A story of my experiences using Translife’s Dressing Service in reviving my cross dressing after 35 fallow years.
Back in the Day: cross dressing in the 70’s
I had not dressed since 1980, that is until I contacted Translife three summers ago. I was becoming nostalgic and curious, and a tad excited, on how, despite my age, I would now look. Would I look like a man in a dress, be ashamed or pleasantly surprised, or somewhere in between?I don’t remember when I came across dressing services, but do remember reading a comment from someone about being dressed as a bride and then being left in a room to “enjoy” the experience. Okay that comment might be a bit unfair but it did not appeal to me (or role playing as a maid or a secretary!). Then in the spring of 2015 the idea grew in my mind that a dressing service may actually be an ideal opportunity to fulfil my curiosity given my circumstances. So I explored the idea and after looking at a number of websites in the south east I contacted Translife. Their philosophy and approach appealed to me and gave me comfort, as well as being not too far away. Well the first step was to make an appointment and go try and see. Well actually the first step was to set up a gmail account using my old femme name.
Before I tell you what happened let’s go back to the beginning. Like many of us I first started wanting to try on women’s clothing in my early teens. It was not a compulsion. I became aware that I was a transvestite and, with a better understanding and given the benefit of hindsight, I have realised it was not sexual. I do identify with women but there was no girl inside. In the early seventies, when I first lived alone, I was able to dress more frequently and I built up a small wardrobe. There was no internet, but there were magazines like Time Out (in its pioneering alternative culture days) and Forum where I could read articles about transvestites and transsexuals (in wasn’t LBGTQ in those days and now apparently I am no longer a transvestite but a cross dresser!) and see adverts for TV services.
I joined the Beaumont Society. It published a regular magazine and organised an annual dinner and social as well as other activities. I notice that the society is still around but at that time it was the only organisation for transvestites that I was aware of, and incidentally not transsexuals – well formally anyway. Although, in Time Out there was a regular meeting held in a west London that was listed, but I never reached the point where I considered attending. I also remember reading an article about a drag ball in a Sunday Telegraph colour supplement. There was no online shopping and indeed the wide range of clothes and aids that are now available. There was a mail-order service for transvestites called Cover Girl based in Islington. I sent off for a catalogue and went to visit them. It was run by a lady helped by her husband. Not only did they supply various items for transvestites but also provided a dress-making service and a shopping service where they would buy items for you (except M&S – they considered that you could do that yourself). I bought a blond wig (specially made to suit a male head), padding, a breast form kit and a book by an apparently famous American transvestite tilted “How to be a Woman although a Man” or something like that. It was in reading this book that I learnt how to create a realistic cleavage which I was quite proud of. The breast forms and the foam hip pads were a success. The breast form kit involved heating two chemicals in a saucepan and pouring the gel-like solution into a plastic bag for each breast. When trying them on they were too prominent, so I let out some of the gel ending up with realistic looking breasts with the right feel. Achieving a more feminine shape, with defined waist and hips, gave me pleasure and still does today. The rest of my shopping was in high street stores. I was a size 16/18 depending on the fit, but my shoulders could be a problem. Interestingly it was difficult for find larger sizes in regular shops, size 14 was often the largest available. I have the impression that there has been an inflation in sizes, to flatter today’s customers, and there is now more availability of clothes for plus size women (the term was then outsize). Cheap clothes had not arrived – the cost benefits of overseas manufacture and container shipping were yet to come. China was a closed country not a source of clothing.
To join the Beaumont Society I had to be vetted. I initially met up with one of the committee members after he had been to a football match at Wembley Stadium. I later had to be sponsored. My sponsor, also called Ann, was local to me and meeting at her house was the first time I dressed in someone else’s company. She later took me to the annual Beaumont Society dinner, a private function at a London Hotel. There were many people there, including member’s spouses and overseas visitors, mostly in long dresses. I met and made friends with another of Ann’s “girls” and her wife. It was a very pleasant affair just like a dinner organised by clubs and societies of the time. I remember dressing in a fashionable long low-cut dress from C&A. The style did flatter me and when I saw a girl wearing the same dress a few months later I was rather chuffed. I wore matching strappy heels from Ravel, again later I saw a girl wearing the same style at a party. Higher and narrower heels were coming back into fashion and I was wearing the highest heels being sold on the high street at that time, I cannot remember the height but they were lower than today’s equivalent. Ann lent me jewelry and a short coat and scarf. It was an eventful night, my first in time in public – even if it was just walking to and from the car – and the first and only time at a social gathering. There was a social the following day but I did not attend because I had nothing suitable to wear. Money was tight in the mid seventies, the inflation rate was about 25% and interest rates the same – buying clothes for two was expensive. Looking back perhaps I should have worn the dress from the night before.
