Saturday, December 9, 2023

Forget the Power Tools

By Paula Gaikows
Wearing Liz Claiborne

Back in 2008, I was breaking out of my shell and starting to accept myself as a transgender woman. This is when I started going out in public. At that time, it was difficult for me to find clothes, however, I found thrift shops and garage sales to be an excellent source.

On a warm spring day, cruising around I stumbled upon a house having a “retirement sale.” Interested, I pulled in. As I explored the remnants of their life scattered across the yard, I ventured into the garage. Upon entering, I was met with an unexpected find that both surprised and fascinated me. There stood a long rack with high-quality career wear the kind a professional woman like a CPA or lawyer would wear. Gorgeous suits, chic slacks and elegant blouses caught my eye in sizes 16 and 18. Wow! 

Shy, I discreetly pretended disinterest, all the while stealing glances and looking over this treasure trove of fashion. These weren’t mere garments; they were the identity of a seasoned executive, her discerning taste, a reflection of years spent navigating corporate landscapes.

As my interest grew, a pleasant older woman strolled up revealing that these were her work clothes. Now retired from business, she no longer needed them. She hinted that people didn’t seem very interested and she seemed disappointed. She then emphasized the high-quality, designer nature of the wardrobe. Caught off guard, I managed to blush and nod a casual agreement, suggesting someone was in for a deal. 

Finding cover in the power tools for a while, I was soon drawn back to the clothes. I spotted the iconic Pendleton wool suit I’d later wear on my train ride into London. Inquiring about the price, she nonchalantly asked for $10 – a true steal. Then there was a navy blue Austin Reed suit that caught my eye and again, a mere $10 secured its place in my future. 

As the pile grew, I couldn't help but smile as I envisioned my own wardrobe curated by a real working woman. The fact that a professional woman like herself had selected and worn these clothes gave them spirit. It was as if they had soul. These clothes held the essence of a woman who navigated the corporate landscape with grace, each piece a chapter in her life.

As I examined an assortment of blouses and slacks, each priced at a $10, the total in my head quickly soared past $100. A daring thought struck me: why not go all-in and acquire the entire collection? 

Summoning courage, I cautiously proposed, “Would you take $100 for everything here?” She bit her lower lip nervously as she considered my offer, then she enthusiastically defended the quality, dropping the names of designers like Liz Claiborne, Ralph Lauren, Pendleton and Calvin Klein. Her $150 counteroffer lingered in the air. I hesitated, confessing I only had $125. A perceptive yet devilish smile crossed her face, sealing the deal with “sold!” 

She exclaimed about someone being very lucky to get these clothes. With a shared knowing smile, it was at this point that it became apparent that she sensed these clothes were meant for me. That unspoken truth hung in the air, silently acknowledged by a gaze that spoke volumes. It appeared as though she was making peace with the idea of me inheriting her wardrobe; these garments held memories and were part of her, the notion of a me wanting them seemed to puzzle her.

Her parting words resonated, “I hope...,” she hesitated nervously carefully choosing her next words, “...these clothes find a caring home and are appreciated and enjoyed.” It was as if she was saying goodbye and letting go.

She would never know that those clothes would ignite the woman inside me and propel me into adventures I never dreamed possible. Every skirt suit you’ve seen in my Femulate articles, each pair of slacks and cozy sweaters – most emerged from that encounter with this kind woman. Those clothes, handpicked by her, transformed me making me feel remarkably feminine and undeniably womanly.

For me this wardrobe was more than a collection of clothes; they were inspirational. By wearing these garments, I infused a bit of her strength, grace and femininity into my own endeavors and I am truly grateful for that. Yes, my dear lady, your clothes found a home where they were loved, respected and worn with grace and pride.

Source: ShopBop
Wearing Jacquemus

Patrick Walshe McBride
Patrick Walshe McBride femulating on British television’s
Shakespeare & Hathaway: Private Investigators


  1. That's a wonderful story, Paula. Thank you for sharing. I can only express my envy. :-)
    Amanda Hawkins

  2. I mentioned how important that Pendleton suit was in today’s article if he wants interested in seeing a picture, here is the link Paul G

  3. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful story. I hope both of you - the buyer and the seller - continue to remember this kindness.

