Posts Tagged ‘style’

Nothing Makes Me Feel Better Like A Sharp Butch Haircut

November 11, 2012  |  miscellany  |  6 Comments

Joey, my barber and the owner of Tomcats Barber Shop in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, took this shot of me on Friday after he gave me a shape-up (apparently that’s the word for a trim). They do classic and retro cuts primarily, though they have a whole bunch of new barbers there these days that do just about anything you could want. Kristen just got her hair colored and cut there and it’s darker and very pinup.

It always makes me feel better to get a good haircut. Thanks, Joey.

Stories from My Youth

August 9, 2010  |  advice, journal entries  |  12 Comments

From the Ask Me Anything questions from Sugarbutch’s 4th anniversary:

When you were a teenager, how did you feel about your body? Can you tell a story about coming out as gay to friends or family members when you were younger? Did you ever go to summer camp?—Dora


As a teen, I think I was mostly just confused about my body. I developed breasts early and was curvy, though a bit heavy-set, as I still am. When I hit middle school, suddenly my friend circle shifted away from the ones I’d grown up with, as our different class backgrounds became a problem. They could suddenly afford things I couldn’t, and somehow understood this world of being a girl that I didn’t. I was a reader, on my own, a little bit of a loner, and started hanging out with more and more marginalized crowds, like the girls who also developed early and then, later, the drama kids and the smokers.

It was around then I started getting made fun of for my clothes and lack of “style,” I started getting bullied a little, I started getting made fun of extensively for my breast size. So I got a little obsessed with girl culture, whatever there was of it in the early 1990s, which certainly looked different than it does today. I subscribed to YM and Sassy and then Seventeen, obsessing over makeup and style and shoes, always completely unsure of what I was doing.

It’s only recently I’ve been revisioning this part in my own history a bit, seeing it anew. I kind of figured that was a typical process, this obsession with femininity, these attempts to fit in, the obsession with shoes, the way I hoarded makeup so I could claim to have an extensive collection and know all about it but never used it, my extensive dangling earring collection. Recently, a friend said to me something like, “That makes sense: you’ve always been dapper, even if it wasn’t as masculine.” And I think there might be some truth to that.

I think, too, there is truth to the outsider complex I felt around femininity, especially as a teen. I was terrified of what my life would be as a grown “woman.” I remember having panic attacks when I considered what my life after high school would be like. Not that I loved high school—I just couldn’t understand what was next. That was why I ended up in a very stereotypical hetero relationship, one where we both reproduced everything on TV we thought we were supposed to, which was very comforting: at least I knew what was expected of me.

But that’s a different story.

After a certain about of obsession over clothes and hair and makeup and femininity, and after the teasing and bullying just kept getting worse, I kind of just gave up. I cut my wardrobe down to black, and that was basically it. Black turtlenecks, black jeans. Which I wore year-round. Which I could do, in Southeast Alaska, where it’s mid-60s and 70s in the summer.

The new solid black wardrobe was a bit of a hit, and I fell in with the drama crowd, with more nerdy outsiders like myself, with the folks who were interested in sex and psychology.

I started feeling better about my body. Perhaps because I was covering it up, perhaps because I was getting a bit older (fourteen! fifteen! so different than twelve) and things were evening out, I didn’t feel quite so awkward in my own skin. But I did, of course, and continued to, for years really, until finally arriving at this gender identity, and getting rid of my dresses, moving on from undies that never quite fit my ass, non-apologetically donating my (few) pairs of heels.

I think most teens have awkward relationships to their bodies. Most of us don’t know what to do with ourselves for a while, and need time to grow into the changes. I certainly was no exception. I wonder if I’d stumbled on butch earlier, if I would have been happier.


It’s strange, I don’t really have any specific coming out stories. I definitely told my crew as early as middle school that I was pretty sure I was bisexual, and I don’t remember it being a big deal. We didn’t talk about it, but they knew, and sometimes I would talk about kissing a girl or other classmates who were known to be bisexual. Some of my teachers were gay, a few different women I can think of, though no men that I know of. My band teacher for three years had a flat-top haircut and never wore skirts. (I wonder if she was out, happy, partnered. I don’t know anything about her personal life.) There was a lesbian couple who lived across the street from me, and another down the street. There was quite a bit of gayness around, I guess.

I came home one winter holiday and wore a rainbow necklace with two intertwined woman symbols—you know the kind. I remember my mom asking, “Are you trying to tell us something?” I laughed and said no. It was just what I wore, every day, constantly, at that time. But I guess I was telling them something … perhaps I thought it wouldn’t really matter to my parents, so I didn’t need to make a big deal out of telling them. So I didn’t. I probably should have. It was probably a way to avoid confrontation, even if I didn’t expect it to be negative.

