Shop hopping

It’s been ages since I got new clothes. I think I’ve probably got as much as I want in my wardrobe now. Maybe I’ve found my ‘look’ and I’m happy with it? Or maybe I’m not going out as much as I used to, and now I can just re-use my old favourites? (It’s always a huge relief to find I can still fit into a dress I bought four or five years ago…)

When I first started building up my wardrobe (after deciding what clothes and footwear to go for), I just went with my girlfriend and built up a modest stock of cheap underwear and basic skirts and tops from local shops. For solo shopping trips, I’d go to shops on the other side of town where there was no chance of bumping into anyone I knew. (The easiest trips were to fancy dress shops – it’s not like you have to explain yourself…)

I'm so bad at snooker, I can't even hold the cue properly...

One of my earliest and favourite purchases.

I’ve always been determined to work within a strict budget – so a large part of Twist’s wardrobe comes from second-hand charity shops. These tend to be slightly opportunistic or impulsive purchases – I’ll see something on a mannequin and think “Hell, yes!” and (assuming it’s about the right size) buy it because if it doesn’t work out, at least I haven’t blown vast amounts of money on it. More often than not, I have a ‘look’ in mind and scout around seeing if there’s anything that comes vaguely close to it.

You never know quite who’s going to be behind the till. On an early venture, I spied a slinky dress in a window that was perfect, and went inside. It was packed with little old ladies rummaging through winter coats, but I apologised my way through the crowd to the cashier and told her I wanted to buy That Dress in the window. She had a mischievous look in her eye.

She opened up the display and shouted back to me, “IS THIS THE DRESS YOU WANT, SIR?”

I was damned if I was going to let her try to out-sass me or try to make me feel foolish, even in guy mode. So I shouted back with a cheery smile and a thumbs-up.


I don’t think anyone else in the shop was paying the slightest attention to either of us.

"We're not flying; we're falling with style!"

The zipper on this dress was… eh, ‘flying low’…

On another occasion I was looking for a vintage 60’s-style dress for a photoshoot (the one in the old fashioned airliner; apart from having to avoid a children’s party, that shoot passed without incident and the photos can be seen sprinkled throughout the gallery).

I found exactly what I was after in a charity shop in a very genteel, prim, proper part of town. The sweet little old lady (Edinburgh’s second-hand shops contain no other sort) behind the till struck me as the kind of woman who was probably schooled by Miss Jean Brodie.

She rung it up and said, “There you are sir, one ladies’ dress.”

And I got to use the Eddie Izzard line, “It’s not a ladies’ dress – it’s mine!”

I thanked her and packed it into my bag. She just blinked, speechless. I think I was a bit too modern for her tastes.

(It turned out the dress was too small, so I had to figure out how to pose without showing the gaping zipper at the side.)

When it comes to charity shops, I go for the secular ones – health, animal welfare, and social support. The only shop I refuse to donate to or buy from on principle is the Salvation Army (because it’s just not a very nice organisation).

castle gardens

Splashing out…

I have splashed out occasionally. On a trip to Orlando five years back, we got an idea of the political divide between two stores.

The first was an upmarket dress shop; lots of stuff I’d love to have tried out, but the sales assistant was a middle-aged woman with big hair who struck me as the type who was Afraid Of Change and would vote accordingly.

She asked my girlfriend if she was interested in anything.

“Nah, we’re here for him.”

The saleslady laughed politely.

“No, seriously, it’s for me. I like to rock a dress from time to time,” I told her.

“Well, you don’t seem the type!”

“Don’t I? Damn. I’ll have to try harder.”

Uncertainty crossed her eyes.

“Let me know if you see anything you like,” she told my girlfriend, and left us alone. We departed about five seconds afterwards.

Instead, I found a couple of slinky purple dresses – one sparkly, one not – in American Apparel. I’m guessing it was a couple of college kids running the shop, and they were totally fine with me buying dresses. Kids today, huh?

Sing when you're whinnying?

Got milk?

Personally, I try not to buy stuff online – I like to actually see what the hell I’m getting first – but last year I succumbed to the temptations of a sale at Black Milk. Their range is of the tight’n’stretchy variety, so It takes a bit of dietary punishment to wear them confidently. I could go nuts clicking on purchases, but then a little voice has to restrain me: just when, precisely, do intend to wear a PVC skater dress?

