I wrote a four-part personal blog posted in October 2017 telling of my revival after 35 fallow years. Over two to three years using the Translife Dressing Service I explored my reawakened cross-dressing through dressing up, photo sessions and, after time, day and evening excursions with Andy, Sophie and Krista. This blog covers what I did next, my evolving female persona and managing my wardrobe – a limited personal collection often worn with favourite items from Translife’s rail. It is a personal blog describing my experiences and thoughts as an occasional but keen straight cross-dresser. I also describe my experiences in buying shoes, how I shop at M&S, my decision to focus on a capsule wardrobe with a black theme and more experiences with the Translife dressing service. I also touch on some personal thoughts on my cross-dressing and my female persona and tell you about my appearance in the Translife Dressing Service Photo Gallery. As before, my intention is to describe the adventure and pass on things that I have learnt, to give comfort and encouragement to those of you who are thinking about trying, or doing more with Translife’s Dressing Service. But first a little about myself and where I am now.
Ann at 70
Ann is a tall, well built, mature, but modern, woman. She wears size 22 clothes that generally fit rather well. She is not curvaceous but her shape, though stout and with a tummy, is proportionate with feminine curves courtesy of shape wear and padding (or so she thinks). She is unlikely to stand up to more than casual observation or scrutiny, but being older helps. Most people just don’t seem to notice or care (or is that Ann doesn’t notice those who do!).
She likes to dress smartly but modestly with aspirations towards elegance in coordinated outfits. Dressing smartly also complements, and indeed compliments, Andy’s skilful makeovers. She dresses conservatively so as not to be too conspicuous, but she can be adventurous in a restrained way. She is now 70 but does feel and acts younger like so many of her generation. The frumpy and concealing clothes worn by many older women are not for her. She loves wearing form-fitting clothes, not too tight or clingy, so they show her curves but not her bulges. Her skirts and dresses are usually a modest knee length or lower, even though her legs are not that bad. When she is able to do so she does wear sleeveless or low cut dresses and shows a modest cleavage. One of her weaknesses is heels. She loves wearing high heels despite her height and size, but then they do not look too far out of place given her overall shape and the outfits she wears. Her hair is straight and falls below her shoulders, but she is still wondering if shoulder-length hair would look more mature but can’t bring herself to give up her current style. She would quite like to have her everyday silver hair, to look more natural and striking but she loves her brown hair just like from her younger days. All this came about only with Translife, so Ann is very much a lady of Hove.
State of play
I enjoy my persona but it is within a bubble and just for a few hours at a time. When I have the opportunity, I go out and about but only in Hove and Brighton, visiting safe and accepting venues during the day or evening and always with company. I do not have to worry about all the activities and demands of a full life, I can focus on enjoying my dressing and presenting myself as a woman while experiencing a few favourite but limited activities, mainly visiting public places, shops, cafes, bars and restaurants, and with a very modest and hopefully reasonably smart wardrobe.
So what did I do next after completing my revival and going far beyond where I was when I stopped dressing during the 1970s? Well the mix of dressing up, photo sessions and excursions has changed. I now usually go out, but I still enjoy time trying different clothes and styles within the comfort and privacy of Translife’s studio often with photos for review or for the album. I can be more adventurous and younger when dressing for the studio and I love to experiment with clothes from Translife’s rail.
I have also been trying to improve on what I have achieved. I am continually refining my shape (and comfort) though I am still having some problems holding it all together. I have been completing my outfits, for example by adding shoes and accessories in styles that I like and for alternative looks, say through layers or different tops. I now shop occasionally en femme which I find can be better than the hit or miss of online shopping or the more restricted experience of shopping when dressed normally. But shopping en femme can be limited with public changing rooms being a personal no-go area and I am still shy of interacting with shop staff.
In my last blog, I described buying a pair of tan boots and a pair of shoes, but I didn’t tell you about the problems I had with them. The knee-high boots were bought from JD Williams a couple of winters ago for wearing in the street during colder weather and I had always wanted a pair of boots. I had carefully measured my feet and we (Andy and I) ordered a size 9 (my normal size) and the “narrowest” width which was EE and fits calves larger than mine. The boots had moderate heels. Unfortunately, I found them rather loose and I had to wear socks to avoid blisters forming. Later, we bought a pair of Clarks shoes, a classic pair with high heels, and again having measured my feet and concluded a 9W to be the right size. Although fine indoors, halfway down Brunswick Street West I was having problems with too lose a fit. It was eased by using various forms of padding to different degrees of success but I eventually gave up. I generally prefer the pleasure of walking than to take a taxi so I decided this time to get it right. But I didn’t know whether I should be trying a size 8, size 8W or size 9 and of course style and brand are also factors. The only way I could be sure, or at least acceptable given my needs, was to try them on before buying. I was not ready to head for a shoe shop with sales staff but there are self-service shoe shops and departments.
