Women wearing men's clothes is fast becoming more widespread than ever before. Around 64% of women have worn men's clothes before. But what are the things that change for women shopping the men's section? As a fan of wearing 'mens' clothes, I've noticed a number of things...
1. Sometimes I'm taken more seriously
I'm going to start with something a little controversial. If you start to wear men's clothing you may notice that people take you more seriously - especially in the workplace. We saw this in Lucy Rycroft-Smith's incredible article when she writes, "I'm wearing a three-piece pinstriped suit, matching tie and pocket square, and the confidence of a mediocre white man. To my left, a man is pouring me coffee; to my right, another is listening respectfully."
2. Smart clothes are actually comfy
Gone are the days where to dress smartly you would have to wear tight, restrictive skirts, killer high heels and plungey shirts. Formal men's clothes are all about comfort as well as style. Granted, some men's clothes don't fit more curvier women (that's where my company GFW Clothing comes in), but in general men's clothes are certainly comfier than women's clothes. Think how heavenly it is to step out in flats for a night out and be able to dance until the early hours without blisters or swellings!
3. You get a lot more choice
Of course, you can pick and choose between the women's and men's departments in clothing stores, so automatically you double your options. But what I really mean is the advent of versatile men's style at the moment. Whether you're a lover of 'masculine' camo (silly to call camouflage 'masculine' because there are plenty of women in the forces!) or partial to tropical floral prints you're going to find it. At the moment, I'm very impressed with the array of patterns and colours available in the men's clothing section right now. In decades gone by, you'd find the only colours socially acceptable for men to wear would be blue, grey, black, taupe and fawn at a push. Just take a look at the vibrant patterns and colours available to women in the 1940s! These days, we're very fortunate to see a plethora of colours, patterns and prints in both the men's and women's clothing departments.
4. Shop assistants get confused
I don't mean in the sense people start saying 'Are you a man or a woman?' I mean in a way that purchasing anything marketed towards men comes with questions. Just the other day I bought some 'men's deodorant' only for the shopkeeper to say 'But that's for men!' in a very confused manner. It also happens with clothing - I'll buy some stuff from the men's department, go to the till and the cashier will sometimes say 'Are these for your boyfriend / husband / son / brother?' I always make sure to correct them, albeit very nicely, by simply saying, 'No they're for me.' I make sure not to justify why I'm buying them (I like the patterns, the style, the cut, etc) because if we start elaborating we'll have to keep elaborating. If you start purchasing men's clothes, you will almost certainly confuse the cashier! This isn't to say the cashier in question is a bigot, oh no far from it. He or she just has preconceived expectations on what the genders should purchase - so don't go berating them if they ask you whether that silk tie is for your dad.
5. Increased storage space
Women's clothing is notorious for having pointless pockets. Put on a pair of men's trousers and gasp in awe at the deep pockets, gaze in wonder at the blazer pockets that aren't sewn together. Not all women like to carry a handbag (but those who do - you go, girl. You do you!). Men's clothing gives us a sense of freedom from lugging around a bag thanks to the ample storage space, so to speak. The pockets are deep enough to fit your phone, wallet / purse, your keys and even a small paperback book if you're an avid reader.
6. Homophobia and transphobia
Unfortunately, the world on the whole isn't ready for 'women dressed as men' - even though we're not dressed as men, but rather wearing clothes from the men's department. There are plenty of women who aren't lesbians that prefer to wear masculine clothing. I can't count how many times I've been called a 'dyke' or a 'rug muncher' in broad daylight just because I'm wearing a clothes traditionally targeted at the men. And that's just the remarks. Women wearing men's clothing is apparently also a reason for men, women and children alike to be homophobic. I remember a couple of years ago I was standing outside a bar waiting for a friend while wearing a shirt and tie. A man stumbled out of the bar sneered at me and scoffed, to the bouncer (while still looking at me), 'Is that a man or a woman?' The bouncer and the man laughed - almost as if I was invisible. Although this doesn't happen everyday, it's still a semi-regular occurrence. I say transphobia because what if I was a FTM or MTF transgender person? They weren't to know, yet they still proceeded with their vitriol.
7. Respect from lovely people
It's not all bad news - I've found that wearing men's clothing as a woman has resulted in some wonderful comments from both friends and strangers alike. One heterosexual male friend declared, completely unprompted, I look fantastic in a men's suit. Members of the public can also be extremely supportive. Quite a few years ago I was at a job interview where the female interviewer said. 'I love your suit.' To which I replied, 'It's only from Primark!' She then responded with, 'For all I know it could have been Hugo Boss, it looks great.'
I find it promising that my mind includes these strong positive memories that can often override the everyday bigotry I, and many others, face.
So, we may have a long way to go when it comes to gender equality in the mainstream fashion world, but for now it's important to wear what you want and keep on being you.
Lisa Honan is the founder and CEO of Gender Free World, a gender-free clothing company for bodies irrespective of gender.