Oct 29, 2009

Petra’s Pantyhose Parade – The Softer Side of Sheers

Well my lovelies, those were some heights I attempted to climb earlier this week. The air was pretty thin up there above the theoretical clouds.Stretched as I was by the whole effort, I suffered a pulmonary edema on my descent which required some attention to my circulatory system.

Well nothing quite so right for the circulation than a nice new pair of control tops, and so, thankfully here on Thursday, it is time to ponder on and prose about the nearly weightless but always enduring virtues of pantyhose.

The softer side of … North American readers may remember this line as a Sears campaign from the distant past. Many of us think of Sears as a fine place for tools and appliances, and perhaps a little less fine a place for items of fashion. That was certainly, and remains the case for me. The stores suffer from a pedestrian selection of styles, laboratory quality lighting, and sight lines that extend unbroken over vast prairies of indifference to expressions of style. Not ideal shopping environments in my view. However, given that the Sears catalog was my original passport into the world of feminine foundation garments, it felt like time to give this grand old dame a try.

As is the case with most general merchandisers in these hard times, there was not much in the way of sales assistance on the floor, but I am a fairly independent shopper, and found the Sears private label
Nice Touch SlimShapers without too much trouble. The sales assistant at the cash register was a complete sweetheart and warmly welcoming of the drab fellow with the nice tights and a fistful of cash. Practically begged me to come back and shop with her anytime. That wins points with Petra.

How much cash? Not much. The Slim Shaper Control Sheers clock in at a mere $5.50, which set me up for an expectation of reasonable quality, but not much of a fashion and feel experience. Now, home for the trials.

This is a day sheer I would guess somewhere in the 15-20 denier range, that can stretch into evening, not a super-special evening, but a nice night in a good outfit. A highly reinforced toe promises durability, and limits us to closed toe shoes, but our choices are still rich within those pointy confines. The leg portion is a run resistant 11% Lycra with good, clingy memory and a surprisingly luxurious, comfortable, and cool feel. Great feel in fact to both the leg and the hand, and again, unexpectedly so for the price. They have a subtle matte finish, but in very direct light give off a just a faint glimmer at the defined lines of the leg. Again, not, red carpet ready, but dressy enough for most outings.

It is up top in the highly reinforced panty portion that these smoothers really come to life though. Seams are well finished, and the overall effect is sleek and attractive. An extra front panel flattens and smooths without over constricting. And credit to these pretties for the absolutely unnecessary and entirely adorable lace detail effect at the thigh top. They possess a class of construction quality and function that stands out in any price bracket. The closest panty portion I have worn in the last year comes from Donna Karan’s’ Maximum Controls which retail at 3X of the price of our Sears entry. Terrific value for the money.

There really is nothing to pick negatively at here. Cared for, they will last. When on, they look elegant and feel like a little indulgence. The fit is superb, with a caution: Please be sure to go up a size if you are close to the margins on the height and weight chart, particularly if you are tallish. Yes, the packaging could be a little sexier, and the web site navigation is terrible, but these are concerns that disappear like so many blemishes beneath a fine, flattering sheer yarn.

And so, to the rankings. The Nice Touch line of pantyhose stride proudly up onto my personal Podium, missing the gold standard by inches, and toeing out current Silver medal holder, Calvin Klein by the slenderest of threads, 196.4 to 194.0 Petra Points. Our new top 3 are featured here.

It has been a while since I tested out so high ranking a pair, and it is a really refreshing moment for me. The Hanes Silky Sheers remain safely atop the rustling range of contenders in my top drawer. The Hanes just possess a certain je ne sais quoi relative to the Nice Touch sheers that keeps them on top, and never too far from reach. Can’t put my finger on it exactly, just something about the intensity of their aura. But silver is nice too, no?, and I have a new brand and venue to explore further. Competition and choice are wonderful things, yes?

A hearty endorsement all around. And my circulation seems to be back to (what passes for me as) normal. If you are looking to complete a Halloween ensemble you could barely do better, and with the Sears Nice Touch not taking too big a bite out of your purse, perhaps have a little spare cash to buy a nice girl a drink this weekend.

Happy dressing, Halloween and everything else….

Oct 27, 2009

Cross Dressing Canvas - Part 2

Dear friends, I had no intention of writing a whole 2-part big deal here, but I seemed to have accidentally struck a bit of a thought gusher, and it seems to have splashed onto your monitor. Bear with me. I should be able to tidy things up today. Part 1 of this rambling epistle is nestled directly beneath this post. Scroll down and take a read if you like. Of course, the epically lazy amongst you may simply prefer to click here.

