Reclaiming a label with a label
Names matter. Labels matter. No one knows this better than Crytal González and Ivette Alé, partners in life and in a new clothing venture. When Crystal, a Cuban American daughter of a Marielito family and a masculine-identified woman, shared her business vision with Ivette, she knew exactly what she wanted to call it. She could not imagine naming her masculine clothing line for female and transgender bodies anything but Marimacho, the Spanish term for dyke. Ivette, a rockabilly diva with ample experience in fashion merchandising, agreed. The name allowed the queer couple to reclaim, redefine, and repurpose the Spanish term.
In fact these women have been redefining, reclaiming, and repurposing fashion for as long as they can remember. Ivette, who was born in Cuba and immigrated to the United States when she was 4, recalls shopping at thrift stores and making style out of very little when she was growing up in the O.C. “Because I shopped at thrift stores, I did not have to conform to a particular aesthetic. I remember one year I fell in love with this pair of antique lace boots and I asked my mom to buy them for me. I was the only kid in school wearing these Victorian boots.” Crystal faced a similar struggle when she began identifying as a masculine woman during college. Shopping for clothing that fit and fit in a way that rang true to her gender identity required much ingenuity. “It’s been a slow process to collect pieces that I really like, which is probably the case with most masculine women.” As much became clear during a recent shopping spree we took to Atlantic Mall in Brooklyn. When tailoring a comfortable queer identity, things some might take for granted – the designs of available bathing suits, the way a shirt buttons – suddenly matter a whole lot.
Shopping with Marimacho
Since I had no clue about being a masculine-identified woman or dressing like one, Ivette and Crystal graciously schooled me on the subject. We met at Altantic Avenue Mall early Saturday morning. As soon as I met Crystal and Ivette, I was hooked on the two. Sharp, witty, and fabulously clad, they immediately took control of our little excursion. First up was Men’s Warehouse, a store that announces its heteronormativity right in its name.
Before going in, Crystal stopped me to explain, “If you look discretely around, you can see that there’s an army of salespeople all staring at us. This is something that happens a lot when you go into men’s stores like this. Sometimes it can be a little uncomfortable, like when they are watching you try stuff on. Sometimes you get a weird look or something. The whole thing is uncomfortable.” Women’s clothing stores are no better; even in a city as diverse as New York city, you’ll have an easier time finding a chicken suit for your Chihuahua than a boutique where a person with non-normative gender expression can feel comfortable.
Crystal could not imagine naming her masculine clothing line for female and transgender bodies anything but Marimacho, the Spanish term for dyke.
Between Men’s Warehouse and Target, I learned about some of the problems a masculine-identified woman may face when dressing in style. Men’s shoulders don’t fit. Blazers end up looking like awkward knee length dresses; the buttons from the little boys’ shirts suffocate even the smallest boobs (and if you’ve ever had a button pop after wolfing down one too many gorditas, you know how dangerous such a tight fit can be). Bathing suits were particularly challenging, as they are the most public signifier of gender worn. Some women wear sport bras and shirts, but to Crystal and Ivette this is not enough. They solve the problem with a swimsuit inspired in the swimsuits worn by men in the 1920s, sleek and masculine, trendsetting.
At the end of the day, this line is pure fashion. As Ivette, who is also the line’s head designer, emphasized during our spree, “We make fashion.” Ivette draws inspiration for her pieces from the queer subculture, pushing the envelope of what they see on the streets, on the ground. She also admits that music, super important for a chica who grew up steeped in the rockabilly scene, also define her and the clothes she envisions.
Marimacho’s aesthetic appeals to a wide audience. I want every single piece in their Spring/Summer collection and particularly their Brooklyn Blazer and Brooklyn Vest. The entire collection perfectly suits masculine-identified women, women with boy-shaped figures, or any woman who wants to add masculine pieces to their wardrobe that fit to perfection. This season’s Steampunk collection, which is available online at marimachobk.com, reeks of what I imagine a Pachuca would wear if she was a card-carrying member of the Jane Austen club.
I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t salivate over at least one garment after seeing the collection. (Take a look!) Before parting ways, I couldn’t help but ask the Marimacho ladies about the identities they embody, and particularly about being queer and Latina. Crystal’s response reveals that she puts as much thought into her identity as she does her clothing line, “Being queer and Latino is different than just being ‘queer’ or just being ‘Latino.’ There are unique issues that emerge at the intersection of the two, and for me, they have manifested in subtle ways. It is difficult to find spaces that adequately recognize all of these identities- e.g. the uncomfortable stares Ivette and I may receive at a ‘straight’ Latino club versus queer spaces that assume a certain set of cultural and social references. We have found that we have to create those spaces for ourselves.”
Marimacho is one of those spaces that promise to turn all sorts of labels on their head.*
*Editor’s Note: To check out their awesome response to the New York Daily News’ misuse of labels in their coverage of Marimacho, go here.