Not as though it was a secret—I told them as soon as I was dating someone new, my mom and I especially remained quite close and knew a lot about my life and what I was doing. We started having elaborate, extensive conversations about feminism and women’s history as I worked on my Women Studies degree.

I feel like I should have some better coming out stories than that! I’ll keep thinking. But I think that was the extent of it: I never made a big deal out of it, and nobody else did, either.

Well, somebody did: my ex-boyfriend, Mike. Late in our six-year relationship he became a bit obsessed that I was going to leave him so I could come out, and, well, I did. I don’t recall any specific conversations about my sexuality, but once I did leave him, he and I both knew I was coming out.


Yes, I attended fine arts camp for a few different summers, maybe three, which isn’t quite what most folks think of as “summer camp” but is the closest I’ve got. It wasn’t residential, and was at the high school, so it isn’t quite what most people’s sense of summer camp is. I studied writing, art music, singing, drama, and dance, and attended a couple different summers. In other summers I took a theater intensive only, then later started working at my dad’s store during the summers.

I don’t remember a lot of kids going to summer camp—perhaps it was the isolated nature of my hometown, which is land-locked and only accessible by boat or plane, or perhaps my friends, especially later in high school, were from families who weren’t particularly well off financially—but I (and other kids) did attend the Methodist Camp that was out the road. I never attended it through religious organizations, it was rentable by others and the only time I was there was through school.

Camping is just The Thing people do in the summers in Alaska, especially in my hometown, so I spent a lot of time hiking with friends, camping out, renting cabins for the weekends, building fires on the beach, and much of those other campfire summer camp activities that it seems are common for you lower-48-ers.

And what about you all? Did you go to summer camp? How did you feel about your body as a teen? What was it like to come out to friends or family or both?

Books That Changed My Life

March 18, 2010  |  reviews  |  6 Comments

Back when Sugarbutch was a little baby new blog (did you know it will turn 4 in April?!), I used to write a Sunday Scribblings prompt often. This week’s prompt was “the book that changed everything” and I already happened to have a halfway done list in my drafts, so I figured I’d go back to it and finish it up.

It was going to be a “new year, new you” type of post, which gives away that I started it in January, and which kind of explains the self-help-y list. But of course I couldn’t make a list and show it off here without adding some of my favorite sex books, too!

But first, the stuff to enhance your renaissance-man (regardless of gender!) fabulous self. In alphabetical order:

  1. The Art of Civilized Conversation: A Guide to Expressing Yourself With Style and Grace by Margaret Shepherd. Excellent for dating, deepening relationships with people you already know and like, and generally elevating the discussion around you. I especially remember the part about how conversations between two people should start with facts, move to opinions, and then and only then should you discuss emotions.
  2. How to Cook Everything (Vegetarian) by Mark Bittman. Whether or not you know how to cook, this is a fantastic resource. I got a copy of the vegetarian version over the holidays. Though Bittman isn’t famous for his desserts (pastries aren’t really his strong point, or, let’s be honest, so says Kristen) he has a little bit of everything in here and chances are, it’ll be a great starting point, if not an excellent recipe. Lots of great tips for technique, too.
  3. The Modern Gentleman: A Guide to Essential Manners, Savvy and Vice by Phineas Mollod and Jason Tesauro. I have dreams of writing a butch equivalent, but shh that’s a secret. This contains excellent thoughts about conducting oneself socially, manners, conversation, style, how to tie ties, how to order drinks, how to be suave on a date, all sorts of things that a gentleman would want to know. Not impressed with the sex part (cheesy!) but hey you can’t win ‘em all. Along with Dressing the Man: Mastering the Art of Permanent Style, this is one of the books about masculinity that I recommend most.
  4. The Power of Less: The 6 Essential Productivity Principles That Will Change Your Life by Leo Babauta. You probably already read Zen Habits, so you know Babauta’s style and simplicity. This book is a lovely collection of philosophies on productivity, minimalism, moving on, getting shit done, and focusing on what you really want to do. Along with The Four-Hour Work Week, this really changed my attitude about my time (a non-renewable resource!) and how I make decisions.
  5. There Is Nothing Wrong with You: Going Beyond Self-Hate by Cheri Huber. Huber is a buddhist monk, founded two zen monasteries in California, has written about twenty books, and travels widely. I found her writing when I was in high school and have been reading and re-reading ever since. It’s kind of self-help-y, yes, but there’s a lot of spirituality, philosophy, and psychology in it too, which the best self-help books contain. She has many other titles that I’d also recommend, The Depression Book: Depression as an Opportunity for Spiritual Growth literally changed my life when I first read it, and Be the Person You Want To Find: Relationships and Self-Discovery is a great book for those of us seeking long-term valuable love relationships. Speaking of love relationships, I can’t not mention If the Buddha Dated and If the Buddha Married by Charlotte Kasl. Both were very life-changing and eye-opening to my own patterns and tendencies, and very useful. Kasl is a buddhist quaker feminist psychotherapist, and her perspective is so full of lovingkindness and sweetness and understanding that you can’t not be drawn in, only to learn about yourself and your tendencies. Though it’s pretty hetero-focused in its example couples, I tend to change the pronouns (or pretend it’s a butch going by him/her and a femme). Kristen and I have been reading through it aloud and discussing it, which can be intense but has been great.