To net out the prior post, I will say that I have come to a grudging and late belief that the people who imagine, design, build and market the clothes that we wear are involved in an artistic, or at least creative endeavour. There. Everyone caught up? Good. Now, proceeding. What about all the rest of us who dress? And particularly those of us who cross dress.

This line of thinking started for me in earnest the other day when I received a nice couple of comments about my description of a recent dressing up experience. One of the notes came from a dedicated fashionista, a genetic female who said more or less “ …makes me wish I had an occasion to don my finery right now!...”

I pondered that a bit. All of us dress each day in something. There is a certain amount of routine about it, and routines lose their ability to capture your attention. Dressing becomes very functional, and not attached to any particular magic. But even at the most routine level, choices are being made that reflect something you want to show to the world. At some level, our ad hoc selections are acts of creative expression. We paint and present ourselves to the world each day, and some days with a little more consideration and pride than other days.

But for the periodic cross dresser, and for anyone, anywhere in between the opposite ends of the gender expression continuum, well, dressing is special. I believe, from my thinking and reading and corresponding with a handful of friends made here online that most M2F cross dressers are exploring that sense of gender. I sense as well that all of us to some degree are expressing a creative drive too. For me, I am beginning to see the creative side of this life as more central to my dressing than any sense of uncertainty or unresolved curiosity about my own gender identity. I enjoy being a guy. I do guy stuff pretty competently. Life is simple and I like simple.

O, but what a platform for creative expression cross dressing is. And what an array of media we get to work in.

Our bodies are clay. The under-layers that obscure some shapes, and build curves where there normally are none. The smoothing and cinching that happens here and there that molds the body into new shapes. This careful process, this first stage of my dressing ritual is surprising each time, and breathtaking too. From noticeably male to attractively female in shape, and there in the mirror. We are sculptors and models all at once.

Our clay is a form. And forms want adornment. The array of finishes from hosiery, to skirts, blouses, shoes, dresses, a much more endless array of drapery meant to display our form attractively, functionally, and perhaps even comfortably. The realms of choice multiply massively from the simple sets we work from in our more typical day-to-day lives. Some tragic choices are made, but as we get more skilled, and as our adornment better fits us and our images, the better the feelings. The clay beneath the drapery takes on a new life, our movement changes, postures smarten, and with each step, stretch and touch we are aware of our choices.

Our forms want finishing. The painting that changes and smoothes complexions, that adds definition to cheek lines, that amplifies the colors of our eyes, that makes our lips look and taste sweet and desirable. This transformation is perhaps the most heightened, and most demanding work of art we can labor at. Again, fraught with failure, but with practice or with help, done well, you become to yourself a familiar stranger, a newly possible self. Again, it can take a moment to get back to breathing again. But still, the next mirror will be sure to see you.

Our nearly finished selves are tapestries too. Final adornments, the hair, the belts, the bracelets, the nails, the scarves, the bags, these new things, taboo to guy-mode life, are a completely new and endlessly variable matrix of options that express us, and finally conceals the clay within. These elements compel new and changed ranges of motion, keeping your mouth clear of hair, handling keys and car doors, being sure to not derange everything that we have worked to create takes constant consideration.

Our finished, and feminized selves are now dancers, expressing with a new physicality. We must now perform, and to move like a man, to sit like one, to hold a glass as we normally do would spoil the illusion. So many of these reflexes require thought and response, and always moment to moment. Movement becomes with time more natural, but there is always a frontier of physical presence, for me at least, that requires attention, craft and consideration. These are complex and satisfying moments of learning and of performance.

And performance in public, is definitionally a creative art. I spent a good amount of my earlier years on stages. The nerves before the curtain went up never got slack. And the satisfaction, right in the moment, of realizing that the performance was being bought into, and perhaps appreciated was for me the primary reason to be there. The nerves and the curtain calls could not be separated. So it is when the door opens and we take on the world en femme. There are critics of course, and performances that fall flat, but the moments when our characters effectively occupy the space we are in, believably, plausibly, these moments are the curtain calls of this cross dressers life. We are sometimes extras lost on a huge set, and sometimes get speaking parts in smaller and more intimate theaters of sociability, but always performing. We are actors, and this too is an ancient and demanding art.

All of this together is a pretty deep immersion in a highly creative, expressive, artistic life. Few people get to be so deeply involved in such a life.

It surprises me to put all of these thoughts together and to realize that I am, and many of you are, unconsciously to some degree, really quite accomplished artists. You might see in your day to day life, like me, less of an outlet for these capabilities than cross dressing provides. I suppose that without really being aware of it myself, that much of the satisfaction, and elation I derive from being Petra comes from the truth that this taps into a pretty deep pool of creativity. Petra brings out a bit an artist. And that art satisfies a special part of my humanity, a humanity we all have at some level or other.

