Like many women of my generation, I once, briefly, considered myself a lesbian. In retrospect, it’s not hard to explain: I had just cast off the authority of my parents and was on my own at a college 13 hours away. It seemed the next logical step to cast off the authority of boys: that is, to never again date someone who was automatically presumed to be somehow “in charge” of whatever we were doing.
I had done plenty of dating in high school. The boy usually drives. The person who drives is sort of in charge. Chivalry can be fun, but you know what can be even more fun? Having your attempts at decisionmaking and expertise (both already rare at that age) come off as something more than adorable or auxiliary.
Declaring myself a lesbian worked brilliantly on that account. It was a way of claiming autonomy. It was a way of feeling more badass in the boxing ring. It presented no objection to shaving my head junior year, and later showing up to boxing practice with an (intimidating, I hoped) blue buzzcut. I dated four (count them, four!) women. At one point, I decided I just might be transgendered, because I really wanted to look like Leonardo DiCaprio in Romeo + Juliet (seriously — Leo is the hottest butch EVER). And then I met a guy, and then another guy, and I realized once again that I had been right about dudes being presumed to be in charge of things, but then I got my driver’s license, and found some other strategies against that. Now, I am a person who writes instructional columns on getting your seamed stockings on straight (haha, straight) and penciling in your eyebrows (not that plenty of lesbians don’t also do these things). And at least two of those four women are now married to dudes.
I graduated from Dartmouth in 2000, and revisited the college in 2007 to do my one-woman show. I mentioned “lesbians until graduation” and the students seemed genuinely shocked and/or puzzled. Is this not a thing anymore? I mean, I’m sure it’s always been more of a thing at some schools than others, but has our new Wendy-Shalit-inspired, boy-bands-with-purity-rings era quashed at least the open acknowledgement of lesbians-until-graduation? (Or, more positively, perhaps young women are feeling more of an ability to do whatever the hell they want without declaring themselves anything at all?) If you graduated from college in the last five years, please let us know in the comments.
In any case, this column came about because a press release from The Tie Bar came across my desk, advertising cotton pocket squares for only $8. Can women wear pocket squares? They are, apparently, “great for any occasion and any style suit, as they have hand rolled borders in several colors including black, crimson, navy, light blue, and charcoal.”
I do love a good blazer or suit jacket, but (I just consulted my closet to be sure) none of my jackets have that little pocket where a pocket square would go. But you know who could definitely look sharp wearing a pocket square? The women of DapperQ (“transgressing men’s fashion”). The site is, in founder Susan Herr’s words, “for all who have been discouraged — in a million and one subtle and not-so-subtle ways — from gleaning for self-expression from the rich and robust universe pioneered over centuries by dapper gents and today reflected in glossies such as GQ, Details and Vogue for Men.”
Highlights of DapperQ: how to get men’s dress shirts tailored to fit. Finding custom-made wedding suits (“gives the term ‘bridegroom’ a whole new meaning”). A sweet Mother’s Day story about an awesome mom trying to find something dapperQ for her 15 year old daughter to wear to a wedding. And the comment that Rachel Maddow — the first openly gay anchor to host a prime-time news show in the US — is transgressing gender boundaries via her dress-shirt choices: “She is undeniably dapperQ. But I’d like to suggest that this one anti-establishment, transgressive sartorial choice — buttoning that top button — establishes Rachel as dapperQ Ground Zero.” (If you’re not especially familiar with Maddow, here’s what she looks like when MSNBC’s hair and makeup people have their way with her and here’s what she looks like on her own).
Site founder Herr (who looks like the incredibly badass Texan she is) decries “the fact that our money often simply isn’t good enough for clerks who guard the chasm between men’s and women’s sections informing those who dare to transgress that we aren’t welcome even in single, self-contained dressing rooms.” For anyone who’s ever had a Pretty Woman moment feeling unwelcome in a store (“They wouldn’t even let her shop!”), the dapperQ movement is a welcome push towards letting people buy and wear whatever the hell they want, regardless of how some people think women, or certain women, ought to look.
[And, just because I can, here's a link to Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Bieber. Not that Justin Bieber is anywhere as cute a lesbian as Leonardo was, back in his day.]