So one of my first excursions last winter was to go and buy a pair of shoes. It was cold so I wore my black skirt suit with layered tops and my raincoat. Andy and I visited Deichmann Shoes in Western Road but there was nothing I liked in my size worth trying. So we progressed to M&S. As you probably know M&S sell a reasonable range of shoes up to size 8. The footwear section in the Brighton M&S is rather secluded including the seating. So I was able to try a selection of shoes and sizes including walking around and looking in a mirror. I had carried out some online research beforehand and had identified some shoes of interest and checked if they were in stock in the relevant sizes. I had my eye on a black “shoe boot” which I thought would be more comfortable wearing in the street, even with a decent 3.5″ heel, and agreed with Andy that it should look better with a smart skirt than say an ankle boot would. I found that a wide 8 fitted well, one size down from the measured size 9. A normal size 8 also fitted, but the wider shoe seemed a little more comfortable. I did try other styles including an elegant pair of court shoes with 4″ stiletto heels and a pair of ballet pump-style flats. I was so pleased with the experience that on impulse I decided to buy the flats in addition to the shoe boots. So why flats when I have told you about my love of heels? Well I like the look of flats as well, it is low heels that I am not particularly keen on, and there will be times when flats would be the best choice or provide relief! I could carry them in my bag to swap with heels when out. I should add I did not go overboard trying on all sorts of shoes, I did not want to attract attention and I do not think it is right to try on shoes you have no real intention of buying. Of course, if your feet are bigger than my more modest-sized pair then Translife can help you.
Well that was a first in actually trying something on before buying. And that day there was another first when I went to the cashier and paid for them myself. I used cash, of course, from an elegant wallet I carried in my handbag. I also used one of those fold-up shopping bags which I also had in my bag. However I did not go as far as using my M&S Sparks loyalty card! Of course, Andy was with me at the desk chatting to the staff and I plucked up the courage to make a small contribution to the conversation about the cold weather. I would have been surprised (and delighted!) if they had not read me but they treated me as normal. I do believe if other people treat you as a woman you should continue to behave normally as one the best you can otherwise you may embarrass them.
Not long after I had the opportunity to wear the shoes on an evening excursion along with Andy, Krista and Katie, another one of their clients who you may remember wrote an interesting blog in July 2017 about her experiences with the Dressing Service. Her’s was the first blog published in this series and mine was the next. Andy was aware that we have a connection and discretely introduced us to each other and we thought we would like the opportunity to meet. It was a very enjoyable evening and another new experience for me. We took taxis and so I did not walk far in my new shoe boots, but I was very pleased with them and decided the shoe shopping experience was well worth it. I can honestly say I have since found them surprisingly comfortable and I have walked to and from the City Centre wearing them.
I kept thinking about the court shoes I had tried on. They were highly desirable; simple, elegant and all woman. I had such a pair of shoes in mind for a future project that I was planning and of course for those occasions when heels are essential. (Well not really “essential” – but you know what I mean!) So we returned to M&S sooner than I expected. This time I wore the Long Tall Sally grey dress I mentioned last time, a Translife favourite of mine, over my own black polo neck top. I did this for two reasons, it was still winter and I needed to cover up to keep warm and not look out of place. For once, I had not really planned in advance what to wear and looking back I found that deciding at the time and walking to the City Centre to shop seemed all rather normal! We headed for the shoe section and found the shoes I wanted, tried them on again and headed for the cashier to pay.