Regardless of what compels us to explore this part of ourselves, forces we cannot often fully understand, confronting those forces, exploring them, personalizing them, is a form of art. Each day is an opportunity for donning our finery after all. Lots of clay and canvas and performance spaces all around us.

Thanks for reading through this. I wish you artful lives. I hope you enjoy your art. Whatever medium you work in, for whatever audience you work and play for.

Oct 26, 2009

Cross Dressing Canvas - Part 1

Clothing is pretty central to cross dressing surely. It takes clothes to dress after all. Link # 1 established elegantly in a mere 15 words. Well done. Now for the bits thats are somewhat of a stretch, complete with a warning up front for you:

Much of what follows is about clothing in general, style to a degree, and at the outer edges, fashion. Not so much of it has to do with cross dressing per se. There you are, duly warned.

This essay is an attempt at better understanding the role that fashion plays in my life. It might be a bit of reach my dear friends, on a Monday morning with only a tiny flicker of light on this matter ‘tween my ears just now. But I am going to take a swing at it.

For the 95% of my time spent either buck naked for sleep, or drabbed up for the usual undertakings of my not secret life, I dress with a couple of thresholds in mind. Comfort yes, correct for the elements, warm, cold or wet. Of course some thought or reflex goes into not appearing oddly dressed, underdressed or overdressed for whatever business or social doings are being done, and for mere pride, cleanly. Absence of food stains, ink smudges and undue wrinkling subtly informs the near universe that you are not a total madman and perhaps deserving of a respectful hearing.

Every now and then, an occasion for a little more splendor, formality or effort will present. A wedding, a party, a funeral, or a bigger-than-normal business engagement that will require shinier shoes, a well considered shirt and tie match and, at the high end, the selection of a dapper pair of cuff links. On these increasingly rare occasions, functional dressing gets raised to a level of expression of pointedly, proud personal style.

We don’t dress up much these days, business-casual being the more or less global rule. Technology is so central to our work and lives, that it seems that the style ethos of the technology vendors sets the bar, and for us fellows at least, khakis and a smart shirt passes muster. Clothes do not make the man so much as they once did, and not so long ago either.

In my 20’s I was well creased, dark suited and smartly strangled at the neck 5 days a week. Clothing took a bigger bite of my wallet then, and of the wallets of workmates. In those times there was more room and a bigger demand for thought about personal style. I was proud and peacocky in my wardrobe and appearance in general. I aimed to be unique, unique enough to be noticed but not so much as to appear over-interested. I was suspicious about everything and everyone just over that fine line. Beyond style I felt was an odd world of fashion.

My social circle at that time were active in the arts, theater people, lots of TV types (television that is), PR and advertising folk, and most of them were style conscious, and au courant to a healthy degree. I periodically then rubbed elbows with people very much in the fashion business and very avante garde, and they struck me as having a screw or two slightly loose or mis-threaded. They took it all so seriously. They seemed to be possessed of an encyclopeadic knowing about what I thought to be a frothy merangue of not much. In conversation, they assumed that their passions were shared. I could nod and grin only as long as my glass was not emptied, which was never too long in hindsight.

I believed then that the fashion-obsessed had fallen into a trap and were being victimized by a malevolent industry optimized to prey on insecurities and machined to create demand for things with high prices and with low, and not long lived value.

One happy random night at a party somewhere in the 80’s, a woman tottered by me in a pair of what looked like bright red Converse hi-top laced-up basketball shoes glued somehow to a 4 or 5” stiletto heel. Caught my eye surely, and to a friend beside me, I opined:

“Fredericks of Hollywood has an athletic line now it seems”

Too loudly it seems. In this woman’s odd wake a male proto-fashionista glided by and, with a stereotypical hiss, bit back at me:

“ They’re Norma Kamali bitch*. Do you know anything?”

Truly a beautiful moment. I laughed aloud. I had been told clearly that I was not in the know, and not qualified to know either. This I took great comfort in. I really did not want to know. The ceaseless labor and worry I associated with being fashionable was just not in my suite of cares. I was alert to the traps and secure enough be free of them. Pity the fashionable I thought, for they have been bought.

The tide in my mind is turning now on the issue. I have started to find more and more merit in the world of fashion. The more seriously I investigate my cross dressing, the more I have come to understand how much my transformations into a different self is an inherently creative, even artistic undertaking.

