Reworking the gendered business suit

imgres-1Breakthrough ideas often come from the least expected sources. For Daniel Friedman, the flash came from a woman named Rachel Tutera. Friedman makes custom men’s suits, mostly for corporate clients in his end of Park Slope, Brooklyn.

As the New York Times recently reported, “Ms. Tutera runs a blog called The Handsome Butch. When she wrote to him last year, seeking a sales job, she had a proposition: Why couldn’t Mr. Friedman, with his expertise in men’s suits, make them for women like her — not women’s suits, but the same gear he was making for guys, with the same masculine profile, but fitted to women’s bodies? It was a question he had never considered.

“In a coffee shop near his home the other day, he seemed still struck by the world that opened to him after that initial email.

“The whole thing is really strange, and sometimes I can’t — ” he said, his voice evaporating into the wonder of it all. He was not even sure how to identify Ms. Tutera, gender-wise. Was she transgender or just mannish? Sometimes it was hard to know such things. What he knew was that she had changed his life. “When we started this business, it was for money,” he said. “And now it’s not. It was the emotion, the excitement that people had, that became everything for the company. At least for me. You don’t expect to turn a corner and that’s what you’re going to find.”

“On another November morning in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, Ms. Tutera took a turn at describing what she brought to Mr. Friedman, 34, and his company, Bindle and Keep. Arriving from an appointment with her barber, Ms. Tutera, 28, who identifies herself as navigating “a very tiny space that exists between being a butch dyke and being a trans man,” wore a man’s cable-knit sweater and oxford shirt, her short hair plastered back on her scalp.

“I personally don’t ever put on women’s clothes,” she said. “I just can’t. Buttons are on the wrong side. I don’t know what size I am in women’s clothes. I feel I know how to dress in men’s clothes. I’m sure I could put on women’s clothes and not be completely freaked out, but I just wouldn’t want to.” For most of her life, Ms. Tutera said, this meant choosing between clothes that did not fit her physique and those that did not fit her sense of self. Then in 2010, she went to a tailor in Midtown to have a men’s suit made for her. It cost $1,500, a towering sum.

“I was trembling to be there,” she said. Where women’s clothing tends to accentuate the hips and breasts, she said, she wanted a silhouette like a man’s. She bound her breasts to make them less prominent (she has since had surgery to remove them). The suit turned out to be more than just an article of clothing, she told Mr. Friedman in her email. That moment started his education.“The suit really helped me in ways I never expected it to,” she said. “I hadn’t ever felt handsome before. I had put together these makeshift outfits for special occasions and always felt like I was being overlooked in some way. I felt like I was ready to be paid attention to. It brought me to the precipice of becoming who I am now.”

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