Zel Anders knew she was different growing up. The daughter of an opera-singing, fighter-pilot father and a cattle-ranching mother, she is wholly at home with the unorthodox. That may explain a little bit about why this butch–identified entrepreneur has decided to open the nation’s first genderqueer clothing shop for women who want to wear fine suits.
Slated to open February 2 in San Francisco, Anders christened her store “Tomboy Tailors,” a place for “Butch/boi lesbians, trans-masculine individuals and women and men of any identity who have a strong sense of self-expression.”
Anders’ inspiration came from her own frustration with the fashion industry’s lack of well-fitting menswear for women. She tells TakePart, “I haven’t fit in women’s clothing since I was 11. In the last few years, I realized I was really tired of having to buy clothes that don’t fit me and having them tailored. More and more I just found myself wanting to wear men’s suits, and I’m pretty curvy, so I’ve had a time finding something that’s ready-to-wear and not having to spend another $300 having it altered.”
But Tomboy isn’t just a store full of men’s clothes that women can purchase. Part of what makes it so unique is that it carries on a rich tradition of “bespoke” suitwear, the kind carefully constructed in the fashion ateliers of Europe. In that spirit, shoppers can choose from an array of rich fabrics in patterns like herringbone, chalk stripe, or nail’s head, with varying cuts custom-tailored to each buyer’s unique body shape. This may be old news for men who’ve had stigma-free access to finely tailored clothes for centuries, but for women who feel most comfortable in what’s traditionally considered menswear, it’s an entirely new ballgame.
One of the benefits of her work is that Anders has found herself at the forefront of major social change; Tomboy Tailors is effectively taking the shame out of genderqueer dressing for women. “I wanted to make it easier for other people. I am astounded that in San Francisco it’s still so awkward to walk into a men’s store and not know if you’re going to get a salesperson who’s happy to see you or someone who’s really not wanting a woman there…This is just wrong, and if this is happening in San Francisco, I can’t imagine what it’s like in other places.”
True to its rule-breaking ethos, Tomboy won’t be located in the city’s traditionally gay-friendly Castro neighborhood, but will plant itself firmly in the city’s conservative downtown financial district.
In content and location, Anders’ work is a major step in mainstreaming queer culture, one that allows its customers visibility and inclusion. And it’s about time.
What other ways are you hoping to see fashion become more inclusive? Let us know in the Comments.