Not long after, I moved to a new job in the south and lost these new contacts. I did go out once more, alone and at night for a short walk by the coast; it was memorable as it was the first time I felt the wind up my skirt, quite a surprise! But I enjoyed just dressing up and I did not feel a need to go out again on my own. For five years I bought clothes and make up, even shopping as far a field as Brighton, some purchases were successful some not so. I enjoyed trying out clothes and outfits at home. Then I got a job abroad and had to dispense with my wardrobe completely as I could not take my things with me. Later I married and never dressed again (until now that is). I remain happily married and I would never consider broaching my cross dressing with my wife or of wearing or keeping any feminine items at home, and never will. I do daydream, and occasionally I am dressed in my night dreams. I look at how other women dress and wonder how I would look. But I am not frustrated. Nor was I tempted; until thirty-five years later.
Restart: my first dressing appointment with Translife
My wife was due to go and visit a friend for a few days so this gave me an opportunity to use Translife’s dressing service. So I made an enquiry through their website; Sophie emailed back to say that they were fully booked for the days I had available – after all the deliberation and anticipation it was a disappointment! Fortunately another opportunity soon came up and after an exchange of emails with Sophie I was in.
The day finally arrived and I set off for the drive to Hove. I had decided that for a less stressful journey I would park near Portslade and walk along Kingsway, the seafront, into Hove. It took me about half-an-hour, I do enjoy walking and it gave me an opportunity to look more closely at the changes that have occurred since my childhood trips to the seaside. It also meant that there would not be problem with overstaying my parking and, more importantly, it gave me a chance to compose myself before my drive back home. I need not have worried as the day turned out to be more relaxing than I would have expected, but there were times when I was a little overwhelmed and not fully with it, not unexpected!
It was a warm July morning and when I turned up and the front door was open. I surprised myself by not hesitating, or going past a number of times to pluck up courage, I just walked straight up and saw through the open door a lady sitting on a sofa, who I now know as Krista. She welcomed me in and apologised that Andy had gone for some milk. This set the scene wonderfully and I felt that I had made the right choice! Andy duly turned up. Over tea we then discussed what I was hoping to get out of the session. I had decided to place myself totally in his hands and let him make all the decisions The only thing that was mine was a pair of briefs I that I had bought from M&S on the way, well it is a rather intimate article.
I was knocked over when the full make-over and dressing was complete. The wig was not what I would have chosen, the hair was longer than I would have thought suited me but it worked very well. It just goes to show what happens when you let the experts advise you. Yes I was on the large size but my shoulders were now in proportion. I would not have stood up to scrutiny but I could see a mature but younger woman in the mirror. And I was walking in heels as if I had never not stopped wearing them for all those years. It’s just like riding a bike, you never forget! Then I started acting out of character. Andy got the camera out and I kept posing. Normally, I try to avoid having my photo taken and there are none from back in the day (films would have needed processing and prints made). However, now I was keen to have photos taken, partly as a memento and partly to scrutinize my look from all angles. Unfortunately, I am not good at posing, or indeed smiling, or checking to see if I am presentable, so many of the photos could only be for my own eyes only!
My fear was that I would end up looking like a man in a dress. I was much older, 25 to 30kg heavier and my body, including my neck, had thicken and sagged with age. But Krista did compliment me on my legs! Wearing realistic breast forms and a waist clincher created a proper feminine waist, albeit on a rather stout body. I did look more like a woman then I would have dared thought. Previously I had the advantages of youth and of being slimmer but this time it just seemed more realistic. The challenges of looking like a woman in her sixties appear to be less demanding than looking like a girl in her twenties. Expectations are lower, but mind you Andy’s skills played a decisive role. I was delighted with my appearance and wanted more: to try other outfits and discover what suited me and what did not. As with the wig, with its long and shoulder length tresses, I was later to find out that what was right for me was often quite contrary to my preconceptions of what I wanted or felt I should be wearing at my age. Krista was particularly perceptive in her suggestions of dresses from the Translife wardrobe. I was also like a kid with a dressing-up box. I tried on another four outfits and another wig, blond this time. One of outfits was a vintage style dress with a petticoat and we added very nice hat, my first. It was a squeeze getting on the dress but is was fun. After a throw away comment to Andy, I ended up wearing 5″ heels and I am proud to say, except for the occasional adjustment of balance, I was quite adept, albeit indoors but that did include the stairs! Of course, Andy shot merrily away taking many more photos. Just over a hundred in total that day (but that is nothing compared with the number he takes nowadays).
