Interview with Shaz Riley of the Butch Clothing Company

I was delighted to interview Shaz Riley, the founder of the Butch Clothing Company (BCC). 

The BCC creates some kick-ass, beautiful crafted, and carefully bespoken men’s style suits for female-bodied people. Doing this interview has made me dream of getting one some day when I get married or, you know, get invited to a celebrity event. A savvy businesswoman, Shaz won’t give away all her secrets on how she manages to hide women’s curves so well. I suppose that would be like me giving away my great aunt’s kugel recipe. I think this speaks to how special her company is and the quality of their work. Check out the BCC’s Facebook page to see all sorts of butches in action rocking her beautiful suits.

The mission of the BCC is grounded in serving butch women, but they welcome clients of all identities and gender presentations. Shaz even mentioned to me that bridesmen and best men work with her so that their tuxes can match their butch brides’. So Thomas, I’d keep a couple hundred euro on the back burner if I were you.

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Can you tell us a bit about all the kinds of suits you offer? 

Our design process is fully interactive with our clients. We look at all elements of detailing that make up a suit. Choice of fabrics — of which we hold over 120 — specifically chosen to work on any woman, no matter their body shape. Clients love our garment linings; we carry over 80 in numerous colours and textures. We look at collar types from classic notched to skinny peaked to even the Ghandi style Nehru. We look at number of buttons on the jackets, vests, and cuffs. We look at pocket style, collar shape for shirts etc. and then together we design the perfect suit for you!

How do you ensure that your suits fit your customers who are not working on it with you in person?

With our overseas clients we offer video Skype consultations. These work identically to face-to-face consults except that — under my careful supervision — our clients and a friend, spouse, or family member do the actual measurement taking. I am there on camera every step of the way, but I do send a BCC measurement guide as well! To date, our Skype consultations and the end results have been exceptionally successful.

What do you say to people who ask, “Why don’t you just get a women’s suit?”

I explain that women’s suits on butch women are as un-wearable as ill-fitted men’s suits. To put on lady’s attire takes away from who we are — it detracts from our butch identity. The curve cuts, the darts, the shoulder padding style etc. is all very feminine. Butches, by their very nature, are defined as masculine women, and so most of us would feel a little like we were ‘in drag’ if we were to purchase a lady’s suit. My company is just as much about the butch identity and my personal understanding of that as it is about the clothing.

What are your dreams for expanding your company?

We have had a 60% turnover increase in the past 12 months and we would love to see that trend continue, as it reflects the fact we are reaching a global market. I would like every butch woman in the world to know about us. Obviously we don’t just cater to women who identify as butch; we cater to any woman who wants to have a bespoke suit based on a classic male style and latest male fashion trend. I originally set the company up for women like me who always buy men’s clothing but seldom find a guy’s suit that fits well. 

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What general techniques do you have for women who want to tailor clothes to hide their curves?

We spent 10 months in research and development constructing the suits, so on the outside they look and fit as well on a butch women as they would on a guy, but internally the construction reflects how we handle the butch shape including chest and shoulder areas, waist and thigh, crotch, etc. Our suits are based on classic male styles so by design the classic shape and structure means that curves aren’t accentuated. We can’t hide the chest completely, but by not accentuating it in a way ladies garments do, we are providing tailoring solutions that mean women’s curves are not a focal point, and therefore becomes no issue in the general fit of suit. This was one of the main and crucial elements of the design and construction for me.

Do any of your clientele bind, or do you take chest binding into consideration when you create a suit?

We can handle any situation. It’s all about taking the correct measurement profile at the start and talking to our clients about what they would be comfortable with.

What does being butch mean to you, and why did you decide to use it in your company name?

Being butch for me is part of what defines me. I am not a guy nor do I wish to be, but I am not a feminine woman either. I am the best of both worlds. Society and maybe even our own community have attempted to turn the word ‘Butch’ into a negative, and by calling the company The Butch Clothing Company I feel we have reclaimed the word. Butch for me is my lifestyle, my gender, my personality. Butch is not a generic term used to describe individuals who are all the same; it is to me a term defined by each individuals own style, their own personality, attributes, and attitude; and it is a universal reflection on those of us who just get and accept what it is to be a non-feminine identified woman! I would never have wanted to be anything other than butch!

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As Qwear's Founding Editor, Sonny’s work centers around envisioning a future in which the clothing people wear does not dictate their chances of survival. Sonny was awarded 2015 dapperQ of the Year and was the first trans blogger to be sponsored by Topman. In March 2016, Sonny spoke at South by South West's first official queer fashion panel.