companies that make watches that I’m not even going to list them, but I will advise that you can likely find something awesome and more original at a local, independent jewelry or clothing store. Buying from them will not only keep money in your community, but it will also set your choice of timepiece apart from the others. Also? Men’s watches are typically BIIIG and heavy. If you’re a fan of this, then great; if you’re not, you’ll likely have to look around a bit. I picked my watch out because it was the only men’s watch I could find in pink, my favorite color.
*Less IS more. Really. Not everyone (including me, believe it or not) can spend tons of money on a hot wardrobe. Build up your wardrobe slowly, buying classic styles and colors, and when you’ve got a good selection, then you can start throwing in some articles that you can only wear so many times before it gets called “your outfit,” and people think you have no other clothes. Solid color shirts mixed with a few different ties and sweater/sweater vests can take you a long long way. Also, as much as I love me some department store goodness, Goodwill can be just as satisfying. I suggest going to the locations that are closest to the most affluent areas of your city or town. Really – I often score BARELY worn Brooks Brothers dress shirts from my local goodwill.
Alright….I’m sure I’ve missed a ton – what kinds of fashion “rules” do you think are really important? Any you think are silly?