Gender-Bent Sewing

Last January I turned 30, and this important event was joined with a celebratory hallmark of my gender expression. In the winter, Glitter Grandpa was born. Glitter Grandpa is both my brand as well as a part of my identity, born of a mashing of aesthetic goals — Richard Simmons meets Mr. Rogers. As I ventured into the world of sewing for money, I took with me this moniker as a source of inspiration to further explore the bounds of gender.

After this birth of sorts, I spent the remainder of 2018 seeking out ways to reclaim pride in my gender non-conformity through sewing. This should come as no surprise — as someone assigned female at birth who is drawn to glitter and traditionally feminine textures and silhouettes, but who is also most affirmed by he/him pronouns, I struggle refuse to place myself in a sphere of strictly men’s or women’s fashion.

Menswear patterns appeal to me because they afford me the greater likelihood of having others address me as I see myself, but the shape and cut of many menswear patterns are not made for a body like mine, and require significant alteration to fit. This is sometimes a painful reminder that my body is different.

When I lean on familiar women’s patterns because I can count on them to fit my body better, it comes with the added risk of being misgendered more frequently because my curves are accentuated. I spent the last year back and forth and somewhere in between: I tailored ginger jeans (a women’s jean pattern) to the silhouette and cut that I wanted.Closet Case Ginger jeans made for a masculine style I made a full-body swimsuit for myself. Even though I’ve had top surgery and could go to the pool without a top, I feel more comfortable this way.Noah in his swim-singlet at the beach. The bodice is almost entirely black, with a neon green around armscye and into the straps. Has an 80s Body Glove feel to it, paired with white raybans I tested strategies for making boxers with liners and gender-neutral boxers for bodies of a variety of shapes and configurations. Of all the photos, I wish you could see this one. 9 people in gender-neutral boxer-briefs. Each in a different spot on the gender spectrum, smiling. Truly a beautiful show of emotion and happiness. You can feel this photo. I applied feminine textures to traditionally masculine silhouettes, among many other things.

Men’s button-up pattern altered to add a detachable embellished collar:

Noah in customized, dandy-esque menswear shirt

Noah in purple floral on black background tank with blond short hair and black denim cut-offs

It hasn’t always been easy, and at times it has been dysphoria-inducing.

For Pride this summer, I stitched a glorious shimmering leotard (from a men’s wrestling singlet pattern) and paired it with freshly dyed purple and blue hair. Several days later, all the effort I had put into growing my hair out finally paid off and I was able to get my multi-colored locks French braided. Not long after I succumbed to the weight of dysphoria from frequent mis-gendering due to my long effeminate hairstyle paired with my gender-bending attire. I shaved my head in a moment of desperation.

Noah with purple floral on black tank, purple hair in French brain with sides shaved, rainbow leopard tattoo on left shoulder

French braided!Noah in his Pride outfit - pastel singlet, metallic blue chukkas, purple-magenta hair.The Pride outfit!Noah after emotional haircutNo hairs

On New Years Eve, just a few short weeks ago, my mom and I gave ourselves manicures. I tested a Pinterest ombre tutorial and, to my surprise, succeeded with the technique. When I flew back home after the holidays, I curled my fingers into my palm to hide my manicure from the lay public such as TSA, food service employees, etc., lest they be tempted to doubt my pronouns. During one of these instances I was standing in the TSA line at a tiny regional airport in central Missouri. I was sporting a rather in-your-face Pride shirt, self-sewn leggings, along with my new manicure, and once again attempted to hide it until the older woman behind me complimented me on it. She asked me how I did it and so I explained. In doing so, she shared with me that her kindergarten aged grandsons were sporting nail polish to school, and one of them got his dream gift for Christmas, a Barbie house. She ended the conversation with something like this: “I’m so glad that we live in a time when people can just be their true selves.” While I know this isn’t always true, I was so grateful to know that someone saw me living as my true self.

Pattern makers should take into consideration that those like myself who want to wear garments deemed one way or the other may not have the body shape or even body parts that one would assume go with such garments.

As it pertains to pattern-making, there is so much room in the field to blur the lines between what is construed as “men’s” and  “women’s” clothing — giving many folks more space to sew for their true selves. Pattern makers should take into consideration that those like myself who want to wear garments deemed one way or the other may not have the body shape or even body parts that one would assume go with such garments. While it may seem difficult, it is possible. A sewing mentor of mine and sewing business owner has done just this with an underwear pattern and drafting guide that works for people with vaginas as well as people with penises. I can only imagine the world that would open up for many sewists, even those who don’t consider themselves gender non-conforming, should the field of pattern-making take a cue from a little gender bending.

Note: Sewcialists is a hyper-inclusive editorial site. We recognize that “Menswear” as we use it in our theme month is a very loaded term, and we use any gendered reference in these discussions to denote the most broadly accepted “traditional” categories only, without wishing to prescribe or proscribe what any person can wear. We recognize all gender identities and the choice to dress how one pleases.

Noah Riley is a health educator by day, subversive stitcher by night. Queer, transmasculine, non-binary glitter prince 24/7. He’s been sewing since he was a kid, albeit only seriously in the past few years. Since coming out as trans and adjusting his gender expression to fit his gender identity, he found the availability of commercially available clothing that fit his body had decreased significantly. Noah created Glitter Grandpa to both fill the gap he found and to share with the queer community.