I restarted Ann that day, experienced again what it was like to dress and be made up as a woman. I had new experiences and there were many surprises. I had been made up expertly and never looked so (relatively) feminine. I had only applied simple make up myself before. I had never worn a straight skirt, it was A-line in the 70s. An exceptional surprise was that a sleeveless dress looked just right – that was not the case in my younger days.
Well my time was up, well that is not true, it was way past my booked session – another enduring feature of Andy’s willingness to make the experience genuine and enjoyable and not just purely a commercial transaction. Cleaning up was surprising easy, using the professional cleansing products, etc, provided. Back in my normal clothes, and after a request to Andy to ensure that there were no make up traces left it was time to say goodbye, or rather au revoir, I was definitely coming back!
Playtime: exploring my cross dressing and starting new adventures
Within a couple of months of my first appointment I had another one. Now I wanted to experiment with what clothes would suit me by going through Translife’s Dressing Service wardrobe. A few days before, I had bought my second item of clothing, a T-shirt with three-quarter length sleeves to hide my hairy arms. When dressing I usually shave above my wrists, round my neck and, sometimes, my lower legs which allows the wearing of more feminine cuts without compromising my overall masculine appearance.
And I did enjoy dressing up that day, I tried on many outfits. And this time I had another surprise. I would have expected a bodycon dress not to be suitable for my physique. Not so, they are now one of my favourite styles of dress. I wore a short auburn hair wig one that appears to be a favourite among Dressing Service clients. I looked great and perhaps a little younger, but only from the front. Unfortunately, the hair was not long enough to hide my rather thick and saggy neck from a side view.
A couple of months later I made another appointment – it was getting a habit but not a dependency! Another three outfits, including one from H&M (quite a surprise that) which I had tried on last time and my fourth wig – straight shoulder length hair. But this time there was something new. I had seen on the website’s Dressing Service Gallery that some of my “sisters” had had photographs taken in the street outside Translife. I felt reasonably confident, with Andy’s appraisal and support, to do the same, but for some reason I was emboldened enough to want to have my photos taken on the promenade. I do have some red lines but this was more of pushing out the boundaries and I had been in public before albeit at night and when younger. The first outfit was a dress suggested by Krista. It was really nice and flattering, but I did not venture out in it, because it was also really too short, not a mini dress but shorter than I would feel comfortable with given my age and size. The second dress was patterned, knee-length and long sleeved. I wore opaque tights. Well I did venture out wearing flats (one thing at a time) and carrying a bag. Would you believe it as soon as we turned into Brunswick Terrace a builder looked at me and nudged his mate, I had been read! I don’t know why, but I didn’t seem bothered. Nothing actually happened, the sky didn’t fall in, I wasn’t ridiculed, it wasn’t unexpected and I wasn’t on my own as I was with Andy. I knew there was plenty to do in improving my appearance but at least I was trying and not being overtly masculine, or indeed overtly feminine, or dressed inappropriately for the time and place. These things are important me. I pressed on as if nothing happened, I don’t remember if Andy had noticed anything. I suddenly found myself on a crossing on Kingsway in front of waiting drivers. No hooting from the cars, I just crossed resolutely and remarkably calmly, looking where I was going – if you don’t look at them you can’t see them looking at you! Well I now I had my first outdoor pictures sitting in a promenade shelter and standing by the sea wall on a warm, sunny autumn day and with the wind in my hair.
Well back to Translife for a change of outfit. This time I wore the grey H&M dress, a black jacket and 2″ heels (I did actually carry the flat shoes in the handbag just in case). This time we ventured further, I felt more presentable (it was the jacket), less conspicuous in black and grey and with a little more confidence. We walked to Brunswick Square and into the garden. My pictures this time were of me standing in front of shrubs and sitting on a bench. We returned via Western Road, quite an adventure along the busy pavement. I was expecting not to actually to make it outdoors, it was exhilarating but with some anxiety. Looking back at the photos I was quite solemn, more than usual, probably because of the anxiety!
An opportunity was coming up in the winter when I would be alone and could remove my body hair with enough time to recover. I had some thoughts of what I wanted to do during this time and I was now starting to take my hobby more seriously. I wanted to be more discerning in what I wore, look more presentable and to try improve my body shape.
