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This website is maintained on the traditional lands of the Anishinaabek, Haudenosaunee, Lūnaapéewak and Attawandaron peoples, where I am grateful to live and work.
Swingout Sewing is a public journal of my project to handmake a reproduction of a 1920’s ensemble that meets my needs as a trans man.
Wearing clothes whilst trans is a dilemma. Ready-to-wear fashions never really fit because they’re designed to fit a mythical, “ideal” body type. Being cis, of course, is part of that ideal. The problem is compounded when you want to style yourself in another decade. It’s hard enough finding vintage garments in the right fabric or colour, never mind your uniquely trans proportions. How many cis men of yesteryear have had your exact dimensions, and whose clothes have survived the ravages of time? Zero, or very near.
Suppose you do buy yourself a baggy vintage wardrobe. Having the items altered is an option, but that’s an enormous expense when you need to make some drastic changes. Plus, submitting yourself to the scrutiny of a tailor may not be an enticing proposition if you don’t tend to be read as a man in public. You could, of course, commission historical reproductions with your measurements, but again, that’s pretty expensive, especially given that a hell of a lot of trans people aren’t making a living wage. You may also prefer to use that cash for transitional healthcare.
So, what do you do?
The answer I’ve landed upon, for myself anyway, is to just make the clothes myself. It still won’t be cheap, and it’ll take a lot of time (dear God, will it take a lot of time), but I happen to have an indecent amount of patience, and just enough love for spearpoint collars to give it a go. I hope you’ll follow me on my journey, and perhaps enjoy laughing at my expense, as I attempt to craft my vintage wardrobe, one piece at a time.
This is also a research project, because I’m going to have to do a lot of reading to figure out how to pull this off. In addition, I’m going to use this opportunity to reflect on how transmasculinity intersects with history and fashion. Articles on various related subjects will be interwoven amidst my progress reports, making this a conceptual as well as a technical endeavour.
- To make vintage reproduction garments that meet all my needs as a trans man.
- To learn historical and contemporary sewing skills, and therefore improve my sewing abilities.
- To conduct historical research into 1920’s garment construction.
- To, whenever possible, use sources that readers can access for free.
- To make garments that strike a balance between historical accuracy, trans necessity and my own creative license (I’m inventing something new, after all. Complete faithfulness to history will be impossible).
- To present my research in an engaging way. I realise that by writing this boring list, I’ve probably already failed.
- To properly cite all my sources and images.
- To reflect upon subjects surrounding how trans bodies intersect with fashion and history, such as the sizing system, the fast fashion industry, and how clothing works to create identity.
- To appreciate fashion history without fetishising the past, or erasing the horrendous injustices of the past (which continue to be perpetuated today). In other words, to live by the phrase coined by style activist Dandy Wellington: “Vintage style, not vintage values.”
- To address my positioning as an able-bodied, middle-class man, as well as a white settler living in Canada, in regards to how I experience fashion history.
- To honestly represent how much this project costs, and the cost of my participating in the vintage fashion community as a whole.
- To create free resources for like-minded transmasculine folks to benefit from the skills I learn.
- To critique capitalism’s influence on fashion, and how society values textile labour.
- To execute this project without putting myself into serious debt. This will mean not purchasing equipment or materials if I can’t afford them, even if doing so would be more historically accurate.
- To properly compensate anyone who helps with the work of this project, such as editors.
- To make the information I produce as accessible as possible. For example, by recording audio of all my articles.
- To hold myself accountable if I don’t meet these goals.
- To be patient with myself, and take all the time I need.
- To be kind to myself, and understand that I am doing something challenging.
- To not allow this project to infringe upon my main artistic practice, or the time I need with family and friends.
- To stop doing this project if I no longer enjoy it.
My name is Reilly Knowles. I’m a twenty-something visual artist and a recent graduate from Western University’s visual arts program. I’m a queer trans man without any current disabilities, as well as a white settler living on the traditional lands of the Anishinaabek, Haudenosaunee, Lūnaapéewak and Attawandaron peoples in London, Ontario, Canada. I was raised on period dramas, and as a result have a lifelong passion for historical dress. My love for 1920s fashion arose (embarrassingly enough) when I watched Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in 2016. I’ve been sewing for about eight years now, and my artistic practice is currently made up of various textile media, including weaving, sewing, embroidery and fabric dyeing. My work can be found at reillyknowles.ca.