Working Queer: Thoughts on Shop Clothes From an MOC Friend
By Guest Writer Sus Labowitz
Several years ago, I started working in shops and it took me a minute to figure out what clothes worked for me. Any person of any identity can work making stuff. I lean transmasculine and expressing myself is important to me when I work. The following are my recommendations for comfortable, gender affirming (for me) workwear.
Listen, workplace safety is vital, which means covering your body. BUT: you can wear whatever you want under a good pair of coveralls. I find Dickies coveralls all the time at thrift stores (smaller sizes harder to come by, but they’re cheap online). You can celebrate the femmiest of femme looks and the most cropped crop tops on dangerous jobs if your most external layer has full coverage. Hot tip: they look cute AF if you cut the legs and sleeves for a summer style.
My first year working I struggled to find pants I looked cute in and could wear to work. I suffered the chaffing and wide legs of Carhartts before I found my white whale: Dickies Skinny Straight pants. While these pants may be made of the cheapest, most garbage material (I’ve blown through both knees in under two weeks), they are also the best fitting pants I have ever worn. I’ve considered remaking them myself out of better fabric and they do make a double kneed version that will last slightly longer. All this aside, they are incredibly inexpensive (like $15/pair). You will feel conflicted by the opposing needs of a queer person elated at finding an affirming pair of pants and the soullessness of fast fashion. It’s complicated.
If you’re working with metal, the Dickies Skinny Straight pants and the coveralls aren’t great options since they’re made from ultra flammable polyester. (There is some debate about this, so do you.) Instead, I recommend vintage Levi’s and Wranglers. They’re thicker than jeans today and are typically 100% cotton. (Which is, of course, also flammable, but won’t melt.) Plus, they’re plentiful in thrift stores and are easy to spot once you know your size. Having worn skinny pants for years, I have been kinda blown away by what these pants do for my butt, if I may say so myself. These are a little harder to find, but Levi’s and Wrangler both made “women’s” pants in the same era that tend to fit me better and still lend a masc look.
These are my everyday work/hang out/go out/travel shoes. So much so that I have never lasted a full year with a single pair (also a little garbage in their quality). Pro tip: every pair has a year long warranty and they’ll send you a new pair if anything goes wrong. I’m now on my third pair and I only paid for one. They have a wide size range and they have steel toe options. Since I don’t work in a large scale production shop anymore, I don’t notice the safety trade off of having slip on, non steel toe shoes, but that’s something to consider if you’re in any way involved with lifting heavy shit.
I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend the very best safety glasses out there. Eyes are fragile and precious and you have to look out for yourself because no one else will. They are not cute, but they are safe. THAT SAID, if you’re not working at a lathe all the time or you work in a place that requires glasses when you enter the building, you might want to consider some “fashion” safety glasses. If you love dad style like I do, you are in luck. Check this all out:
Aprons are a practical way to keep your clothes not so disgusting that you don’t mind eating lunch in the same clothes you’ve been working in. Aprons also add a little andro style to your everyday look. If you wish to minimize your hips, this will help! Keep all that sawdust off your middle!
Sus Labowitz lives in New Orleans. They've worked in nonprofits (and on movies and on houses and in kitchens) and as a stage carpenter in Boston building theater sets. They have many interests, including food, dogs, ending prisons, and finding the right clothes.