I also wanted to pursue some fantasies (of the most proper kind!) using what I had learnt during the previous appointments. I wanted to wear some of the more revealing dresses from the Translife wardrobe, some favorites and some new, as well as some items that I bought with Andy’s help or from M&S. I had had this fantasy of being a bridesmaid (but never the bride) wearing different outfits for various wedding events. However, I needed to update my fantasy so I thought being the Mother of the Bride would be more fitting. I envisaged three outfits: for a hen party, for a ceremony and for an evening party. There was no actual reason for this fantasy other an interesting way to put some outfits together. For a hen party outfit I choose an LBD with a mesh top and 5″ heels, for the wedding outfit a black lace dress with a gorgeous black hat and for the evening party a long evening dress. All from the Translife rail. But that was not all, I decided I wanted to try a low-cut prom dress. I tracked down a Paper Dolls dress on the ASOS Curve website (you’ve guessed it the ASOS plus size brand). For fun I also bought a cheap black mini dress and a cheap low-cut black dress as part of the same order. It was a hectic four appointments over five days, including my first evening out after which I stayed the night using the B&B service with a blue baby doll nightie included! It was great to go from dressing the previous evening, coming down to breakfast casually dressed, albeit sans make up, followed by a day session – the longest I had ever been dressed en femme. I had worn the prom dress for the evening out. Sophie and I went to Buon Appetito, an Italian restaurant in St James’s Street, and then we visited nearby the bar at Legends. It was a quiet night and I felt comfortable in both places and I can recommend them. By the way the Paper Dolls prom dress is now on the rail at Translife if you would like to try it on (and are size 22).
I was aware from browsing the Translife website that they had some wedding dresses. As I wrote above I have no particular desire to dress up as a bride with all the trimmings, the only bride in my life is my wife. But I did want have the experience of wearing a formal gown. The dresses were duly taken out of storage and I chose the more modern one with little cap sleeves. You can see the three dresses on the Dress Gallery page on the website. I did wonder if a size 20 dress would fit, Andy and Krista had been putting me into size 20 or even size 18 dresses during my experimental phase. Andy and Krista helped me on with the dress and it was a nice tight flattering fit. I had not realised that the bodice was boned and that my breast forms could be held in place without the need for straps. Not only would they had spoiled the look but I do not like exposing my underwear. Once the dress was on and Andy had started to take photos one of the cap sleeves slipped down my arm so I quickly dropped the other one. I was amazed with my look especially given the concern I had about my shoulders when I was younger. I relished the experience of walking and moving around, even using the stairs, with a full skirt and train. A very delightful diversion and with a nice link to my mother-in-law fantasy.
Now was the time to explore other looks and to push the boundaries further. I mentioned that I had bought a simple black mini-dress from ASOS which I enjoyed wearing in the privacy of Translife’s premises. But I had another use for it. I had also bought a pair of leggings and a roll-neck top. I had never worn leggings and they are a common sight on our streets. I wanted to put together a popular outfit which also covered my re-emerging body hair. I wore the mini-dress over the top and leggings, all in black, added a colourful scarf and low heels and Andy and I were out again on the promenade.
As it was winter and I realised if I wanted to go outside I would need a coat (not only to keep warm but also to look the part). So I bought a raincoat for myself, a bit more versatile than a coat. On my first trip out in the evening I had borrowed a coat but it really was too small for me and I only got away with it by wearing it open. I also wanted a pair of boots suitable for a winter city centre. I had always wanted to wear boots so I bought a tan pair with Andy’s help. Wearing my leggings and mini-dress together with my new raincoat and new boots, Andy and I went out for a walk. We headed along Kingsway to Grand Parade where we took some photos. Then we turned into Church Road but continued on to the City Centre pass the turning to Translife, We popped into Small Batch Coffee in Western Road, a local chain of coffee shops based in Hove. I sat at a table by the window, it was quite crowded, while Andy placed our order at the counter. I looked out and saw that I was in the direct line of view of people using the zebra crossing immediately outside, another nudge towards immersing Ann into the outside world! After our coffee we ended up walking through the Churchill Shopping Centre. We returned back along Kingsway, pausing for more photos outside the Grand Hotel. I don’t think Andy was expecting to go for such a long walk, nor did I. It was during the walk back that I had my second unexpected “test” of the day. The pavement was quite crowded and Andy was ahead of me. I stopped to let some people through and they were followed by a large group of foreign teenagers squeezing pass me in single file while I was waiting patiently facing them. Not one noticed me, or gave any indication as such, but then I was probably just an old English woman under their radar.