Shopping in M&S
Crossdressers have been shopping in M&S for decades, it is as if staff have been trained to treat men buying women’s clothing and accessories as a natural everyday occurrence. I buy a lot of my clothes from M&S, even though I consider much of their stock to be too frumpy. But there are plenty of classics, occasional fashionable items that hit the spot and they usually fit me well. Before entering the store I browse the website. I can then identify items of interest and that meet my needs. I read the reviews to identify comments that suggest that the item may be unsuitable given my special characteristics. Each reviewer is unique so there are often conflicting or just inexplicable comments, and some are male. You need to read them carefully just like, say, TripAdvisor reviews. You could then order the item online, but if I can I like to examine a product before deciding to buy. The website allows you to check if an item is in stock in a particular store or one nearby. Note the product code (starts with T and can be found either the item name under “Product information) and then when in the store you can confirm from the label if you have found the right item and you don’t pick out in error a similar one. If the size or variant you are interested in is not in stock online still select and click through or alternately select another option and then change to the one you want. You will also know what you are looking for is actually in the store somewhere (unless someone has bought the last one between your online check and the store visit). I have always found the item I was interested in and not until then do I decide if I want to buy it or not. Sometimes the material is not as I would like or there are embellishments not clear from the website images. On one occasion I bought a loose top which I then returned because it did not fit properly when I tried it on at home; no problems. For certain items, such as shoes, as described above, or say a jacket, if possible I would visit the Brighton store en femme to try the fit and appearance (I may be tall, but that is all I have in common with M&S models!). I would only do this for certain items that you can easily slip on without the need of the changing rooms. Of course, you can order online with confidence, but this is not an easy option for me although Andy has kindly helped. I am not too shy to queue up and pay at the counter as a man and this is my usual practice, even for bras and shapewear. You can use an M&S gift card to pay for items, or to receive a refund; it is less conspicuous than paying with cash, that is if you don’t want to use your credit or debit card. I am not promoting M&S but highlighting a common presence on the high street or retail park that is probably the least embarrassing shopping experience for cross-dressers wanting to buy mainstream lingerie and clothing (you can, of course, buy your special cross-dressing needs from Translife!). I should add that my recent M&S experiences have all been in stores in the southern counties.
I am at my happiest wearing a complete outfit of my own clothes and accessories and often with a Translife wardrobe favourite. When I started my revival I wore only Translife Dressing Service clothes and accessories but over time I bought my own clothes and accessories given that Translife cannot possibly cater for all sizes, shapes and tastes! I am also quite methodical and I like to get the details right as far as is practical.
I built quite an ad-hoc collection but if I had carried on I would have run out of space to keep them! I also needed to keep costs to a reasonable level whilst wanting to buy clothes and accessories to complete outfits and for variety, and always for enjoyment. Many of my earlier purchases were for dressing up in the studio. Then over time the emphasis was more for excursions, usually more mature styles with some coordination. Recently I decided I needed a more managed approach. I was being more thoughtful with my purchases and with coordination, and was now focusing on a narrower and range of more mature styles than as I described in my last blog, but I needed to up my game. This included freeing up space for new acquisitions and creating a more managed coordinated personal collection to better cater for my current activities as well as future aspirations.
I have found that spending on fewer but better-quality clothes is worth it. They would usually fit better, as well being more sensuous,comfortable and contributing to a better image, and to be honest better suited to an older woman. I am also a firm believer in sustainability, I am uncomfortable with the idea of disposable fashion and think that clothes should be bought to last and worn many times. (I know and understand that some crossdressers cannot take such an approach.) I enjoy trying and wearing new things but I also love familiar clothes and accessories that look good on me, they are part of me and hold memories. So I decided to create a personal collection which would have a capsule wardrobe at its heart along with a few special outfits and items. “Capsule wardrobe is a term coined by Susie Faux, the owner of a London boutique called “Wardrobe” in the 1970’s. According to Faux, a capsule wardrobe is a collection of a few essential items of clothing that don’t go out of fashion, such as skirts, trousers, and coats, which can then be augmented with seasonal pieces.” (Wikipedia). A capsule wardrobe helps to keep storage needs and costs down and I can wear a wide variety of outfits through mixing and matching. I have yet to wear all the possible combinations of my current collection. A real benefit is needing fewer shoes and bags, especially in terms of storage.
Going for a co-ordinated capsule wardrobe does make it easier to put outfits together to suit different occasions, seasons and circumstances with fewer items. For me it is a more practical and less wasteful approach than when I was more into experiencing new ideas, experimenting with particular styles and realising some of the diverse dream outfits of my fallow years.
I have been through my ad-hoc wardrobe and selected what I want to keep for my new collection. An item that I was unlikely to wear again or I could only wear in the studio or did not suit my more defined and maturing persona, I have passed to Translife for the Dressing Service. Of course as a user of the Dressing Service they will still be available to me!
Lady in black
I do like to dress in classic black, going for shapes and textures more than patterns and embellishments. And I look good in black. I had bought quite a few black clothes and accessories that contributed to my ad hoc collection. I can dress totally in black which I think is rather chic and which I admire in women. So I am now focusing on mainly black for my capsule wardrobe, but I don’t mean I will going goth or for a peasant widow look! Black is versatile and it can be combined with many other colours. I am not currently considering extending my capsule wardrobe to feature other fundamental colours, to cap costs and storage.
