For some people, getting dressed in the morning isn’t about just throwing on what’s in reach, or clean. For others, it’s more of a ritual with attention to the finest detail and a commitment not to leave the house in nothing but their finest.
Fashion changes all the time, from Goth to Steampunk to the dapper look. But for women like Thúy H. Nguyễn, who prefer to dress in a more masculine style, it can be a challenge.
Thúy H. Nguyễn is going through her closet. Her clothes are arranged neatly, with lots of blues and grays and a collection of colorful bow ties. She describes what her look will be for today, “This tweed sports coat that I got on sale in Bloomingdales actually, it was in the young males section. I’m also going to wear this oxblood knit tie. I usually think having a little subtle detail in your outfit really brings out the outfit.”
Nguyễn says that her sense of fashion came at a young age. Her mother was a seamstress and took pride in the outfits she made for her and her brothers. Nguyễn made sure her mom knew in no uncertain terms that she wasn’t into frills and puffy pink dresses, “It was like, put it on, take a picture and hurry up and get this the f**k off me. Get this bow off me! God, why are you putting me in this weird garment?”
With time, Nguyễn’s mom began to embrace her daughter’s masculine style and she started sewing her lavender pants suits instead of dresses. “I would always demand a certain look. I would say, 'I want the pockets here and make it like this,' I would direct her not to make it not too girly. I would say, 'Can you make it boyish?'"
Eventually, she learned to sew her own clothes, taper her own jeans, and create her own fashion — one that allowed her to express her identity as a butch woman. She says finding the right fit among store bought clothes isn’t just frustrating, but sometimes embarrassing, “I used to always shop in the men’s section because I’m small - it hit me, maybe I’ll shop in the boys section, maybe it will fit me.”
Nguyễn got used to the weird looks from salespeople and their attempts to re-direct her to the women’s section. But even boys clothes are limiting for a butch woman . Nguyễn explains, “There are some women’s underwear that are boy boxers that fit right, but I still buy men’s underwear. I like to wear men’s briefs but there are certain men’s boxer briefs that have the bulge and that looks funny. I like things to fit me right, the right length of sleeve, pants, button down shirts are tricky, women have shape.”
But, Nguyễn explains, that shape isn’t something she wants to accentuate.
“That’s another thing that butch women have to struggle with. They want to find clothes that fit for them, that look masculine and they don’t want to accentuate the curves, some busty butches wear binding or have top surgery.”
Binding is when women use a tight fabric to minimize their chest size. Nguyen says she doesn’t need to, because she’s small up top, but she also says that it’s something most designers don’t consider. Swimsuits are especially hard to find. “When you go on vacation you wonder. 'What will I wear on the beach?' Often I’m wearing a tank top underneath and I’m like, 'Why am I layering? All of this layering is weighing me down.'"
Nguyễn says that creating the right style for butch women is an exercise in creativity and she’s surprised that butch fashion on its own doesn’t have a stronger market in the Bay Area, “This has been an ongoing topic of conversation for women in the queer community. I always dreamed of having a haberdashery for butch women.”
So recently, Nguyễn launched a clothing line. She’ll measure your hips , bust and inseam, and custom tailor that dapper look that is making a comeback. Nguyen then sends the designs to be crafted in Thailand and then delivered to you personally. “As a butch person, fashion means to me, ‘This is who I am. This is what I like, I don’t want to be a man.’ I’m very comfortable to be a butch woman and comfortable making people who aren’t familiar with that type of identity think: Why do I think a woman should look like this and a man or boy should look like this?”
So now, that individual dapper butch style can be tailor made, no strings attached.
To have a look at Thuy's clothing line click below:
This show originally aired on July 8, 2014