Although it was the end of February it was unseasonably warm. It was also my last appointment for the time being and Krista, Andy and I were going out for lunch. I was wearing a short dress over the leggings together with a tan faux leather jacket I had bought on impulse from M&S at Holmbush on my way in that morning. (One of the consequences of having a long fallow period is that often you see a woman in a striking outfit and the memory stays with you over time. One of those “I must copy” outfits was a tan biker-style jacket, tan boots with a black top and pencil skirt.) It was warm enough for us to have lunch outside Legends on the terrace overlooking Marine Parade. It was most pleasant and a friend of Krista and Andy joined us for a while. It was dawning on me that I was enjoying such occasions. There is one memory that has stuck in my mind. A middle-aged couple were at a table next to ours, as they left the woman gave me a smile. Did she smile to me as another women, had she read me and was she giving me encouragement, or, was she just being friendly? I will never know but it was a pleasant experience!
Well that outing marked the end of my play period of indulging in fantasies and venturing out.
Beyond Revival: taking my cross dressing more seriously and developing a persona
As for the previous winter, another opportunity was coming up for a series of appointments. My cross dressing revival had reached a milestone, I was now progressing much further than in my youth and it was no longer a revival. A year ago when I ventured onto the streets I had styled myself on the women I saw around me. I tried leggings and wore short dresses over them with either my raincoat or jacket. I enjoyed the experience wearing leggings, and still have them, but I now had my own persona in mind. What I wished to do was to dress and portray myself as a woman in the best practical way. I had experienced going out dressed and had decided on the type of woman I wanted to try to be. I knew I would never be convincing and I would not stand up to scrutiny. But this was 2017 and this was Brighton (and Hove!) and I had Translife with me. I decided that I would focus on making myself as presentable as possible while not forgetting to enjoy myself. There were constraints, my age and build, the need to be more robust and more attentive in my dressing and appearance, and, I had to keep costs in perspective.
I had a number of sessions with Andy in the build up to this new opportunity, to discuss and think about what to do. I spent some time browsing retail sites and putting my thoughts down. A number of times I would go off at tangent but I usually got back on track in developing my plans. Dressing in closed sessions does allow quite a lot of leeway, for example, you can’t see a side profile in a frontal photo. A dress that was too small could actually look quite good in a photo but could emphasise and show bumps and bulges in real life. If I was to go on excursions then a number of factors would come into play. In my mind one should dress to suit your age and not follow the fashions fit for those decades younger. But that doesn’t mean that I should dress in dowdy clothes and look like a frumpy pensioner. I decided to be a woman in her sixties but dressed as if she was in her fifties, quite a common and acceptable practice from my observations. I could choose quite fashionable as well as classic clothes. But it meant keeping to dresses and skirts that were knee length or just below. I did look good in short dresses, but only in the mirror, on the street it would not feel natural and I would be self conscious. By the way I did consider wearing trousers, a very common practice. But on Andy’s advice to keep it simple, I decided to wear dresses or skirts, something I wasn’t going to argue about! Another decision I made was to only wear clothes that fit properly, in my case usually size 22. I also decided to generally wear a jacket as it helps to improve my silhouette, hides a multitude of sins, looks classy and quite frankly I like wearing tailored women’s clothes. One of things that surprised me during my “playtime” stage was that close fitting dresses and straight skirts appear to suit me and I liked the look, and that I could wear them. We discussed my body form and looked at ways to improve it and bring me closer to size 22 measurements, to look more natural and for a better it. Actually, I am not far off typical published sizes, but sometimes I would wear a size 20 or a size 22 would seem to big. I am quite sure you know about the problem with dress sizes, but it does make it more chancy if ordering online or just taking something off the rail in a shop.
I decided to buy a wig from Translife. One of my physical characteristics is my large head, so much so that one-size-fits-all hats do not fit me. A wig with a standard cap had to be stretched and could easily ride up. (One upside is, as a woman, my head looks in proportion to the rest of my body.) Also borrowing a wig had some disadvantages. Fortunately the Jon Renau range includes a small selection of wigs with a larger cap size. Andy selected a neutral brown colour for me, which is close to my original colour, with a classic timeless style. It has shoulder length hair that can to help hide my rather thick and saggy neck. The hair is quite long at the back. It was straight, which pleased Andy as it makes for easy maintenance. He arranged for their hairdresser to come and cut the hair to suit my head shape and face which I was pleased with and it made it more personal. I had thought about having shoulder length all round, a more classic style but I decided for the time being to keep it to its original length. Long hair is now not uncommon among women of my age and it does make you feel good. The jury is still out but if I get it wrong, or change my mind, it won’t grow back!
