(I enjoy “smart” as an adjective to describe an outfit. Also “handsome” for women.)
I’ve been thinking lately about the weirdly important role clothing plays in queer settings. Or any settings, for that matter. The more comfortable I get wearing men’s clothes (and let’s be honest here–how much of my wardrobe at this point isn’t from the men’s department, if not straight out of my father’s closet?) the more comfortable–excited, even–I am about dressing up for more professional or otherwise dressy occasions. I’m not yet at the point where I would wear a tie to a job interview, but I’m definitely past the point where I’d wear a skirt to one. (For what it’s worth, that ship sailed around ninth grade.) And I’m discovering that though it may get security called on me in a public restroom, my chosen fancy attire won’t actually cause too much confusion anywhere else. Just by way of an example, I recently wore a three piece suit (well, minus jacket, because it was warm- but tie and vest) out to dinner, and our waitress had no trouble identifying the Sig Fig and I as ladies.
But my newfound comfort with the dressiest of male clothing is causing a bit of consternation for the Sig Fig. See, she doesn’t feel comfortable wearing a tie. Her idea of a nice outfit doesn’t involve khakis and a button-up. So she’s increasingly worried that whatever she wears, she’s gonna look the femme on this butch’s arm.
Now, I’ll admit that it’s pretty hard for anyone (short of a man, I guess) to not look femmier than me when we’re out together. I’m not trying to swoop in as SuperButch here–it’s just the state of affairs. But does that automatically mean that other people read us as Butch and Femme?
While it’s true that in queer settings things like ties are becoming more fluid in terms of what they express for the wearer, by and large they still carry masculine connotations, and it often takes a lot of feminine accessories to cancel those out. Skirts and dresses are similarly well-established as feminine articles. So if you’re person who tends to think of people as butch and/or femme (I’ll admit to being one of those, though my personal preference for the butcher end of the spectrum means that I’m more likely to be gauging butchness), you’re likely to see a woman in a tie and a woman in a skirt as butch and femme, respectively.
But is it the same in non-queer spaces? If I’m out with the Sig Fig, are people thinking, “Whoa, there’s a butch and a femme?” Or are they distracted by my gender-variant dress enough just to think “Whoa, there’s a chick in a suit?” Do they look at us and simply think “Whoa, there’s a couplea dykes?”