Sometimes, the idea of wearing something is far better than the reality of it.



Tomb Raiding at Edinburgh Comic Con

You’re never too old to scare yourself. And if you ever want a safe place to go out cross-dressed, I thoroughly recommend comic/science fiction conventions. These are two things I found out for myself last month.

I had it in my head to enter the cosplay contest at Edinburgh Comic Con 2016, but I wasn’t entirely sure which character to dress up as. So I asked my friends. Three costumes involved the catsuit: Emma Peel from The Avengers TV show (but I reckoned hardly anyone would be able to distinguish her); Selene from Underworld (but I needed a much shinier catsuit to do her justice); and Black Widow from The Avengers films (but if videos and photos of the 2015 con were anything to go by, I’d be up against dozens of Black Widows). That left Tomb Raider‘s Lara Croft (the 1990s version).

I’ve already gone out as Lara for a friend’s birthday, as well as an early-morning photoshoot (which was largely uneventful, so nothing to write about; photos can be found randomly throughout the blog gallery), but going to a comic con would be my first time just on my own, talking to a bunch of strangers (although I did meet quite a few people I knew anyway).


A couple of Rogue Ones?

On arrival, I headed to the ‘green room’ where cosplayers could get changed. The first guy I spoke to was Andrew, getting changed from Bane to a shadow stormtrooper. He was my guide and guru to my first con. He also didn’t realise I was a guy as well, at first. When I caught up with him throughout the afternoon, he’d introduce me to various friends to speak to, so I could confirm for them that he wasn’t lying; Lara Croft was a dude. This was actually great fun!


I was glad to see I wasn’t the only 1990s icon at the con…


Why yes, I *am* a slut for cameras…


Covered from all angles (I think Leeloo was glad to escape and check out the rest of the con after this!)

Some of the reactions were priceless – one of my favourites was a guy who, after taking my photo, said “Thanks” and I said “You’re welcome!” …and then his eyes bugged out a bit.
“You’re a man?!”
“Well, yeah, sure.”
(And then he left in a hurry. I’ve encountered this response before.)

That said, pretty much everyone else was cool with it…

Stark contrast?

I gotta be honest; I don’t recognise this character… my nerdy knowledge has limits!

An Intrepid selfie…

This was an incredibly safe, family-friendly environment. There were parents and kids all in costume (kudos to the very young girl dressed as the dancing sapling Groot from Guardians Of The Galaxy). The rules for interacting with cosplayers (essentially: look don’t touch; no photos without permission; don’t be a dick) were displayed on large pop-up stands, but I think everyone just took them as read. Everyone took pictures of themselves with everyone else. It doesn’t matter what size, shape, age, or gender anyone is – it’s all about the costumes.


It was kinda weird seeing so many different genre characters mingling together… shopping. It’s the ultimate mix of the fantastical and the mundane.

Anyway, time was marching on and the cosplayers had to queue up for the contest. As I predicted, I saw a multitude of Black Widows (and Suicide Squads, and X-Men), but apparently a glut of Deadpools the previous day had deterred anyone from dressing up in red and black.

It was a long, nerve-wracking wait. I’d never competed in anything like this before (and had no expectation of winning; I was merely hoping to be remembered), and those nad-mashing leather shorts were really, truly uncomfortable (but Lara Croft does not cry; therefore neither would I).

After The Flash and Wolverine did their turns on stage, I was up. As the write-up of the con in Starburst magazine put it:

…a Lara Croft greeted with equal parts enthusiasm and unease after revealing herself to be an alarmingly convincing cross-dressed man…

I seemed to create an impression anyway. Someone in the midst of the audience said:

A good number of folks were surprised when he spoke I do have to say. I saw the reaction of two teenage boys when [Lara] spoke and it was priceless.

blogimagery86-feedback1 blogimagery87-feedback2

I’m told there was a massive intake of breath from some quarters. On stage, I was just aware of a short pause and then applause. The facial tectonics of the emcee were a sight to behold as well, as he rapidly reappraised who he was dealing with.