I wanted to put together a small wardrobe of my own clothes. My first purchases for this new persona was an M&S suit in black. I had identified a pencil skirt I liked that came just below the knee and Andy came across a short matching tailored blazer. I had seen the jacket on the website but it was something I did not consider at the time. I am really pleased with it – another perception blown. I hoped to present myself, not so much as a business woman, but as someone who dressed more smartly but not too dressy or expensively. I also wanted to be appear “normal” and be more in the background. I went on a number of trips with Andy to the City Centre wearing my new suit with different tops and with the boots and raincoat bought last year. It was all coming together. During these trips we had coffee in a number of places including Costa Coffee (how normal is that?) and visited various stores including M&S and Debenhams. Strangely, I felt more comfortable browsing rails dressed as woman than as a man. However, one of my red lines is not to make use of a public changing room. But buying some jewelry on sale in Debenhams and a red top in M&S doesn’t need changing rooms. I am not quite ready to talk to people, so Andy goes to the pay desks for me. My next purchase was a pair of shoes. Although at 5′ 10″ I should perhaps wear flats or low heels, but I do enjoy walking in high heels and (I think) they do look right on me as well as encouraging a more feminine gait. So I indulged and bought a classic pair of shoes but with a thicker heel, more a block heel than a stiletto. I liked the look and the style went well with my persona and matched my suit. The thicker heels would also make it a little easier for walking in the street. I have tripped a few times on bumps in the pavement, but I have fortunately landed on feet. I was not used to looking at the surface ahead but I am quite proud that I handled myself and just hope nobody noticed (well other then Andy and Krista). I have improved over time.
I read in one of Sophie’s blogs about her visit with Lady Charlotte to The Grand Hotel for afternoon tea. Well I am not ready for that, but the next best thing is afternoon tea at Browns in The Lanes. So a visit to Browns was arranged and Krista joined us. The staff at Browns were friendly and I had no anxiety entering and sitting in the main part of the restaurant with other customers at the surrounding tables. I wore my black suit and new shoes. Afterwards we walked to the Churchill Square Shopping Centre. I had seen a dark red Ben de Lisi dress for sale on the Debenhams website. We went to have a look but could not find one. Andy arranged to buy the dress for me online. We then walked back to Translife along Western Road, that was my first long walk in 4″ heels and a skirt and I really enjoyed the experience. A few days later, to mark the end of the current series of appointments, Sophie and I went out for an evening meal when I wore the Ben de Lisi dress (the dress is now available on the Translife rail) out for the first time with my black suit jacket. At the time I was wearing an under-bust corset. The corset certainly helped with the otherwise unsightly bulges and posture. But after the meal I felt uncomfortable and a little faint so we headed back. It was an interesting experience, I felt like some fainting lady in a period drama. It was back to the more comfortable waist clincher in the future – I still wanted my feminine waist.
Another opportunity to indulge came in August and September just passed. I was on my own again and for a long enough period to remove my body hair. With the warmer weather, I wanted to take the rare opportunity to experience wearing nice outfits out in the day and in the evening that were sleeveless or had short sleeves. I spent some time checking out various suitable clothing websites. Often what I wanted was not available in my size or soon disappeared, but I eventually had drawn up a short list of day and evening outfits to seek Andy’s advice on. Some of them were perhaps too feminine or dressy for my persona, they were mainly there for discussion. In the meantime I had bought a leather shoulder bag at a clearance price with straps just that bit longer so they do not slip off my shoulders. I have taken to wearing my (real) wedding ring and I now wear a diamante ring from M&S (their XL size just fits) alongside, it looks the part and at a pocket money price. I also have another even cheaper adjustable ring from Translife’s shop for the other hand.
In anticipation for this late summer opportunity I started to let my nails grow out. On previous occasions I had worn false nails, I had worn all the colours available, but as I was not used to them I was often loosing one or more. When I was younger and false nails were not mainstream I did let my nails grow a little longer on occasion and with nail polish they were pleasing and quite realistic without creating problems in my normal life. This time I was not so successful as I kept breaking them. Well when the time came they were shaped by Andy achieving an androgynous look and although one or two were a bit shorter than the others it I had the desired effect. Interestingly over the following month before I cut them back again I only broke one nail. Was I getting used to them, they were not as long as the false nails, or did the shaping help? My favourite shade is a slightly deeper red but I also like then as dark as burgundy.
