Threads: Suit Up at Tomboy Tailors

Jan 31, 2013 by

Threads: Suit Up at Tomboy Tailors

by Heather Cassell

Women seeking to look sharp for play and work have a new fashionable option at Tomboy Tailors, a new bespoke clothier opening in San Francisco.

The boutique shop specifically for the not so feminine woman will celebrate Feb. 2 with a grand opening at the Crocker Galleria.

Women seeking to do themselves up a la Greta Garbo or Isabella Rossillini have a difficult time finding clothes that fit their frame as well as adept tailors with the skill to shape men’s suits to their bodies.

Worse is the reaction, even in the genderqueer world of San Francisco, that women who prefer masculine styles receive when they are out shopping.

Especially for gender queer and trans men.

“As uncomfortable it is for me as a lesbian, I imagine that it would be even more uncomfortable for them to go into a men’s store,” says Zel Anders, founder and owner of Tomboy Tailors, reflecting on years where stores became emotional war zones where she had to put on armor to go shopping.

“I have a hard time finding my way in clothing,” Zel says.

Zel Anders, founder and owner of Tomboy Tailors (Photo: Courtesy of Tomboy Tailors)

Zel Anders, founder and owner of Tomboy Tailors (Photo: Courtesy of Tomboy Tailors)

Zel, a 5’11 48-year-old woman, says attempting to dress in women’s clothing made her look like a “drag queen,” men’s suits from the rack and tailored to fit her were never taken in correctly.

It came down to having clothes made for her, she says.

In her gut, Zel, whose legal name is Leslie Lewis, knew there are other women like her.

“I just believe there are a lot of other people like me not happy about being limited in what they wear,” she says. “I’m really just hoping that I’ll make it easier in the future for other people to dress the way that they want.”

What she didn’t quite know until she began her journey to open Tomboy Tailors was that she is tapping into an emerging trend.

The store will also cater to women seeking smart looks similar to outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Eileen Fisher-like styles, she adds.


Maybe it’s the “futch-effect” started by Dani Campbell, who found fame as the last lesbian standing for Tila’s heart in MTV’s “A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila.” Perhaps it’s the nightly butch presence of wickedly smart MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow with her boyish style beaming into America’s living rooms for the past four plus years.

While Rachel brushes off butch fashion questions, Dani the lesbian firefighter launched Futch Fashion. She’s since renamed her tomboy fashion line PinkBoyBlueGirl, but it appears it’s defunct.

Even so, Dani left an impression, not only on the swooning femmes and straight women counterparts, but also on the fashion world.

Butch women need cool clothes and even hotter suits.

Flash forward five years and gender-forward designers and shop owners are taking up the call for androgynous and “masculine-of-center” fashion for women.

Androgynous fashion designers and online boutiques catering to women who like wearing men’s clothes are sprouting up from the East to West Coasts within the past nine months.

Tomboy Tailors is the first brick-and-mortar shop.

On the West Coast, Saint Harridan in Oakland set up its virtual shop seven months ago and recently Sonoma-based fashion designer Karen Roberts launched HauteButch, a butch women’s clothing line that “represents the core of a butch woman’s gender presentation,” she writes on the boutique’s website.

In New York, sister designers A and Vee Lee launched VEEA, androgynous fashion. The fashion line’s name is a combination of the sister’s names, A Lee is the founder of the company and Vee Lee is the head designer and co-founder, they tell Curve Magazine.

“Androgynous women are denied the opportunity to truly explore the idea of fashion as self-expression,” A Lee, founder of the company, tells Curve about her concern about the absence of fashion for androgynous women “forces them to conform to an externally imposed ideal.”

These women are onto something, as Mary Going, 45, founder of Saint Harridan found out when she launched her crowdfunding campaign to raise the $87,000 needed to produce the first 100 custom-made suits.

The 34-day campaign in December surpassed Mary’s goal. By the 10th day she made the $87,000 needed. By the end of the campaign she raised $137,562 from 1,108 supporters, according to Saint Harridan’s Kickstarter page. She even gained potential investors, she tells the Bay Area Reporter.

Bossy and feminine at Tomboy Tailors (Photo: Courtesy of Tomboy Tailors)

Bossy and feminine at Tomboy Tailors (Photo: Courtesy of Tomboy Tailors)

It’s Time

Tomboy Tailors is making a national splash with New York musician Ganessa James pledging that she will wear a custom-fitted tuxedo by the boutique to the Grammy awards this year.

Zel couldn’t be happier about the celebrity and national attention Tomboy Tailors is receiving.

“I don’t think I found my place in the world until now,” says Zel, who has held a number of jobs mostly in academia and the legal field. But those jobs weren’t “really fulfilling for me personally.”

“This is going to be the major thing in my life that makes me happy and doing something good in the world,” says Zel, who is using personal funds to finance Tomboy Tailors.

She declined to state how much she’s invested into the company. Zel says because this is the first store of its kind to cater specifically to “masculine-of-center” women and trans men along with other women, she doesn’t have a clear perspective of what revenues it might bring in.

What she does know is that there is an untapped market for what she and other butch boutiques and designers have tapped into and plan to find during their respective pop up stores and trunk shows across the country.

Zel hopes the store will become a destination for visitors coming to San Francisco.
A shopping trip to the City by the Bay is fun, but people who need a suit for a special occasion, won’t have to journey to San Francisco to shop at Tomboy Tailors. The store’s five full-time employees will be able to do custom fittings online and via Skype, says Zel.

Tomboy Tailors’ website will go live in March.

The store will have a variety of casual to dressy patterns and over 200 materials from England, Italy and Scotland for shoppers to choose from. The clothing will be assembled by a clothing manufacturer that has made suits for ambassadors and presidents, Zel says.

The store will also carry men’s shoes custom made to fit a woman’s foot, jackets and sweaters, and accessories, such as ties, bowties, hats, cuff-links, and more.

To get the look, visit or stop by the store at Crocker Galleria, 50 Post Street, first level, San Francisco.

Two bois get out in style in Tomboy Tailors casual suites Zel Anders, founder and owner of Tomboy Tailors. (Photo: Courtesy of Tomboy Tailors)

Two bois get out in style in Tomboy Tailors casual suites Zel Anders, founder and owner of Tomboy Tailors. (Photo: Courtesy of Tomboy Tailors)

To get a taste of West Coast butch designers and boutiques, don’t miss the “ButchLyfe: Expanding ideas in Masculine Fashion for Female and Trans-Masculine Bodies” fashion show and after-party Feb. 22.

Some of the designers featured in the show include Haute Butch, Saint Harridan, Tomboy Fresh and more.

Dress to impress and head out to the Underground Fashion Style House inside the Cathedral Building, 1615 Broadway, Oakland. Doors open at 8 p.m., show at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10 to $25.

Mingle with designers and models at the ButchLyfe after-party at the Bridge inside the Den, 1807 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, at 10 p.m.

The butch fashion show is produced by F-L-Y Society Entertainment and FIVEten Oakland.

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