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Switcheroo

I’m curious about y’all’s reaction to Switcheroo. Hana Pesut took photos of six couples. Each couple, after the first photo—snapshot, I would say, nothing terribly special about the pictures—then switched clothes and posed for another picture. Of course, I’m thinking about this in connection to As You Like It, but it’s also just interesting.

My initial reaction was that all the men look absolutely terrible in women’s clothes. And, pretty much, all the women look fairly good in men’s clothes. I would say in the initial picture, most of the men look pretty good, and most of the women look slightly better—I’m a straight guy, though, so I’m curious whether those of you that find men in general attractive think that these fellows are in that attractive set.

Digression: I have estimated that I find around 80% of women attractive. Of women between twenty and sixty, let’s say. That’s not a scientific sample, really just a sense that, you know, most women, four out of five or so, I find physically attractive. It’s quite rare that I see a man I find attractive. I think less than one in ten, probably, maybe less. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if I spent a whole day without seeing a man I find attractive, including pictures or video. End Digression.

Anyway, what’s clear to my eyes is that every one of the men looks much, much worse in drag than they do in their own clothes. And I would say that, oh, four out of the six look as good in drag or better than they do in their own clothes. Now, by in drag I mean in these pictures, where they are wearing their spouse’s clothes, which don’t fit them at all. In fact the one man who looks something close to all right in drag is the one who is more or less the same height as his wife (or whatever—they are described as couples, so I’ll use those terms), so that’s probably a good deal of it. I don’t know, for the pictures, whether they altered the clothes to get the fellows into them at all. Just slit the shirts up the back? And the shoes, what did they do there? Anyway, those fellows with a little shopping and grooming could all look much better in drag than they do in these photos. But still: they look awful.

And the women… don’t. Is this because they suit my conditioned expectations? The men’s outfits are pretty much pants-and-buttoned-shirt, a couple wearing neckties. A woman wearing pants and a buttoned shirt? I see that all the time. A tie? Well, not every day, but it’s standard waitress uniform at some local restaurants. It’s certainly not disorienting or offputting. A man in a skirt? I see a few, now and then, but it’s uncommon enough to be a surprise each time. And I hardly ever find it attractive—in fact, I suppose, I find drag attractive only when it’s actually deceptive and I believe it’s a woman. In my perception, it’s not man-in-drag, then.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

I think the main thing is highlights for me is how weird women's clothes currently are. Men's clothes are basically normal and don't change dramatically from year to year. Women's clothes are going through a particularly bizarre phase right now.


Well, lots of things might be said, but one thing I noted is that high heels play a role in creating effects of incongruity. When the women wear them, heights and proportions are equalized to a degree between the men and the women, but when the men wear them, height differentials and differences in proportions are magnified.

I would also say that, in our culture, women often wear attire that is similar to men's attire, but men seldom wear attire similar to women's. It's the fashion equivalent of the universal "he," I think. "Power attire" for women uses colors, lines, and styles closer to male business attire. Men's attire is never designed to show skin, to reveal the naked shape of the man's body, or to catch the eye with color and pattern except for beach and athletic attire, and none of the women in these photographs are wearing attire that is close to those styles of men's clothing. In many cases, the attire of the photographs has been (in some way) selected to highlight some of those differences. None of the women are wearing business suits, and none of the men are wearing a tank top and shorts. The business attire always begins on the man. My guess, therefore, is that pairs of outfits could have been selected that would create less of an appearance of incongruity for the men, but that, more often than not, the cross-dressing dynamic would be the same.

To say all that in a different way, men's clothing implies power for women, and we are getting used to women taking on power roles in society. Women's clothing implies disempowerment, and we are not used to men embracing a disempowered role in society. It's much more acceptable for a woman to look butch that for a man to look girlie or effeminate. There are socially accepted ways for a man to "dress down," but wearing women's attire is not (yet?) among them. I suspect that social criteria of "looking good" have a lot to do with empowerment.


It's not just about the clothes. Look at how the women with long hair have pulled it back or tucked it under a hat when they have dressed as a man. The men, with their short hair, continue to have short hair. The men with moustaches and beards haven't shaved. If they got to change their personal styling along with their clothes, some of the incongruous effects would be reduced.


I was also struck by the issue of quality in clothing. The last man dressed in his partner's dress looks pretty good--the quality of the outfit made a visual difference to me; compared to the dress made of jersey where the dress doesn't look good on either gender. Is that because the tailoring flatters more body types? Because the cloth is a cue?


I think people almost never look good in clothes that are too small for them, and that's a big problem in a bunch of those pictures.