And because I can’t make a book list without having sex books on it:

  1. Moregasm: Babeland’s Guide to Mind-Blowing Sex by Rachel Venning and Claire Cavanah, founders of Babeland. I’ve already mentioned this book on Sugarbutch recently, but it’s worth mentioning again. Modern, fun, wide-ranging, inclusive, sexy, kinky, open, welcoming. And the design is just so damn cute. If I had coffee table books, this would be one of them.
  2. The Topping Book and The Bottoming Book by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy. I recommend these books constantly to folks who want to get more involved in power play or topping and bottoming roles in their sex lives. So many of my philosophies come from these books, and they are incredibly full of useful tips and ideas about aftercare, safewords, top drop, negotiations.
  3. Urban Tantra: Sacred Sex for the Twenty-First Century by Barbara Carrellas. Tantra books are usually way too cheesy for me to even get through, and I have some experience with tantra. But this one is different. Carrellas (@urbantantrika) is as grounded as she is woo-woo, as queer and kinky as she is accessible and open. If you’ve always been curious about tantra, this is a great place to start.
  4. Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships by Tristan Taormino. There are very few smart books written about polyamory and open relationships (The Ethical Slut, now in a new edition, by the authors of the Topping/Bottoming Books, being the classic cannon), and this is the most recent. I’ve admired Taormino’s work for a long time, since her sex column at the Village Voice (collected into a book called True Lust), and she’s done some pretty amazing things in mainstream porn since then. I love that she’s bringing and underground queer feminist perspective to the things she’s doing, it makes her work even more complex and fantastic. Her most recent book (aside from Sometimes She Lets Me: Best Butch/Femme Erotica!) is The Big Book of Sex Toys, which I don’t have my hands on yet but will be reporting all about when I do.
  5. Exhibitionism For the Shy: Show Off, Dress Up and Talk Hot! by Carol Queen. The Amazon description says “[e]xhibitionism as a consensual erotic pleasure and a means to overcome shyness and body image issues” and I LOVE that idea! I’m not actually sure where my copy of this has escaped to, perhaps I lost it in a break-up, but there’s a relatively new edition from 2009 that I should get my hands on regardless. Want to feel more sexy, show off, but feel self-conscious? Pick up this book. In case you don’t already know Carol Queen, she’s the owner of the Good Vibrations toy shops and director of The Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco. She also wrote one of my favorite erotica books, The Leather Daddy and the Femme.

Whew! Okay, that should keep you busy for the next few months, hm? I hope at least one of these is interesting and might enhance your life in some way. Books can be so magical like that.

I’ve included the links to Amazon, and while if you click through those links I do get a teeny tiny kickback from your purchases, I still encourage you to visit your local independent bookstore and support them by ordering these books through them. If you want them to be around next year, that means spending your money in their shop. I know they aren’t as cheap as Amazon, and probably not quite as convenient, but you’ll miss them when they’re gone. Or at least, I will. A lot.

So? What books changed YOUR life?

Interview with stylist ariel? ariel!

May 7, 2008  |  essays  |  2 Comments

Ariel has been my style consultant for a while now, and when she’s not too busy being a matchmaker, I’m often asking her basic style questions like “should my socks match my shoes or my trousers?” and ”how do I wear summer clothes and still be cool in Mexico?” and “I’m going on a fancy date. Help!” Masculine high fashion is new to me, and I find it fascinating, but sometimes very daunting. That “not butch enough” feeling comes up in me all the more because I’m not familiar enough with the culture. I’m learning, though, and it’s so fun to have Ariel in my life to talk to about this!