For the day outfit we chose a skirt and matching top on sale from Studio Eight; Studio Eight is the plus size brand for Phase Eight. The top was chilli in colour with a relaxed but flattering fit with short sleeves. The full skirt was white with a bold up-to-date floral pattern. I liked the skirt as it gave me a chance to wear something more feminine than my usual black and was summery. Although intended to be a day outfit, it was perhaps a little to dressy for shopping, but the skirt and top would also be suitable for wearing during the evening. The dark waist band went well with my bag, shoes and jacket. I do get pleasure in co-coordinating an outfit, not always possible with a limited number of items hence a tendency to choose black. Choosing separates meant, for example, that I could also wear the top with my suit. The first time I wore my new outfit it was on a warm August evening. Andy arranged for a taxi to take us to The Amsterdam, a bar and hotel on Marine Parade near the Palace Pier. We sat outside and enjoyed the summer evening. The Amsterdam also has a venue for a drag act so it is “friendly territory” as indeed is Kemptown and, as it appears, much of Brighton. The people sitting out on the terrace were a mixture including a family. Andy left me to go and buy our drinks which took some time; sitting there it was the longest I had been on my own in public but I ended up not being apprehensive at all. After our drinks and a long chat we walked back to Translife. We have been since back to enjoy the terrace. Then I wore a black cap sleeve Long Tall Sally midi dress off the rail at Translife but with no jacket as it was quite warm and I wanted, for at least one time, to show bare arms. It was the most flattering and comfortable dress I have worn so far. I matched it with sling back heels with an ankle strap more suited for the evening also borrowed from Translife.
A late addition to short list was a practical cocktail dress which I spotted when I was checking out current availability, literally overnight it be came my preferred dress. The following day sitting down with Andy, and without any hint from me, as I didn’t want to go for something that I wanted to wear but didn’t suit, we soon settled on what is now my favourite dress (of all time!). It is a purple “taffeta” knee length, sleeveless dress, with a V-neck and pleat detailing from Kaleidoscope The neck is sufficiently low to show a cleavage if desired. We ordered it and it came the following day in time for my next dressing appointment. To my delight the dress exceeded expectations, always a problem when shopping online or even in a shop without trying something on. Anyway I got ready and tried the dress on and it was a good fit but is was not quite right. Andy suggested a different bra and swapping round breast forms I suddenly felt very proud of my bust, particularly as I was showing a cleavage. OK, I was not portraying a glamorous lady and I would still not stand up to scrutiny but I never felt more pleased with a dress before. It was midweek and Andy and I ended up in the Davino wine bar in Church Road. Once seated I took it off my jacket any felt very comfortable in myself enjoying a glass of wine. I am quite sure the waitresses read me (and I suppose that is my default position in such situations) but there was no indication of such and anyway Andy did all the talking although I did manage the odd thank you in a quiet voice. On another occasion I wore the dress again but this time I borrowed an open jacket more suitable for the evening and the heels I had worn to The Amsterdam . The dress and jacket went together rather well. I was becoming increasing confident that I am getting it right in choosing what to wear. We went to Browns, this time in the evening for a meal. The staff at Browns were friendly and I was quite calm while waiting for a table. I did keep the jacket on, it was cool enough, as I did think it was more presentable.
The skirt and top and the taffeta dress were more expensive clothes than those I had previously worn. I was hesitant in spending so much, even though the items from Studio Eight were about a third off. But I do not regret it, the better cut, style and feel made it well worth while. When browsing clothing sites I may see something really nice and then I see the usually three-figure price tag and I quickly move on. I wonder how these more expensive clothes would be like on me and how would they feel – but that is going to stay in my dreams! I have to be realistic.
I had arranged one more daytime appointment. As it was a little cooler and I wanted to wear my black skirt suit along with the matching accessories I had gathered together since I bought the suit. Literally matching, as everything was in black except my tights and the jewelry. Andy and I went to Small Batch Coffee in Western Road, the first place I had visited during the daytime when I first started to venture out. It is a friendly place with a good atmosphere. We sat at the same table as before (why is it that it always seem to be the only table free?), the table right in front of the Zebra Crossing but this time I did not really notice while Andy and I had a chat. That occasion marked a culmination of two years of experimenting, developing a persona and bringing together a comfortable and complete outfit that I enjoy wearing. When I was younger I had bought a black two-piece suit from M&S, it had the equivalent style of the 70’s with a longer jacket and an A-line skirt. A timeless outfit that I enjoy seeing on other women. I do know what I like and there is consistency between my choices in the 70’s and today.
