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Sunday, July 05, 1998
Bringing out the GIRL IN THE GUY
Men who want to look like women face special challenges
Jeannie Marshall, Calgary Herald
There is an old saying that it's the clothes that make the man, but that's not always true. Sometimes it's the clothes that make the man a girl.
They might not be mainstream, but there are men who dress as women in virtually
every city in this country. It's impossible to pin down what proportion of men
enjoy wearing a skirt. The estimates range from one in 25 to one in several
Whatever their numbers, men who like to look like women face special challenges. Many cities have a transgender support group, such as Illusions Social Club in Calgary, Gender Mosaic in Ottawa and Xpressions in Toronto. These clubs have from 50 to 150 members each, and the Internet attracts more people all the time.
There are even a few stores, like Take a Walk on the Wildside in Toronto and Out of the Closet in Victoria, devoted to bringing out the girl in the guy.
"When they start out, men don't know what to wear," says Joanne, a cross-dressing man and the president of Gender Mosaic. Joanne teaches men to co-ordinate an outfit and to walk in high heels.
For men who want to dress like women, fashion is more complicated than finding the right frock. Problems of size and availability — not to mention getting the right body parts — are issues.
"When I first started out I had to estimate my sizes based on trying on my sister's clothes," says Gail, a cross-dressing man from Victoria.
Men are ideally built like inverted triangles with broad shoulders tapering down to slim hips, while the classic female shape is hourglass. Men have longer arms and bigger feet. Men are hairy and women are smooth.
These are problems, but they are not insurmountable.
Terri, for example. She's a blond and curvaceous drag queen with dark eyes and pouty, red lips.
At a recent transgender fashion show at the Phoenix, a Toronto nightclub, Terri walked the runway in a figure-hugging, pale blue, sleeveless dress adorned with a feather boa. Her shoulder-length hair was parted on the side and swept off her expertly made-up face.
She looked beautiful and convincingly female, and none of it was natural.
Drag queens are the super models of the "transgendered" world. They are sleek and feminine, elegant and graceful. They have amazing, if outrageous, style sense, and they arouse insecurity and envy in the hearts of transvestites and cross-dressers everywhere.
Although the boundaries are not rigidly defined, it is generally accepted in the transgender world that a drag queen is a gay man who dresses in women's clothing, a transvestite is a heterosexual man compelled to wear women's clothes but without
the sexual thrill.
Whatever their reasons for doing so, they are all men who want to pass for women. But before they can do that, they have to go shopping.
One place on many lists is Take A Walk On the Wildside. This is a mecca for Canadian transgendered men.
Associated Press/Reuters photos / Actor Rupaul, shown in and out of dress, is noted for his portrayal of drag queens.
Actor RuPaul shown in and out of dress is noted for his portrayal of drag queens.
Wildside has rows of black and red patent four- and five-inch spike-heeled shoes starting at women's size 10 up to 14 extra wide. They have a rack of corsets, girdles, bras and stockings, a case full of sparkling rhinestone jewelry, and a few skirts and dresses. The rest of the clothes are made to order.
Wildside is owned by Paddy Aldridge, a woman, and her husband Roxy, a self-described transvestite wanna-be-heterosexual drag queen. Aldridge is a graduate of Ryerson Polytechnic University's theatre school and worked as a costume designer in Toronto theatre before opening her store about 10 years ago.
Paddy and Roxy met three years ago. ; "I came in for a French maid's outfit and a corset and we hit it off," says Roxy, who has an MBA and used to be a management consultant.
They married a year later, both wearing white dresses and veils. Roxy credits Paddy with
However, mail order creates potential problems in terms of fashion mistakes. The drag queens at the Toronto fashion show came in two types: long and lean, or curvy and voluptuous. Both require substantial foundation garments that men ordering from the Internet might not realize they need.
There are corsets, a must for creating a waist, and padded girdles to create hips. To be properly proportioned, the hips should be almost as wide as the shoulders.
And when it comes to creating a bust, Veronica — a tall, rather top-heavy drag queen with full breasts and big, curly dark hair — notes: "You can't just shove your bunched up socks down your dress."
What you should shove down your dress are self-adhesive silicone breast forms. The silicone form adheres by velcro to a fabric backing which in turn sticks to the skin with a strong ' ' adhesive. (These are, of course, for men who shave their body hair.)
They have the weight and bounce of a real breast and even come with optional stick-on nipples. They are manufactured for women who have had a mastectomy.
"It's just another example of men taking over something meant for women," says Roxy, who sells the breast forms for $900 a pair.
A cheaper version for $400 fits inside a bra, but there is the risk of something slipping.
"See, I can bend over, jump up and do whatever I want," says Roxy, bending over and jumping up while his stick-on breasts bounce naturally and securely inside his short, navy blue, spaghetti-strap sundress.
While men lack protrusions up top, they are inconveniently endowed elsewhere. But the Jayne belt can deal with that.
This is an adjustable belt that pushes a man's penis down and flattens it out so that his clothes will hang smoothly in front.
"It turns your Tarzan into a Jane," says Roxy.
Most men need makeup lessons that shops like Wildside and Out of the Closet provide. They need to use a thick theatrical pancake makeup called Dermablend, which is the only thing that can smooth out a man's beard line.
The lips should be defined with pencil and the eyes defined with liner, shadow and false eyelashes. It's easiest for men to use false nails because, unless they go in drag all the time, long polished nails are one thing a man can't hide at work.
Once the foundation is in place, it's time to put on a dress. Men seem to favor sexy dresses with cinched waists and plunging necklines. Once they've gone to the trouble to create a figure, they want to show it off.
The long-sleeved, V-neck, short, clingy PVC dress is popular. PVC refers to the shiny, rubbery fabric of the dress.
"Most of them want high heels and slinky dresses," says Kathryn Hancock from Out of the Closet.
This style sense was apparent among audience members at the fashion show in Toronto.
There were drag queens in PVC gowns and sequined dresses gliding effortlessly on stiletto heels, though there were also some neophyte cross-dressers in skirts and blouses stumbling awkwardly in low-heeled pumps.
Michelle, a cross-dresser from Atlanta, was there with his friend Jullie. Michelle wore a short, baby-blue cocktail dress, showing a flash of satiny red underpants each time he crossed his legs. Jullie wore a rather conservative black just-past-the-knee skirt with a patterned blouse.
Both have been secret cross-dressers since they were teenagers but have only gone out as women in the past year.
Even with the figure, the clothes and the makeup there was something slightly masculine about Michelle and Jullie. They both had men's voices and Jullie tended to sit with his knees spread wide apart.
"I could take voice lessons, but I'm afraid I won't be able to turn it off," says Julie, a mechanical engineer.
Turning it off is important for most of these men because wearing a dress is a dangerous thing for a man to do.
Roxy says that people are afraid of losing their jobs and their families and of being beaten up.
"I have to watch where I go. If a cross-dresser looks good, he's a threat. But, what's so scary about a guy in a dress?"
John Lehmann, Southam News / Paddy Aldridge (wearing glasses) and her husband Roxy
Paddy owns a cross-dresser boutique in Toronto.
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