By Heather Cassell, PQ Monthly
Women seeking to look sharp for play and work have a new fashionable option at Tomboy Tailors, a new bespoke clothier opening in San Francisco.
The boutique shop specifically for the not so feminine woman will celebrate Feb. 2 with a grand opening at the Crocker Galleria.
Women seeking to do themselves up a la Greta Garbo or Isabella Rossillini have a difficult time finding clothes that fit their frame as well as adept tailors with the skill to shape men’s suits to their bodies.
Worse is the reaction, even in the genderqueer world of San Francisco, that women who prefer masculine styles receive when they are out shopping.
Especially for genderqueer and trans men.
Suits Made to Fit
“As uncomfortable it is for me as a lesbian, I imagine that it would be even more uncomfortable for them to go into a men’s store,” says Zel Anders, founder and owner of Tomboy Tailors, reflecting on years where stores became emotional war zones where she had to put on armor to go shopping.
“I have a hard time finding my way in clothing,” Anders says.
Anders, a 5’11 48-year-old woman, says attempting to dress in women’s clothing made her look like a “drag queen,” men’s suits from the rack and tailored to fit her were never taken in correctly.
It came down to having clothes made for her, she says.
In her gut, Anders knew there are other women like her.
“I just believe there are a lot of other people like me not happy about being limited in what they wear,” she says. “I’m really just hoping that I’ll make it easier in the future for other people to dress the way that they want.”
What she didn’t quite know until she began her journey to open Tomboy Tailors was that she is tapping into an emerging trend.
The store will also cater to women seeking smart looks similar to outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Eileen Fisher-like styles, she adds.
Maybe it’s the “futch-effect” started by Dani Campbell, who found fame as the last lesbian standing for Tila’s heart in MTV’s “A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila.” Perhaps it’s the nightly butch presence of wickedly smart MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow with her boyish style beaming into America’s living rooms for the past four-plus years.
While Rachel brushes off butch fashion questions, Campbell launched Futch Fashion. She’s since renamed her tomboy fashion line PinkBoyBlueGirl, but it appears it’s defunct.
Even so, Campbell left an impression, not only on the swooning femmes and straight women counterparts, but also on the fashion world.
Butch women need cool clothes and even hotter suits.
Flash forward five years and gender-forward designers and shop owners are taking up the call for androgynous and “masculine-of-center” fashion for women.
Androgynous fashion designers and online boutiques catering to women who like wearing men’s clothes are sprouting up from the East to West coasts within the past nine months.
Tomboy Tailors is the first brick-and-mortar shop.
A Growing Trend
On the West Coast, Saint Harridan in Oakland set up its virtual shop seven months ago and Sonoma-based fashion designer Karen Roberts recently launched HauteButch, a butch women’s clothing line that “represents the core of a butch woman’s gender presentation,” she writes on the boutique’s website.
In New York, sister designers A and Vee Lee launched VEEA, androgynous fashion. The fashion line’s name is a combination of the sister’s names — A Lee is the founder of the company and Vee Lee is the head designer and co-founder, according to Curve Magazine.
“Androgynous women are denied the opportunity to truly explore the idea of fashion as self-expression,” A Lee, founder of the company, tells Curve. The absence of fashion for androgynous women “forces them to conform to an externally imposed ideal.”
These women are onto something, as Mary Going, 45, founder of Saint Harridan found out when she launched her crowdfunding campaign to raise the $87,000 needed to produce the first 100 custom-made suits.
The 34-day campaign in December surpassed Going’s goal. By the 10th day she made the $87,000 needed. By the end of the campaign she raised $137,562 from 1,108 supporters, according to Saint Harridan’s Kickstarter page. She even gained potential investors, she tells the Bay Area Reporter.
Seizing the Moment
Tomboy Tailors is making a national splash with New York musician Ganessa James pledging that she will wear a custom-fitted tuxedo by the boutique to the Grammy awards this year.
Anders couldn’t be happier about the celebrity and national attention Tomboy Tailors is receiving.
“I don’t think I found my place in the world until now,” says Anders, who has held a number of jobs mostly in academia and the legal field. But those jobs weren’t “really fulfilling for me personally.”
Inspired by her late mother, her love for wearing men’s clothes, and her life partner standing strong beside her, Anders took the plunge. “Life is too short” not to follow your “true passion,” she says.
“This is going to be the major thing in my life that makes me happy and doing something good in the world,” says Anders, who is using personal funds to finance Tomboy Tailors.
She declined to state how much she’s invested into the company. Anders says because this is the first store of its kind to cater specifically to “masculine-of-center” women and trans men along with other women, she doesn’t have a clear perspective of what revenues it might bring in.
What she does know is that there is an untapped market for what she and other butch boutiques and designers have tapped into and plan to find during their respective pop up stores and trunk shows across the country.
Anders hopes the store will become a destination for visitors coming to San Francisco.
A shopping trip to the City by the Bay is fun, but people who need a suit for a special occasion won’t have to journey to San Francisco to shop at Tomboy Tailors. The store’s five full-time employees will be able to do custom fittings online and via Skype, Anders says. Tomboy Tailors’ website will go live in March.
The store will have a variety of casual to dressy patterns and over 200 materials from England, Italy, and Scotland for shoppers to choose from. The clothing will be assembled by a clothing manufacturer that has made suits for ambassadors and presidents, Anders says.
The store will also carry men’s shoes custom made to fit a woman’s foot, jackets and sweaters, and accessories, such as ties, bow ties, hats, cuff-links, and more.
To get the look, visit http://tomboytailors.com.
A version of this article was originally published by Girls That Roam.
Heather Cassell is the publisher and editor of Girls That Roam, a new online women’s travel magazine and community. When Heather isn’t on the road or chasing the latest story she’s a writing and publishing consultant and editor, media relations expert and an event planner as president of Whimsy Media in San Francisco. You can reach Heather at firstname.lastname@example.org.