This is my “Surpriiiiise!” smirk. Des, the emcee, recovered well (“Stay professional… stay professional…”)


“Don’t just stand there, let’s get to it; strike a pose, there’s nothing to it…”

“So what made you dress up as Lara Croft?” Hm. Yeah. What indeed? In retrospect I wish I could’ve come up with a wittier answer than the one I did (I could’ve mentioned the fact that like Lara Croft I have a habit of digging around for old things – apart from a clip-on ponytail, everything I wore came from charity shops, and was perhaps the cheapest costume at the con).

I’d also given thought to a short performance of how Lara picks something off the floor (shuffling around left and right until she’s finally in the right position, and then inexplicably drowning), but it’s hard to know if others will find it as funny as I do. So I limited myself to a final pose for the cameras before bounding off stage.

By the end, the well-deserving winner was a home-made Chappie. I understand a video of the contest might be available at some point – I’ll post it here if I can. I’ve already had a suggestion for a costume for next year’s comic con which some of my friends are keen on. And you know what? I’m tempted. It’ll take a lot of dieting and buying stuff I’d wear precisely once, but I’m tempted… sort of… kind of… maybe….

Photos shamelessly stolen from Andrew Judge, Mustbe2sday, Nick J Cook, Dave Jolie, Chi H Lau, Scott Mathie, and possibly others at Edinburgh Comic Con… sorry if I missed anyone!

How to use your looks for mind control

Winners wear red (this may depend on what counts as a 'win')...

Winners wear red (this may depend on what counts as a ‘win’)…

I’ve often pointed out that if our clothing has an effect on other people, that’s their problem, not ours. I suppose it’s time to science this matter: how can our clothes affect other people?

There are a few brave souls out there who’ve experimented with changing their look and documenting reactions for our edification: for example, trying out goth, vintage and natural looks; or varying levels of makeup on a dating website. While these articles are often quite entertaining and insightful, they suffer from the problem “N=1”; they’re just one-off stories and it’s probably a bad idea to generalise from them, no matter how much we might want to agree with them. The same goes for the ‘common-sense’ ideas about the messages other people pick up in our clothes. As a general rule of thumb, common sense ain’t so common (or sensible, for that matter).

There are a couple of findings I kinda liked:

1) Winners wear red

In a study of Olympic combat events (Hill & Barton, 2005), ž55% of bouts won by competitors in red. Okay, but maybe those competitors just happened to be better fighters? Another study of Taekwondo bouts (Hagemann et al, 2008) used clips of matches in which the competitors wore blue or red. These clips were shown to ž42 referees who would award points. Sneakily, the same clips were shown again, but with the colours digitally swapped over. It turned out that on average, fighters in red were awarded 13% more points than those in blue.

So, it looks like there’s some evidence that the colour of our clothes can affect how other people react to us. Just bear in mind that these studies were in a purely sporting context, and there’s nothing to suggest whether these are innate or biological reactions, or based on cultural cues. And there’s more to winning than simply wearing red (just ask Charlie Sheen).

2) Sexiness is distracting for about half of us

žA study on decision-making and bargaining (Wilson & Daly, 2004) presented (presumably heterosexual) male and female participants with pictures of attractive or plain people of the opposite sex and asked them to rate their attractiveness. Then they would take part in a exercise in which they’d have to divide up sums of money and judge whether to take a small, immediate reward or a larger reward later.

Women will not be attracted my men's attempts to be sexy.

Women will not be distracted by men’s attempts to be sexy.

They found that, generally speaking, women weren’t really affected by the pictures of attractive men and didn’t make poorer choices. However, pictures of attractive women made men perform worse (compared with neutral pictures). The effect is more pronounced in men with higher testosterone levels.

Sexiness makes men stupid. Science says so. So there!

Sexiness makes men stupid. Science says so. So there!


Even if the way we look affects other people (and remember, these can be very subtle effects in very specific situations), I don’t think this is any reason to dictate what we can wear.  I don’t think any of this has any impact on the principle that if someone else is distracted or made uncomfortable by what they see, that’s their problem not ours…


I Got The Power!


