Butch Designs Hit the Runway

by Heather Cassell

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday February 28, 2013

There was a buzz in the air that intensified as the night inched closer to the opening of the first-ever ButchLYFE: All Stud Fashion Show on Feb. 22.

Guests poured into the exhibition hall and showroom after waiting more than an hour in a line that wrapped around the block in downtown Oakland, Calif. excited to see designs about to be unveiled for the first time.

The event started 45-minutes late due to the unexpected turnout to the sold out event that left standing room only for those who didn't buy tickets early.

"The response for this event has been tremendous," said Chaney Turner, co-producer of the ButchLyfe Fashion Show, telling EDGE before the show that there hasn't been an event of this caliber for masculine identified women and trans men. "I feel really excited about it."

From Boxers to Streetwear

Eight designers - mostly from the San Francisco Bay Area with a few from around the U.S. - took their designs from accessories, boxers, classic suits and street wear to the runway before an enthusiastic crowd of 500 onlookers.

The butch and trans men models displayed up to eight of the each designer’s current lines of clothes to the delight of the crowd. Many of the designers were local, but a few were from other parts of the U.S.

The new lines of clothing were designed by-and-for them by Cover Your Assets, Haute Butch, I Love All My Fans, Immigreat Bowties, JFE Creative, Lady Lovers, Saint Harridan, Show and Tell and Tomboy Fresh.

The crowd went wild for nearly all of the different styles of clothes, but when a model came out in only a robe and dropped it to reveal boxers and boldly walked down the catwalk with pasties covering her nipples, the room roared and flashes went off like rapid fire.

The hour and a half long show that included performances by rapper Billie Jr., God Des and She and DJ Fusion was followed by an after-party at the Bridge inside the Den in downtown Oakland.

Friday’s show was the fourth in a series of fashion shows produced by Fallon Davis and her co-creator and girlfriend, Adjoa Courtney, a 29-year-old lesbian, as a part of their platform What is Butch? Campaign. Davis, a 23-year-old fashion industry insider from New York City, launched in New York and brought the show to Atlanta, Ga.; Orlando, Fla.; North Carolina in recent months.

The What is Butch? Campaign is a platform to educate and eradicate misperceptions and stereotypes imposed by society about the "dominant lesbian lifestyle," according to the campaign’s mission statement.


Not too long ago, butch or masculine-of-center women and trans men weren’t very visible, but in recent years androgyny has made a comeback. Women who are considered tomboys and trans men have slowly begun to appear in the spotlight.

Davis attributes the new acceptance of butch women, who call themselves everything from masculine-of-center, tomboys and stud to name a few terms they use to a "change in history" and "mindset," she said.

"It’s just a time in history where it’s there and it’s needed [and] it’s been needed," said Davis. "Now is the time. I think that’s what’s really going on."

Mary Going, founder and managing partner of Saint Harridan, agreed.

"We’ve always existed, but we were always having to work on our basic safety [and] basic needs," said Going, a 46-year-old lesbian.

She believes the shift in recent history is due to the fact that butch women and trans men have "gained enough civil rights, enough visibility in the community and there’s enough of us" for them to safely begin to be and express themselves. One of those ways they are expressing themselves is in their desire to wear a suit or masculine styled clothing that fits their body.

Tomboy Style

Davis saw how bigger design houses were using androgynous models in their advertising and marketing campaigns. Once those images hit the streets she believes it tapped into a collective nerve among non-gender conforming women and trans men igniting a spark for a new movement in fashion that has exploded within the past year.

It definitely hit her nerve. She decided to combine her life experience as a self-identified dominant lesbian and her work in the fashion industry and marketing to create the What is Butch? Campaign. As CEO of F-L-Y Society Ent., she and her team found the designers, created the marketing campaign and partnerships to take the show on the road after its success in New York City.

Going tapped that same nerve last year with her Kickstarter campaign to produce the first 120 suits for Saint Harridan. The online effort raised $137,562 from 1,108 supporters, according the online store’s crowdfunding campaign page. She told the Bay Area Reporter that she also gained potential investors.

Her team at Saint Harridan is currently working on developing the ready-to-wear suits to deliver to its first customers, said Going, who received her MBA from Mills College. After the first orders are completed, she plans to open up pre-sales on the boutique’s online store.

Others felt it and also responded creating a pool of independent designers across the country developing brands and lines of clothing to meet tomboys’ fashion needs.

"It’s been a long time coming and we can just feel the buzz in the air [and] the excitement," said Karen Roberts, co-founder, designer and director of Haute Butch, about the handful of designers that are "hitting" at the "right time and attempting to bring people what they want."

Haute Butch designs dressy wear and suits along with casual clothing.

"The excitement and the joy that we have choices and that we are being placed on a platform where we can be visible is beautiful," said Roberts about the excitement and comradery between the designers.

The next fashion show, Butchism: A Dominant Women’s Philosophy, will return to Philadelphia, Penn. on Mar. 3 at the Arts Garage. Like all of the other shows it is expected to sell out too.

To find out where Davis plans to take the fashion show next, visit www.facebook.com/studfashionshow2012.

The ButchLyfe fashion show was co-produced by the F-L-Y Society Ent. and fiveTEN Oakland Events.

Heather Cassell is a freelance journalist and travel writer with more than 20 years experience covering LGBT and women's issues. When Heather isn't wandering off learning and writing about women's and LGBT issues, she covers business, health and other news for a number of publications as well as the syndicated "Out in the World" international LGBT news column.

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