I sent Ariel some interview questions recently, and here are her thoughts. Thanks A! 

I could spend the rest of my life talking about fashion. I love it. I love the act of creating visual codes for gender and how we want to be taken in the world. Fashion appeals to the formalist in me: take a structure, learn to speak it, and then figure out how to make it your own.

Fashion is hard because it is an aesthetic exercise about personal expression. There is a whole school of fashion that says you should just do whatever you want and fuck the rules. The hard part about that is that fashion is how other people code us and gender us, and for a lot of people who will identify with the world of butch fashion I imagine that controlling that gendering is incredibly important. I am of the “you can’t break the rules until you know what the rules are” school of thought; it is important to build your eye and build your ability to analyze what is going on in an outfit — proportion, line, color, pattern, cut — so that you can more artfully manipulate the code to suit your own purposes.

I also have to say this: I am not going to define butch for you. Honestly, my personal fashion has much more to do with how to match your gold lamé neckerchief to your lavender trousers than it does with how to pass or be unremarkably masculine; I also refuse to be in the school of thought that says only more feminine people can wear things like skirts or high heels. I think more knowledge is better knowledge! That said, I am focusing a little bit more on clothing that has been traditionally masculinized, at least in part because I imagine readers of Sugarbutch will find it useful. Images in this post are all menswear because that is what I am obsessed with right now, and also because I think menswear fashion is somewhat less out there than womenswear fashion and it is useful to learn to dissect the pieces of masculine fashion. Mostly, though, it is because I look at that Rykiel Homme jacket 50 times a day and think things like “I can spend twice my rent on one piece of clothing! Imagine how often I’d wear it!”

Seems to me that there are many different subtle styles – athletic, preppie, punk – but that there are not as many variations in men’s styles as there are in women’s. Do you have particular thoughts about how to find your own style?

I think what is exciting about fashion is the way it gives us a visual language to show the world something about ourselves. I am a believer in fashion and I feel like it is an aesthetic language everybody should learn to speak.

Men’s fashion is just as nuanced a language as women’s fashion; it just speaks in different words. The main difference between women’s and men’s fashion, at least as far as I am concerned, is that men don’t usually wear skirts or dresses. Colors, different pant cuts, different styles of shirt; I think the fun of it is mixing and matching. The whole point of fashion is figuring out how you show the world whatever it is you want to say.

suit_1_sartorialist.jpg    suit_2_sartorialist.jpg
Scott Schuman/The Sartorialist 
Two different suits, same fabric –
completely different feels!
Both shot on The Sartorialist.

It is also so important to remember that fashion has a set of rules that it is worth learning — and then worth breaking. I am a believer in anarchist fashion where you do what you want how you want but I think it is important to do it knowing what you are working with. I also want to say that there are many versions of “fashion” — race, class, gender, aesthetic, all of these things combine to make different kinds of looks.

I think the best thing to do is look at people. Look at fashion websites; look at pictures; look at people on the street. I am always scouting for great looks on the street. The Sartorialist has great pictures of a certain classic kind of look; has pictures from all the shows. And shop but take time shopping, and take pleasure in it — think about what you are drawn to, what you like, and how you want to come across. Do you love the cut of your shoulders? Do you love your collarbones? Your biceps? Your ass? Your lower legs? Your chest? You can highlight all of this based on what you’re wearing. Look at pictures and think about how you want to execute. When I shop I always have a vision of who I want to be and that is who I am trying to dress. Seeing what other people wear is the easiest way to build technique and build your eye so this can happen flawlessly.

What four really basic pieces should butches own & learn how to rock?

1. Button-down dress shirt

If you are going to put yourself on masculine-spectrum clothes, you need to get a button-down dress shirt with a nice collar. Blue, white, or black depending on your style, but this is pretty much masculine dressing 101. Men’s section, women’s section: the only real difference is that women’s section shirts tend to be cut for what are traditionally considered women’s bodies (breast allowances, hip allowances), are cut shorter (they’re not designed to be tucked in most of the time), and button the other way. (Why, you ask? There are tons of different answers floating around; the accepted cultural wisdom is that women used to have people to help dress them, so the buttons went the other way to make it easier for their dresser.)