  4. Paula, what a wonderful story. I really enjoy your writing on all of your articles. As someone myself who absolutely adores wearing women's career wear, skirt suits etc, I can attest to knowing how good it feels. You look lovely in that skirt suit. You definitely got a steal for only $125!

  5. Leslie LangfordDecember 09, 2023

    A truly heart-warming story, Paula.

    I, too, can appreciate the conflicted feelings of the lovely lady who sold you those designer clothes. She clearly loved them, and obviously expected another genetic female to appreciate and cherish them as much as she did.

    Alas, it was not to be. The favorite "uniform" of women these days seems to consist of leggings, yoga pants, skinny jeans and jogging pants topped off with a baggy sweatshirt and "stylishly" accessorized with a generic cross-body bag, flip-flops, Crocs, or sneakers. This downward-fashion trend began in the late 1990's with the advent of "casual Fridays" in the workplace, and quickly morphed into everyday casual wear along with its evil twin - "athleisure wear". The final nail in the coffin for all this has been the current "Work From Home" trend, where spending the entire day in one's pajamas and fuzzy slippers has become the norm...even extending at times to shopping at Walmart etc. that way.

    As you pointed out, the lady's initial confusion quickly changed into a knowing and sympathetic understanding, as well as an unspoken ally-ship as the transaction proceeded. In the end, she was clearly moved by the fact that she had chanced upon someone who truly appreciated both her style and taste in clothes, even if that person was not of the expected gender.

    I have had similar experiences over the years, two of which immediately spring to mind:

    Some years ago, I was perusing the local Facebook Marketplace section of where I live and came upon a reasonably-priced "to die for" wedding dress in my size that caught my eye. Realizing that I would need to try it on myself given that most stock wedding dresses are extensively altered to fit the wearer, I texted the owner, identified myself as a crossdresser, and asked if she had any problem with selling her wedding dress to someone like myself. I did this with the realization that most women have a strong emotional attachment to their wedding dresses being so symbolic of their "special day", and that there might be a definite "ick" factor in play there if a crossdresser were to get their hands on it. I was pleasantly surprised by her answer, which was to the effect of "Not at all, as long as you love it as much a I did".

    My other recent validating experience occurred earlier this year when on a whim, I posted a very positive review of a dress that I had just purchased on the website of a national department store chain. Out of 8 reviews in total, I tied for second place with 11 "likes" along with 3 other respondents. In doing so, I had clearly identified myself as a crossdresser and extolled the virtues of this dress for - among other things - how form-fitting it was and how well it enhanced my feminine appearance. Somehow, I doubt that ALL of the respondents who gave me their enthusiastic "thumbs up" were fellow crossdressers or were situated elsewhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum.

    Not only that, but in due course a representative of this department store chain replied to each of these reviews (including mine) to thank us all for our positive comments and sincerely welcoming us to come back to shop there anytime.

    Doesn't get much better than that...

    1. Certainly! Here's an edited version:

      Leslie, your story about buying the wedding dress is fascinating. I'd love to hear more about the purchase and your post-wardrobe experiences. Perhaps you could consider submitting an article to Stana for all of us to enjoy.

      Paula G

    2. I have seen many on-line reviews of hosiery and undergarments posted by men who acknowledge they wear the garments.

  6. For several years there was a consignment shop on the south side of Chicago which welcomed girls like us. When I shopped there, I'd bring my undergarments to change into so that I could try on dresses. I'd go at a time when almost always no one else was present.

    One time I'd just finished putting on a dress in a dressing room when another customer came in. From the voice I was certain it was a woman. Filled with embarrassment I waited. The other customer could see my high heels and pantyhose'd legs from beneath the door.

    She said, "you can come out."