Cross-dressed or not, I think it’s terribly important to own your clothing choices, so they aren’t simply ‘current fashion’; you aren’t dressed ‘like someone’ or ‘like something’ (which implies you’re wearing fancy dress); you are dressed as you.

Reading some of my fellow bloggers, I’ve picked up on a recurring theme – that dressing a certain way makes them feel ‘more like themselves’; or more comfortable; or happier; or empowered. And I think that’s marvellous. Few things demand that you learn and exude confidence like dressing differently from the crowd – even if you’re ‘blending in’. Without overthinking it, if you’re happy with your reasons for dressing in whatever way you like, you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone.

In certain ways I wonder if some of my fellow-bloggers are empowered by finally getting to dress as who they are, while I feel empowered by dressing as who I’m not. My own approach to cross-dressing is on a far more superficial, cosmetic level. But even so, I do find it empowering.

For one thing, it’s not routine. When I put on a skirt or dress, it’s a special occasion. I’ll make an effort. I want to look good, and if I stand out at all, it’ll be on my own terms – if I feel I look good, then why should I care if others don’t think so? I’m dressing for myself, not for them. It’s a difficult thing to pick up, this not-giving-a-shit-about-others’-opinions, but once you master it you open up another channel of happiness.

As Twist, I feel higher-status than I usually do. Part of it comes from feeling glamorous in a way I can’t as a guy; it’s easier for Twist to get and hold people’s attention. Heels making me taller, and a cleavage that isn’t easily ignored, also help. As Twist I feel like I can get away with saying or doing things I otherwise couldn’t. Perhaps it’s my way of accessing ‘The Bubble’ described in 30 Rock?

There are some things I’ll happily wear, and some things I won’t.

I can’t see myself wearing anything which I feel would lower Twist’s status – so don’t expect to see any French maid costume photos (hell, even if I did get photos like that, you wouldn’t expect to see any of them!). Bold, bright colours; something that might show off legs or cleavage; I’ll wear these because I want to show off. If I’m going down the fancy dress route, I’ll dress as a character that’s strong, or heroic, or iconic in some way – but with my own little twist… I won’t dress as a ‘low-status’ woman, because, quite simply, I don’t know any and I can’t see why I would be applauded for doing so. I just wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that. If anyone else wants to (for whatever reason) – that’s their business, and if it makes them happy, rock on! Just not for Twist.


I suspect that even other ‘cosmetic’ cross-dressers like me can find ‘strength and passion and power’ while identifying with something we’re ‘not’ (borrowing a phrase from Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s essay on race and culture).

I should also point out that I’m not saying that there’s a dividing line between ‘cosmetic’ cross-dressers, and those who identify as transexual, transgender, bi-gender or gender-fluid. As with most things, I suspect these tend to be arbitrary points on a spectrum. I am but one example of someone who doesn’t conform to ideas of a strict gender binary, and as such I can’t see myself as a representative of everyone else. I’m happy to speak for myself, and to speak in very general terms (backed up with copious cite notes and references) for others, but otherwise, my position is similar to that of Peter Dinklage on ‘little people’:

“I don’t know what I would say. Everyone’s different. Every person … has a different life, a different history. Different ways of dealing with it. Just because I’m seemingly okay with it, I can’t preach how to be okay with it.

On a related note, he also said something that chimes with my take on cross-dressing:

“… the older you get, you realize you just have to have a sense of humor. You just know that it’s not your problem. It’s theirs.”

It doesn't matter what you wear, how you wear it, or why - as long as it empowers you.

It doesn’t matter what you wear, how you wear it, or why – as long as it empowers you.

Appropriating ‘inappropriate’ clothing

Generally speaking, a gentleman should not wear clothes that reveal his balls.

Generally speaking, a gentleman should not wear clothes that show his balls.

I don’t mind making jokes, but I don’t want to look like one.
Marilyn Monroe

Depending on where you are, cross-dressing may or may not be deemed ‘inappropriate’. For that matter whatever you wear, cross-dressed or not, might be ‘inappropriate’. Just who in the hell are these self-righteous little sods who decide what’s appropriate or not, and should we pay attention to them?