(Women’s shirt sizing is a opaque mystery involving S-M-L-XL and numbers that at one time meant something but now are just symbolic — exactly what am I 16 or 18 of? I am not even going to try to explain it: start at this Wikipedia article, and then click from there. It is a mess of vanity sizing to make people feel smaller. In general, the more diffuse/downmarket the brand, the larger the sizes will be; a Target size 4 is bigger than a Dolce and Gabbana size 4. For men’s sizes other than S-M-L: the small number is your neck size (somewhere in the teens/twenties) and the large number is your sleeve length, taken from the middle of your neck down to where you want the sleeve to hit on your wrist (somewhere in the 30s.) You can measure this yourself with a friend — here is a guide — or nicer stores will have someone there to measure you. Remember, hips will not be accounted for! Play around with sleeve lengths (because that is really the shoulder girth) and see what fits best for you. Also, different men’s brands and lines have different fits/cuts/amounts of taper: a skinny shirt will drop in further than a relaxed shirt, et cetera, et cetera. Find the one that you love and can depend on; this will take some work probably.

2. Shoes!

You need to have at least one pair of shoes that make you feel amazing. Have a killer pair of sneakers. Have a pair of great boots. Have some baby-soft tassle loafers. Four-inch heels. Your shoes are the foundation you stand on and if you need to be economical you can get away with only having one pair at a time. But think about it: if all you wear are big cargo shorts, you better be very deliberate in choosing to wear them with dress oxfords. Things to pay attention to: what are you going to be wearing the shoes with? If it’s pants, how do the pants break at the shoe? If it’s a skirt or shorts, how will it finish your leg?

dries_van_noten.jpgimage credit: Marcio Madeira//
Dries Van Noten Fall 2008 show
Look at these shoes!
This outfit would be fundamentally less interesting but the shoes add fun and punch and take this from sullen to powerful. The cuffed pants and the heathered socks make this feel fashiony and funky to me; it would be a different look with the pants down over the shoes.

3. A great jacket.

It can be hot pink (Marc Jacobs did it!), it can be tweed with elbow patches. Put it over a t-shirt, put it over an oxford, put it over anything, this is a staple and it lets you do so many things AND it will keep you warm. I wish I had more to say about this but I don’t. Women’s jackets are that same sizing mystery as everything else. Men’s jackets are a chest measurement across the widest part of the chest; another good trick is the jacket size should be six to eight inches larger than your pant size (men’s suits come with a six inch difference between the waist of the pants and the size of the jacket).rykiel_homme.jpg

image credit: Marcio Madeira//
designer: Rykiel Homme Fall 2008
caption: This jacket kills me. Kills me! It is such classic tailoring but the color is so unexpected. The whole outfit is “almost classic” — the sweater/button down/tie, the cut of the trousers — but look at the density of patterns on the shirt/tie, and the blue and the purple are just right together.

4.  A great accessory

 Pick something: a watch, a scarf, a belt, a neckerchief, lipstick a pipe, a tie, a purse, a hat — have at least one awesome, fun accessory that turns your clothing into an outfit. I believe in signature styles or pieces to decorate and adorn fairly classic looks — pink hankerchiefs with cardigans and t-shirts, neon ties with classic oxfords and trousers. This is how you can buy classic pieces and still look interesting. Look no further than the fashion around men’s suits, which are exercises in subtlety and using details to tell a story, for help on this one.sartorialist_terron_schaefer.jpg

image credit: Scott Schuman/The Sartorialist
Look at that pocket square. Look at the detail! It is such a simple, plain, classic look — with such interesting details that really take it past just another boring suit.

What should butches avoid?

I am never one to tell anyone to avoid anything on a gender-prescriptive basis! I would say avoid things that make you look bad and avoid things you don’t feel confident in. Don’t wear a suit and tie if you feel weird in it! Don’t wear a dress unless you feel you can rock it! Fashion is about portraying yourself. It is all so fraught with gender conformity — even within the queer gender galaxy — and it is hard to have the audacity and fortitude to stick it out and find what makes you feel hottest and most yourself, especially if your body and gender are not the body and gender you are “supposed” to have. Be bold! Be brave! Pay attention to what you feel goes together, and why — think about what you are wearing and how you think it hangs together — but I want every single one of you out there to avoid not doing things just because you don’t think it’s butch enough.

Do you love it? Do you feel hot in it? There you go. That’s all you need.some_kinda_blue_sartorialist.jpeg

image credit: Scott Schuman/The Sartorialist 
Look at it! It’s perfect — suit, pants, turtleneck, hat, pocket square — the color is so bright, but it works and it is undeniably what it is.

(This guy has my heart.)

Ariel spends a lot of time playing the toy accordion and window shopping the expensive floors at bloomingdale’s. she encourages you to go to queer
to find whatever it is your queer heart desires, and ariel?ariel! if you really have some time to kill.