Fashion and gender are inextricably linked. In humans it has become something of a secondary sex characteristic, and the only one you can really control.
Wearing the clothing of the “opposite” gender isn’t new either. We have seen the trope throughout classic art and writing from Greek mythology to Shakespeare. But it is still fairly taboo to step out of your prescribed wardrobe choices. Some retailers, however, are realizing there’s a market from “cross” dressing.
In Bangkok, Thailand a new store just opened catering to the “tomboy chic.” The Tom Chic shop at The One shopping centre, Lat Phrao caters to women who want to wear boxers and button-ups. Previously the shop existed only on the internet and was quite successful as an e-commerce venture. Now it is brick and mortar and plans to expand their distribution to all provinces in Thailand by the end of the month. Passersby may occasionally giggle, but there is clearly a market for masculine clothes cut for women’s bodies.
“At first people probably thought it was crazy,” said Supamas “Jean” Sirimoungkalavanit, owner of Tom Chic shop. “It was quite understandable to get such responses because tomswear was something new to them.”
“People often misperceive [sic] that we want to be like men,” she says. “We have a different taste, lifestyle and identity, and so tomboy clothing is different from what men wear.’’
Indeed what we categorize in the states more often as lesbian chic than tomswear does have a unique aesthetic it has quickly spread to tween boy idols and throughout the fashion world. And though Sirimoungkalavanit tries to make it clear that her shoppers do not necessarily want to be like men there is certainly an aspect to her line that many trans-identified people can relate to.
One of the most popular items is a bust minimizing tank/vest meant to be a better alternative to girdles. Meant to be worn around the waist, these girdles often caused skin rashes and shortness of breath. I’ve heard very similar stories from pre-operative transmen who wear binders despite the discomfort and health risks.
Perhaps retailers here can learn from Sirimoungkalavanit’s experience. Having abandoned bras at age 16, she endured the girdles herself until she designed her own line of “tomboy” underwear.
“Designed for a female physique, the stretch vests are made of a special fabric with spandex that makes them safer and more durable than girdles. They enhance ‘tomdom’ while allowing freedom of movement,” she says.
Though Sirimoungkalavanit and the article do not specifically address sexuality and/or gender identity it is clear than many of the targeted consumers are individuals who would put themselves in these categories. Not only could stores like this provide much needed choices to queer fashionistas, it also brings this gender ambiguous style into the mainstream. For example, Tom Chic’s customers now include men and women who buy the vests for sportswear or as body shapers to help flatten the tummy.
What do you think of Tom Chic’s ideals? Would you be into clothing like theirs?