wOMEN DRESSING MEN
How do women in love view masculinity, and how might they 'act it out' via the clothing they choose for their partners? For Issue No. 7 of Vestoj, 'The Journal of Sartorial Matters', I met five women aged between seventeen and eighty and asked them to speak about their significant other's clothing.
Clothes tell stories; this much we know. They also provide compelling material for the stories we like to tell ourselves: such as, ‘Men don’t like shopping for clothes’, or ‘When it comes to style, a woman knows best.’ The New Yorker writer Judith Thurman once compared her insatiable hunt for new clothes to men who fish, or who go to the woods with a rifle; ‘While they bag dinner, I bag a dinner dress.’ It’s a joke, of course, but when it comes to how men choose to express themselves through dress, the truth has always been that a not insignificant number of them will happily release that obligation to their partners and wives in favour of other pursuits.
It is a well-known fact that if you go shopping with a particular item in mind, you’ll never find what you were looking for. The pursuit of love, similarly, is more a game of luck than design; the partnerships we form in life begin in inauspicious circumstances, and expectations never fail to give way to different kinds of realities. When reflecting on the expression of masculinity through dress, the lens through which women see their boyfriends, husbands and lovers is a useful refraction then, and one which illuminates how vital one gender is in the making of the other.
To better understand the complexities surrounding how we see men, I met five women, aged between seventeen and eighty, and asked them to speak about their significant other’s clothing. How women in love view masculinity, and how might they ‘act it out’ via the clothing they choose for their partners, is without doubt an underexplored question. These five conversations, and relationships, form only a few small fragments in response; but like most fabrics, patterns emerge in the weave.
Elisa Benaggoune, seventeen years old from Maidstone, Kent and her boyfriend, eighteen-year-old George. Together for two years, they met ‘on Facebook through mutual friends, and then it just kicked off like that.’
CMH: What were your first impressions of George’s clothes?
EB: When I first met him he was wearing a purple jumper that was really silky and normal jeans, and he was wearing these shoes that had a sandy texture. I don't know what to call them. They were like, fashionable slippers. I was like, ‘Damn, he's really interesting.’ Oh – and we were colour-coordinated without even planning to.
CMH: And when does he look most attractive?
EB: On a special occasion. He'll be wearing a blazer jacket, one without sleeves, with a smart shirt underneath and jeans. He always wears jeans. And those smart shoes that I can't remember what they're called, but they're really leathery? Brogues. Best outfit ever. What I love about brogues and blazers on him is that it totally spins the whole outfit into something else. So when he experiments with smart and casual wear, I love it because it shows that he can take full power and control of how he wants to look. It just makes me fancy him even more.
CMH: How much thought do you put into a single item of clothing you purchase for George? What are the considerations?
EB: I think about his body shape, because it is quite different to lots of other people. He has wide shoulders and a thin waist. Because I know what it feels like when things don’t fit, I always choose things that will fit him properly. I find materials important, but I don't look at labels because I tend to go more towards vintage. I think more about the quality. George and I don’t wear a lot of brands: he wears vintage too. Having your boyfriend wear that is, like, golden!
CMH: If George were to take upon himself some traditional markers of femininity like dresses and high-heeled shoes, describe what you think your reaction would be.
EB: I'd be so happy! If he wants to wear clothes like that and make it look manly, then I'll love that. It’s so cool because it would look so different on him. I've always wanted to explain to people that you can wear women’s clothes and still look like a man, and we can still wear men’s clothes and look like a female – there's no difference. It’s like David Bowie. And we share clothes all the time. He gives me his jumpers and shirts, and I just wear them out. And he wears my clothes. A week ago, he was wearing my joggers: he wore them at home and in town, and I was like, 'Oh, George.' (Laughs.)
CMH: So it is important to you that George looks 'manly' in some way?
EB: I think it's definitely important for him because that's a part of you that doesn't really go away. It's important for everyone, because as you grow with yourself and with your partner there's always that reminder that tells you that you are a female or a male or… other. It's always going to be important for everyone because being feminine or masculine is self-expression, and you have to remember not to lose that expression.
Read the full feature in Issue No. 7 of Vestoj, 'On Masculinities'