So for the time being wearing black is going to be my signature look. Not exclusively and I will continue to include items from the Translife rail. My full wardrobe does and will include other colours. I have retained favourite garments of various colours from my earlier collection and I expect to buy additional accessories for these outfits in time. I would also consider buying clothes such as tops or for a special occasion in any colour, but I will still try to coordinate overall. I will continue to focus on smarter and more classic styles with fewer for more complete outfits with a longer life and suitable for wearing in the public realm. This will help further achieve a manageable collection. In an ideal world, my wardrobe would be full of colours and styles for different moods and activities!
It was over six months later when I next visited Translife. I had two things in mind. Andy and Krista and bought in a number of dresses which I had quickly tried on during visits last year. I wanted to try some of them again with better preparation and take some photos for the album. I expected some would not be suitable to wear in public but having some fun dressing up is a different matter and who knows? I tried on a Bardot-top dress, unfortunately, the clingy nature of the dress showed up too many bulges and did not enhance by the overall shape, but otherwise, I was rather taken – something for the future. I also tried on a patterned skirt which I thought was great and have since worn it with my own clothes. I also tried on a teal dress with long sleeves. It was a colour that suited me and the style matched my persona and I look forward to wearing it. There are a couple of other dresses that I am interested in trying again sometime in the future.
I was planning a couple of outings. I wanted to dress smartly and perhaps a little more glamorously one evening. The outfits I could put together were not complete in my mind. Some of the clothes did not match the season, it was January, and accessories were not as complete or as coordinated as I would like. So I decided to improve my collection by adding a few classic timeless items that can be mixed and matched. All part of the grand plan. For the less formal outing, I bought a polo neck jumper to wear instead of one of my cotton tops, a bit more appropriate for the winter. The jumper would go well with my black skirt, black opaque tights (I do love the look and feel) and shoe boots. With the skirt I would normally wear the matching suit jacket, but this time I thought a cardigan or similar top worn over the jumper would be a change and more in keeping. However, while browsing the M&S website I came across a well-received textured jersey blazer. I could not resist buying one along with the jumper, I checked online the stock of various stores and found one eventually that had both items in my size. There were only a few of the range left and it took me some time find them in the store, but I knew they were there somewhere. I am pleased with the blazer and I am glad I didn’t give up. And to complete the outfit I decided to add a scarf for a more
realistic look appropriate for the winter. Although inexperienced in the different ways in wearing a scarf I am very pleased with the feel and look especially when draped over my shoulders like a shawl. My handbag is quite versatile and to be near perfect but perhaps a little utilitarian for a more formal occasion so I plumped for a smaller clutch/shoulder bag which had a removable chain. It is versatile being plain as opposed to an ornamental evening bag and it matched both my shoe boots and court shoes. In my mind, I now had another smart outfit more suited for a visit to, say, a restaurant on a winter’s day. And to make the outfit a little more glamorous I could change to sheer black tights, court shoes and a sparkly scarf and remove the chain from the clutch bag. I would like to improve the overall winter look by wearing a formal overcoat instead of a raincoat but this is a step too far for the time being. So building on the items of clothing, shoes and bag I already own, I have increased the range of complete outfits that I can put together with just the addition of a few lasting and versatile items.
Well, the first outing since I added these items to my capsule wardrobe was to visit the City Centre with Andy one evening. My outfit was from my wardrobe but with the addition of the colourful patterned skirt from the Translife rail, I mentioned above. I wore my court shoes for the first time. But there was also one significant, albeit temporary, change to my usual appearance. During my earlier studio session, Andy had me to try on an auburn short hair wig and I was rather taken. For me, the reason it worked well was that I was wearing my polo neck jumper. Usually, longer hair helps to mask my unsightly neck or so I like to think so. So when I am wearing a polo neck, scarf or other garment with a high neck I have another choice of hairstyle. We ate in the Buon Appetito Italian restaurant where Sophie and I had been before. We did check out a couple of other restaurants first but they were quite busy, surprising for a Monday night in January, and well lit and I felt I would be too exposed.
For my next outing, I had planned a late afternoon to the City Centre, but the temperature was forecast to be around freezing. So a quick change of plan. I still wanted some outdoor photos wearing my new additions plus some old favourites. I stopped off at M&S at Holmbush on the way to Hove to buy a pair of gloves, black of course, which I felt worthwhile not only to keep warm that evening but also as a useful addition to the capsule wardrobe and they are also rather nice. On the promenade early that evening Andy took a series of photos of a lady in black dressed for the winter, well without a coat for the photos! It was one of my more comfortable and enjoyable experiences outdoors. It just felt right, despite the camera flash!
