Try This On For Size

Dress codes have certainly changed dramatically over the years. Currently it's acceptable for girls and women to wear what used to be traditionally for men and boys only.

It hasn't always been like that. My friend, Tricia, told me how her Aunt Alice introduced her to feminism. Tricia was only seven when she was packed off to spend a week with Aunt Alice, Uncle George and three cousins. Tricia's mother had carefully packed enough clean and freshly ironed dresses to last the week. Aunt Alice opened the suitcase and gasped. Bam! She slammed it shut and placed it on the highest shelf in the closet.

Tricia now in her late 60's, grinned from ear to ear and her eyes sparkled as she reminisced about her early feminism. She looked skyward as if to give thanks to her long dead Aunt. "She threw me a pair of my cousin, Jimmy's jeans. I was in heaven. We played kick the can in the alley, climbed trees, and romped in the attic." Tricia sighed. "You wouldn't believe how free I felt."

When my daughter graduated from high school, she rummaged through her closet pulling first one dress, then another from the hangers. When she got down to just one left hanging, she announced, "There, now if I ever have to wear a dress, I won't have to figure out which one. I'll just wear my dress." She put the rest in a box and shipped them off to I can't remember where. Then she packed her jeans and sweats for college.

Marlene Dietrich was one of the first women to demonstrate that women could wear men's clothing without losing one iota of femininity. I will always admire the class with which she pulled it off when it was not the norm.

Today Hanes makes women's underwear fashioned after men's, and women, by the thousands, are buying it.

We have a word for men who dress in women's clothing. It's called cross-dressing. In the movies, cross-dressing is good naturedly tolerated. Who could forget Robin Williams endearing performance as "Mrs. Doubtfire"? We loved Dustin Hoffman as "Tootsie". Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis made us laugh out loud in "Some Like it Hot". Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce and Terence Stamp were outrageous, funny, and very human in "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert".

In real life however, men who wear women's clothes are considered sick, mentally ill.

I remember Joseph and Irene. (Obviously not their real names) Irene wanted me to help Joseph overcome his problem. When I asked her to describe the problem, she pointed her finger at Joseph and glared. "Let him tell you."

Joseph showed the palms of his hands to the ceiling and raised his eyebrows. "I don't have a problem."

Irene jumped out of her chair. "Do you think I like coming home to find my husband dressed in woman's clothing?" She sat down. "It makes me feel queasy."

"I always change clothes when you get home."

"That's not the point. You shouldn't do it at all!"

"Okay. Okay", I interrupted. "We need to talk one at a time. Who wants to go first?"

Irene folded her arms and pursed her lips.

Joseph leaned forward in his chair "It's not a problem for me. I enjoy it."

"Alright, then how is it a problem for your wife?" I waved at Irene to signal her to wait her turn.

"I can't resist a good time. See, I found this great red cowgirl outfit just like the one Betty Hutton wore in "Annie Get Your Gun", and a nun's habit like the one Whoopie Goldberg wore in "Sister Act" at a costume shop that was going out of business." Irene sat silently staring at her shoes while Joseph rattled on. "You'll never guess where I got the long black dress with the white collar like the one Dorothy McGuire wore in "Friendly Persuasion". He sat back in his chair, a satisfied grin on his face.

"Okay." I said, "Then what?"

"I like old movies."


"I like to wear clothes like the heroin when I watch them."

I replied with sincerity in my voice. "That's an interesting hobby."

Irene shot daggers in Joseph's direction and then pleaded with me. "Tell him! Tell him it's not normal."

When it was Irene's turn to talk she was quick to admit that their relationship was quite satisfactory if every other way. Their sex life was satisfying. Joseph was a good wage earner, a thoughtful spouse, and fun to be with, most of the time.

Joseph had an engaging smile. "Loosen up, Irene. You wear my clothes. What's the big deal."

So there you have it, a therapist's worst nightmare. Joseph wanted me to side with him, and Irene wanted me to side with her.

At the end of that first session, I wondered whether or not the couple would come back for a second one. Irene said, "Yes. Definitely."

I wrote down a time and handed the appointment slip to Irene.

Then it dawned on me that I needed to stay balanced, so I looked at Joseph and said, "Do you want a slip too?"

Joseph laughed. "That's a heck of a thing to say to a cross-dresser."

In the waiting room, Joseph helped Irene into her coat. "You could play Rhett to my Scarlet, you know."

"Not after the children are born", she shook her finger at him.

"Promise." He kissed her on the cheek.

I don't recall how Joseph and Irene resolved their dilemma, but I will never forget Joseph's playfulness and his engaging sense of humor.

Joseph insisted on exercising his right to dress as he chose; a right woman have enjoyed for more than half a century. They didn't come back for another session. My best guess is that Irene made one heck of a Rhett Butler.

—M. LaCourt

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