The final appointment had arrived. It was in the evening to mark the end of a series of appointments over the previous five weeks, it is also my latest one. But the occasion did mark a new development, I realized I wasn’t thinking about the dressing per se but more of the evening out, an evening out socialising as Ann. I usually plan, and if necessary obtain, what I want to wear some time ahead, but this time I left it to the last minute, not because I had “nothing to wear” but because there were a number of pleasing outfits I could choose from. I combined the open black jacket with the Long Tall Sally dress. I needed to cover up and to me the outfit looked just right for such an evening. I pushed the boat out a little further by wearing 4″ stiletto heels; I was pleased that I coped well; no lasting aches or pains and more importantly no tripping or stumbling. Sophie, Krista and I went for a meal at the Buon Appetito, off Palmeira Square, Hove, not too far from from Translife. The restaurant is owned by the same family as the Buon Appetito Brighton, we visited the previous year. The food was excellent and the staff friendly, a mainstream restaurant that I look forward to going back to. It was also in this restaurant that I was first called “Madam”!
Epilogue: some reflections and final thoughts
My revival has taken me further than where I was in the 70’s and much further than I would have dreamed of when I started dressing again two years ago. It was not a planned journey, I did not know how far I would go or where I would end up. It was an ad-hoc and iterative process with plenty of dead ends and changes of mind, and, sometimes changing my mind back again. I have collected a modest wardrobe of outfits and accessories that are right for me and I continue to borrow items from Translife, They fit, are of reasonable quality and reflect my female persona. They suit my older age, height, stout body shape and plus size (while writing this I heard it referred to on the radio as “healthy size”!). I want to look my best and be realistic as far is practical. So I try to mask the masculine and enhance, but not exaggerate, the feminine. I avoid the eye-catching or the inappropriate and try to hide unsightly bulges. I avoid dressing too young, wearing too tight clothes and I don’t like showing my underwear. I wear midi dresses and midi skirts with heels. My make up (totally down to Andy) and hair style create a more natural look. Modest also means that my wardrobe needs to be practical and proportionate in terms of size and cost. I have take into account the number of opportunities to wear something and storage needs. I also want to try new looks and play around with my existing clothes in different combinations. So I try to ensure that my things are more classic and timeless and can work together without being too boring. Fortunately I do like black and its suits me and remains popular. There are still items I want to get, like that elusive classic bracelet that fits and is affordable. I do like dressing up after all. I make no apology for repeating myself, again, but I know I would not stand up to scrutiny but if I am presentable and have made the effort then I feel comfortable in myself. I do not want to unduly embarrass others and I am possibly seen as woman by most passers-by (on the basis I do not draw attention to myself and they are not really looking) and are largely accepted by the amazing people of Brighton and Hove. However, I am always conscious about not being delusional.
What next? I can go out during the day or in the evening in coordinated and complete outfits and look and feel the part. I can go shopping, have a coffee, meal or a drink. I have pushed the boundaries as far as I am comfortable with. I could start engaging more with people, but I do not yet have the confidence given my voice. I could widen my horizons but opportunities are limited given my circumstances and it would be a whole new ball game. I enjoy what I am doing now, dressing well and going out presenting myself as woman in the company of Andy, Sophie or Krista. I also enjoy a dressing-up day at Translife. It is not an obsession, my desire waxes and wanes, and I can go long periods without dressing – just taking the opportunity as and when it arises. I now actually feel quite proud when I now go out, not in the sense of being attractive or passing, but in what I wear. I say it with reservation and hopefully I am not deceiving myself (although I do tend to brush aside my side profile look). I do not want to live or dress as a woman full time and I only undertake selected activities. I know that my occasional dressing means that I just enjoy the best bits. My revival is complete and I am content. But who knows …
But before I go I want to share with you my thoughts if you are thinking about being more adventurous. I know many of you have far more experience and larger wardrobes than me, but we all started at some time and I have done it twice and some would have restarted many times over. We all have different and changing circumstances. Using a dressing and accompanying (I don’t want to write escort!) services like Translife can give you the confidence and the opportunity to explore your crossdressing without too much of a commitment. Age and size should not be a barrier to dressing and your enjoyment along as long you are realistic. There is always the risk of being read, and of being embarrassed, but you really can’t do better than Brighton. Enjoy yourself, but to do it well and take it seriously if you want to have fun.