So that is where I am now. Following my cross-dressing revival, my persona is becoming a more mature and together woman; dressing more smartly, more completely, better co-ordinated and closer to my real age which I now prefer as it makes me feel more comfortable if less glamorous, but perversely more excited. My experiences are now more likely to be of accompanied trips to safe but public destinations in Hove and Brighton Centres – and I enjoy them – but with reserve, care and keeping a sense of reality. I shall continue to evolve my cross-dressing and widen my experiences. I am hoping that one day I will be able to dress up and attend a social occasion, but for the time being, I will continue to focus on my street outfits.
Proud to be plus
On reading of a draft of this blog, and my previous blog, I appear to be quite proud to be a plus size. In a way I am. Of course, being able to wear smaller size clothes and looking slimmer would be desirable and I would have a wider choice. But size 22 is available on the high street, albeit limited, and Translife have size 22 clothes and as well as suitable size 20’s. If I was any larger then I would have to rely more on online shopping and an even more limited choice. When I was in my twenties I wore a size 16 or 18, but a size 18 jacket was not a good fit on my shoulders and I had to be careful of which styles I bought. Now I am heavier and need to wear a size 22, I no longer have a problem with my shoulders. Jackets and tailored dresses are a good fit and with shapewear and padding my measurements (48, 42, 50) are very close to a typical size 22 fit (eg, M&S: 47, 41, 50; ASOS: 48, 41, 51). So I can buy clothes that fit comfortably and, despite my height and overall size, my look is in proportion to the type of woman I am trying to present. I do have to be carefully, certain styles or cuts can emphasise my size or appear as if I am wearing a tent, but other styles just work. I could lose some weight (which I am gradually but not through dieting) and a drop in dress size but overall I am content.
RP or TG?
When I started my revival, developing a female persona was not my intention, it just came naturally. I am quite proud of the outcome and I enjoy it. The persona that is Ann does differ from my normal self. As Ann I love having my photo taken and have recently come to want to share them (very carefully selected ones of course). I enjoy planning and putting together outfits and are now choosing looks or items that I had previously not gone for having wondered why women would want to wear them, now I have a different frame of mind. I have became more comfortable in public than I expected and my language, thoughts and actions have been changing when en femme (though not in normal life). When inside my cross-dressing bubble I am now more likely to think of myself as Ann (Ann was the name I registered with the Beaumont Society decades ago and I cannot recall why I chose it, but it is of my generation) and as a woman, but more like a method actor playing a character rather than as a trans or genetic woman and over time I would expect my behaviour to change to reflect this revived and developing aspect of my life. I often refer without thought to “other women” and identify with women. I also like it when I am addressed as madam!. I don’t really connect with the LBGT+ community as I have not considered myself TG but I have always been sympathetic and supportive – a Friend of LGBT+ if you like. We do visit LBGT+ friendly places in Brighton. Whether I am dressed or not it is only women I have eyes for! Not only for their looks but also for what they are wearing and would it work for me! I am not, or have become interested, in men though I have become more tactile when en femme.
I thought I should be worried but I am not, it is more to do with fitting in with the gender being presented than anything sexual. But when I see myself in a mirror or shop window or speak, I am reminded of the man behind the woman! The boundaries are being pushed out but there are places that I do not want to go or I am not yet ready for. It is the enjoyment of achieving a look and the experience that I like. I have no desire to be a centre of attraction, as a man in a dress or as an attractive woman, or to pursue other avenues. It is often said that women dress with men in mind but in reality dress with women in mind. However, I recently read that women actually dress to please the woman in the mirror and that hit the spot with me! That is what I do, I dress in the clothes I like to see myself in, enjoy wearing and look presentable. I am not trying to attract anyone nor am I trying to outdo other women or crossdressers.
I did think seriously about including these paragraphs in my blog. It was quite therapeutic writing them and in doing so it I thought more of what was happening. I am more able to accept the thoughts and behaviour of my female persona and not be concerned, especially as there appeared to be no changes to my normal male persona. No doubt there may be a view that I could be deceiving myself but I don’t find cross-dressing to be addictive and I often do not dress for quite long periods at a time. And when I do so, I have to be active, ie, dressing up or socialising. I do not normally just sit around in women’s clothes. I either wear women’s clothes or men’s clothes and do not mix the two.
I am comfortable with my two personas, it is not so much of the woman inside me as I am that woman when dressed. Of course, I do look forward to visiting Translife and can get quite excited about my projects, outfits, looks and activities (while appearing to remain calm!). So to answer my question above, for me, it is role play but as my philosophy is that everything is “a shade of grey” who knows! However, if I had become aware that I was TG to some extent then I would have probably embraced it by now in terms of understanding and acceptance, but changes in my life would have been unlikely. But I do have this longing to buy shoes…