Obviously, I’m not referring to the pragmatic reasons clothing might be inappropriate (say, going out in a blizzard at -40C in a bikini, or wearing long, flowing, baggy, hippyish garments when working next to the gears of a combine harvester), but the moral, cultural, and aesthetic aspects (and I’ve already posted a couple of things about ‘morality’; suffice to say I think morality is a really dumb basis on which to criticise or proscribe clothing).

Culturally inappropriate?

Whether or not we consider clothing appropriate or not depends on the culture we grow up in. People either ‘fit in’ like the rest of us, or else they stand apart and remain foreign. It’s also a common misperception that ‘our culture’ is rich and diverse, while people in ‘other cultures’ are all the same. This may sound contradictory, but people are funny that way.

For example, we might hear of Arabic outrage, or an Indian assault over women in skimpy dresses, but it would be wrong to assume that ‘The West’ is uniformly liberal when it comes to clothing. It’s a sad statement of fact that women anywhere in the world might feel they have to choose very carefully what they wear.

Bestie-cartoon What’s ‘inappropriate’? Uncovered head hair? Showing ankles? A bare midriff? Going topless? Showing off underwear (whether from a lack of belts, or a g-string ‘whale tail’)? Tight clothing? Full nudity? Standards vary depending on where you are and the times you live in. Fashions change (for brevity’s sake I’ll skip a potted history of fashion for another post), but this doesn’t mean that those at the forefront of those changes don’t have to put up with a lot of crap for being different.

So much for culture. I’m just grateful for the one I happen to be in.

It is better to be looked over than overlooked.
Mae West

Aesthetically inappropriate?

Apparently some colours work well together, and others do not. I’m not sure if this boils down to anything more than current taste – certainly, I have no idea if there’s any consistency to the idea. How does it work? Search me! When I started out, I just paid attention to what the mannequins were wearing in clothes shops and took it from there.

BethDitto04What about being fat or thin? Maybe you feel that certain clothes are inappropriate for particular body shapes or sizes. Well, so what? A few years back I introduced a talk by Dr Mark Tovee from Newcastle University on standards of beauty. As I recall, it’s down to perceptions of health. In sub-Saharan Africa in countries where HIV is prevalent, the onset of the disease is marked by rapid weight loss – so being larger and fatter is taken as a sign of health, and therefore more attractive than being slim or skinny (thinking of the Venus de Willendorf, a similar preference may have existed in paleolithic times). In any case, whatever someone’s size and shape, I’m struggling to see why an observer’s opinion of their clothing choices should matter.


Elizabethan children


1950s children

There’s also the matter of ‘dressing for one’s age‘. Like all the previous things I’ve mentioned, if you care about this, then you will no doubt get on very well with other people who care about it too. But really – what does it matter? Sure, people can and will complain about adults dressing ‘like children’ (or ‘comfortably and casually’, perhaps?), ignoring the fact that fashions change. In ye olden days, children’s clothing was more or less the same as adults’ (see picture above, top, from Elizabethan times); to my amateur eye, it seems that the idea of making childhood special and sacrosanct with its own separate dress code is a phenomenon of the Victorian and 20th Century eras (see picture above, bottom, from 1958). Maybe our culture is reverting to previous norms?


The idea of ‘dressing like a grown up’, or dressing for your body shape, or in the ‘right’ colours is basically a social marker for identifying ‘people like us’. And if you’re not part of that crowd, you will be looked down upon by those who are in it. Now apply this to ‘dressing appropriately for your gender‘.

Frankly, anyone who thinks me wearing a dress is ‘inappropriate’ can fuck off. (And that’s me being polite.)

If you can afford to wear what you want without repercussions, do so. I have no advice for anyone living in a place where law or culture is hostile to cross-dressing, and I wouldn’t be so presumptious to pretend to have any answers for them – All I can say is, I hope that their circumstances improve.

In a similar vein, I’m not going to tell anyone else how to run their lives. I have certain aesthetic preferences, and I judge for myself whether or not someone’s clothes ‘look good’… but I’ll just keep it to myself. Why should anyone else care what I think of their clothes? To whose benefit is it to make someone feel bad about what they wear? If they feel good wearing them, that’s all that matters, surely?