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Fashion industry, retailers and the challenges faced by the gender binary

Sunday, August 3, 2014
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Laura Jane Grace of the band Against Me!, in New York. Grace, 33, publicly came out as transgender in 2012.Brian Ach, Invision (AP)

Laura Jane Grace of the band Against Me!, in New York. Grace, 33, publicly came out as transgender in 2012.

Laura Jane Grace, who fronts the punk band Against Me!, transitioned from male to female in dress onstage in 2012. At 6 foot 2, with a mostly black wardrobe worthy of a rocker, Grace recalls the days before she was “out” and on the hunt for women’s clothes.

“It was always kind of terrifying, going out and actually shopping for stuff,” said Grace, who lived in small-town Florida before moving to Chicago.

This image released by Saint Harridan, Inc. shows actress Lea Delaria from "Orange is the New Black,"wearing an outfit by Saint Harridan, which makes off-the-rack suits that feature sleek masculine looks re-engineered for women and transmen.Saint Harridan, Inc., Cindy Fong Photography (AP)

This image released by Saint Harridan, Inc. shows actress Lea Delaria from “Orange is the New Black,”wearing an outfit by Saint Harridan, which makes off-the-rack suits that feature sleek masculine looks re-engineered for women and transmen.

“I can’t remember an experience where someone either didn’t look at you like you were total scum or have some kind of comment to make,” she said, adding: “People look at me like I’m a thief. There’s that attention on you from the beginning that always makes for an uncomfortable experience. People watch me from the second I walk into a store that’s not specifically like a rock ‘n’ roll store because I’m covered in tattoos.”

Grace usually shops online, shares a women’s size 10 shoe with her wife and picks up specialty pieces in boutiques during band road trips.

Mary Going, a masculine-presenting lesbian who’s 5 foot 3 and 120 pounds, wanted a formal suit for her 2008 wedding. After fruitless trips to Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, Men’s Wearhouse, Banana Republic and Macy’s, she had one tailor-made for about $1,800.

“I’ve had cars that cost less than that,” said Going. “I loved that suit. I felt great in that suit in a way that I had never felt great in my clothes before. I felt taller. I felt like I got more respect and I don’t know if that’s because I presented more respectfully or because people really did see me differently.”

Going “wanted to offer that same feeling to other people, but without the $1,800 price tag” or the wait. So she founded Saint Harridan, which makes off-the-rack suits with sleek masculine looks for women and transmen.

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This year the Oakland, Calif.-based entrepreneur took the brand on a pop-up tour so butch women, transmen and others can walk in and buy a reasonably priced suit. The tour has served 100 to 150 people daily on three-day stops in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Seattle, New York, Philadelphia, Oakland and Minneapolis.

It heads to Boston in August, followed by Detroit, Portland, Oregon, Provincetown, Massachusetts, Chicago and Los Angeles.

“We’ve had grown people stand in our store and cry because they have never experienced customer service like this,” Going said. “We’re telling them that they are valued and respected just the way they are.”

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