I like dudes in drag, because I am mostly more interested in emotions than in clothes per se, and there are a bunch of good little stories that can be going on with a guy in drag - maybe he's so confident it doesn't bother him. Maybe it's fun, whee! Maybe it turns him on. Maybe he's a little nervous and shy about it. Most of those guys in the Switcheroo pictures just look flat-faced or a bit uncomfortable (in the unsexy "if I move my arms my top will fall off" way), and, I don't know, the middle four female outfits especially don't seem like the clothes a guy might pick if he was actually interested in dressing in drag, so, yeah, they look awful. The first outfit, the sundress, has some potential but is *so* ill-fitting; the last one, the black and white dress, I actually think is pretty attractive. (Heck knows he looks much better in it than he did in those ridiculous short pants, but, enh, I don't know, the whole thing with the heels and the little mustache and the handbag kinda works for me. And the legs crossed at the ankle, that's a much more interesting pose than just standing there like a drag-wearing lump.)


I'd be interested in hearing what y'all think if you try this experiment:

Cover up the tops of the pictures, and look at them only from the waist down. Do they still have the same effect for you?

To me, they mostly don't; the parts of the switches that I find most incongruous are the men's faces and bare chests (especially the facial and chest hair) with the women's necklaces and necklines.

Some of the men also have more masculine-looking arms (longer, thicker, hairier), and of course body shapes vary, and hairy bare legs are currently a male signifier; but for me most of the incongruity is from mid-torso up.

Which fits with something Chris said, that it's not just the clothing. (I was amused that I hadn't even noticed the changes in hairstyle for the women until Chris pointed that out.)

...The two times that I've switched clothes with women (that others have seen), universal opinion (sometimes repeated several times for emphasis) was that the woman looked much better in my suit than I did in her clothing. (There's a picture of the second time somewhere online, but I can't find it in TSOR.) On the other hand, the one time that I've taken the trouble to try to look less male when putting on women's clothing (by wearing a dress that more or less fit me, by wearing a stuffed bra, by shaving my beard and the top of my chest, by wearing lipstick and a bit of foundation to try to mask the stubble—though I don't think I shaved my arms or legs), I got compliments. I didn't look stunningly gorgeous or anything; it was Halloween, and the compliments may've been more of the "good costume" variety than of the "you look attractive" variety. But I think that the attempt to reduce incongruity made a difference.


I also agree about the power dynamic and such.

I also think the stances are relevant; I think several of the men look significantly less confident in women's clothes than their partners do in men's clothes.

But my biggest reaction is, I think, that we currently strongly read as female almost all women's clothing, while a lot of men's clothing doesn't strongly imply male to us. (Though there's nothing innate about that; little pink nightgowns for babies used to read androgynous, iIrc.)

One more thought: Couple #4 (with the graffiti fish behind them) set off my incongruous-clothing reaction in their "before" photo, almost as much as in their "after" photo. I'm not sure why, but to me their gender-"appropriate" clothing looks nearly as awkward and odd on them as the swapped clothing.


I remember seeing this project come up somewhere, oh, maybe a year or so ago? There are a *lot* more photos than just these four, and many of them were relaxed, natural, and downright adorable. I should go hunting for that link, shouldn't I?

*hunt*
*hunt*
Oh, that wasn't hard at all: http://sincerelyhana.com/projects/switcheroo/

Just scrolling down, many of the guys seem pretty game about it or have a little bit of a punk attitude going on that I think is cute. Second one down, "colleen & les - montreal, qc," looks almost completely natural. I'm not particularly attracted to either of "justin & jacqui - palm springs, ca," but I think they seem more fun in the switch picture. Right below that, "jasmine & eric" seem equally uncomfortable in each other's clothes. Two more down, "jeremy & carley - vancouver, bc" made me go d'awww. Right below *that*, claudio is working gina's dress despite the unfortunate fit.

(Huh. Looks like I could go on like this. I'll cut myself off by noting that "lana, hana & sara" provides an interesting control case.)


Dan—ZOMG thank you! That's wonderful, and there are lots of those photos where the men do not look terrible. There are also a fair amount of photos where the specific issues that have come up, such as clothes quality, hairstyle, comfort, etc, etc, etc, come out much less on some of those photos than others. What becomes interesting, then, is that the artist and the editor, in choosing photos for the Guardian, seem to have chosen photos where the men look terrible in women's clothes.

I'm now wondering, by the way, whether this choice ties in (consciously or not) to their coverage of the Jim Hines photos.

Thanks,
-V.


Thanks, Dan! That's great! And regardless of attractiveness, I like most of these a lot more than the ones the Guardian picked. I see that she's got more in her blog (linked from top of Switcheroo page), including some fun outtakes, and that she did an Indiegogo fundraiser a couple months ago to put together a Switcheroo book. Will probably buy that.


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