    I took a deep breath and opened the door. Of course she knew I was a man, but she smiled and said, "you have nice legs."

    My heart skipped a beat and I thanked her and continued to try on other outfits.

    The shop's owner had to close the shop when she got divorced. One time she told me that she'd made her reluctant husband dress up as a woman for fun one time. She said that he didn't like it at all.

    Thanks for making me remember that day Paula

    1. Where I live there once was a women's store who displayed a sign in the store window just below the hours of operation that cross-dressers were welcome and could make an appointment if desired. A long time later there was a local television news piece of a local store and interview with the owner that it openly welcomed cross-dressers. Unfortunately, both shops closed.

  7. What a wonderful recollection

    We all have these incredible interactions that bond us together as a community

    We connect through these common individual acts, we move forward together separately but with a common goal in our hearts

    That goal is to achieve the dream of our true self and to share that with our sisters

    Paula G

  8. Great story...finding cover in the power tools...too funny😃🤣

  9. I'm sure that woman would be pleased that her choices were cherished and worn with pride. You treated the clothes well and with respect. They had a fine second owner

  10. This is the same way that I acquired my collection of clip earrings. I saw a collection of nearly fifty earrings. Fashion jewelry with some gaudy items but many of them were quite nice. The young woman running the sale said they were her grandmother’s collection (and grandma was at the sale) but she no longer used them. Fifteen dollars for the lot. I now never have an occasion without cute earrings.

  11. This is the same way that I acquired my collection of clip earrings. I saw a collection of nearly fifty earrings. Fashion jewelry with some gaudy items but many of them were quite nice. The young woman running the sale said they were her grandmother’s collection (and grandma was at the sale) but she no longer used them. Fifteen dollars for the lot. I now never have an occasion without cute earrings.

  12. Paula as you quickly surmised that you would enjoy her clothes and pictured yourself wearing them you knew that you would blend right in with the civilians. No heels and scarves? Brenda ……ahhhhh the joy of popping into Target on the way home from work to pick up a few things dressed in a fine business suit

    1. oh there were a nice collection of business style pumps and shoes. However, she was a size 9-10 and I am a 12. Paula G

  13. What a great story and the best thing is you made two people happy, the lady who obviously cared for the suits and you who would give them a whole new life. I still have a few Liz and Ralphs in my collection, they are such wonderful clothes to wear. They are just simply elegant. At the risk of dating myself, my wife would have things held for her at Casual Corner when she was working and before her office went to a casual dress code. I would go to the store and pick them up, I often wondered if the sales staff were suspicious of me. But honest, they were for her, at least at that time!

  14. Rachel McNeillDecember 10, 2023

    I am a retired professional. I was a dinosaur by the middle of the last decade, still wearing J.Press and Brooks Brothers suits, handmade English shoes, french-cuff shirts, conservative neckties and pocket squares. I started my career after the military with a Big-Eight accounting firm, and quickly mastered the uniform.

    As a sixty-something woman, I still dress in much the same way: Ann Taylor, Jones New York, Vera Wang. On the weekends, J.Jill, LL Bean, and “preppy” look.

    I refuse to give in to the baggy sweatpants and t-shirt when in male mode as so many retirees do. Similarly, when presenting as Rachel, no mom jeans and cheap “fast fashion.”

  15. Rachel McNeillDecember 10, 2023

    BTW, Patrick Walshe MacBride is a terrific character actor. His talents were waaay underutilized in that series. The series was pedestrian but worth an occasional smile. MacBride was always given the “under-cover” assignment to learn more about the characters being investigated—usually for murder.

  16. Thanks for sharing this lovely story! And including the detail of "finding cover in the power tools." I think that's something to which we can all relate:)

    I recently stopped at a store to purchse pantyhose and there was a woman taking her time making her own hosiery selection, so I found some nearby anonymous object or other and feigned interest until she finally left. I wish I had the courage to take my desired hose from the rack while she was still there and to strike up a conversation about our legwear choices. Maybe someday...