Life is inherently artistic. Our bodies are the only canvas we have with us, always. Link # 2 in another 15 efficient words.

Our clothes are paints of a type. Some of us are driven to go beyond painting by the numbers, within the lines, and from a palette of primaries. Many of us who cross dress are surely driven to dress by some difference we have or feel with regard to gender and how we express it, but also I suspect that we are driven by some kernel of art within us that kindles our fires. Our acts of dressing are acts of creative expression, and moments spent nurturing, refining and satisfying an artistic muse within.

And as for the high priests and priestesses of the fashion worlds, perhaps they, at their very best, are not so different from painters, sculptors, poets and the like, posing to themselves a challenge against conventions and boundaries. Asking how to take what has influenced them in the past, make it new for the present, and perhaps leave something of interest to the future.

Perhaps, therefore, fashion is not all fluff, trick lighting and deception.

I will attempt in Part 2 to make more sense of this for me, and for the undoubtedly few of you who have made it this far, who perhaps share my muse on the matter.

Happy dressing - Petra

* this was the mid-late 80's. Norma was not on the shelves at Wal-Mart then.
photo credit - Jonathan Saunders Spring 2009 - Thanks Carrie!

Oct 22, 2009


Dear friends and odd followers of these Voyages may agree and not take offense if I suggest that even the most well adjusted cross dresser has moments of what we shall lightly call agony. If not agony, then at least self doubt and a desire for more simplicity or openness about our habits.

I have had a bit of this mixed in recently with the other agonies associated with my previously documented
flood. The threat of more drenching now seems past, and putting everything back where it was seems now do-able, if not for Thanksgiving, then at least for Christmas time. With some extra labor, at the expense of dressing and blogging time, I have got my professional life back on track and under control. So perhaps now is a fine time to blog about the other stuff. Therapeutics as the sign says.

Autumn weather is upon us, and we even frosted in Georgia earlier this week which helps sharpen the senses. We now have perfect weather to get into clingy things head-to-toe and go walkabout en femme. Halloween is just around the corner too. Thoughts of public devilment and the general free pass for kink that 31 October implies bubble up. The stores are packed with beautiful clothes, and the whole knits / tights / boots theme showing in so many windows caters nicely (in my view) to the cross dressing community's fashion limits. Lastly, retail sales being weak owing to general economic issues, there are lots of steals and deals to be had for the girl on a budget.

And there I was at the start of the week with my wardrobe, wigs, and all-too-necessary padding literally buried beneath an avalanche of mattresses, duvets, pillows, futons, and a few closets worth of off-season clothing.

Put the lure of the season together with all the tools of my trade being oh so tantalizingly out of reach, add a month of unscheduled Drabbatical, and well, its crazy-making.

Yesterday I took steps to address the imbalance. Mrs. B had some client visits far enough out of town that I had time to act. It was a hell of a labor, but I managed to extricate the Petra-gear from the fiendish prison beneath all the flotsam. Or jetsam. I can never tell the two apart. Anyhow, I scraped a knuckle and hyperventilated but was able to take comfort in simply reintroducing myself to my darling things.

Minus the make-up I went full-Petra, and spent upwards of 6 hours dressed. My walk is still good, and the heels felt golden. My posture, upright and seated still adjusts quite nicely to feminine standards. Combing out the wig, shaking the long hair free, and feeling the tingle on my neck and shoulders was just as natural as breathing. And the breathing, a few electric moments after I pulled the zip up on my dress became calm, deep and comforting.

I took a couple of breaks for wardrobe changes but otherwise kept my productivity up on the project I am managing just now. Late in the day, I calmly drabbed down, and stored things away more accessibly in the attic.

Today, on a little bit of a roll, I took on a little shopping therapy. Ann Taylor was 60% off on a dress that I have been lusting after (pictured at right). Ann is normally out of my price league, but I simply could not resist treating myself. Fits like a glove. Not entirely sure when I will take my new friend out for a day on the town, but knowing its there, waiting, patiently for the right day helps settle my mind just that little bit more.

Thanks for the notes of concern and good wishes over these odd and trying weeks. Those notes have helped settle my mind and keep the potential for madness at bay. Nice to know you are there too.

More or less regular publication schedule resumes next week.

Happy dressing, and everything else.

Oct 14, 2009

Pumps, sensitivity and women.

Dear friends. My wardrobe remains buried safely but frustratingly beneath roughly a half ton or more of well, stuff, labored upstairs from our recently flooded basement. Sad to say, there has not been much in the way of cross dressing going on Chez Bellejambes.

I have though added to my collection of pumps lately, and they are getting a lot work. Unhappily, these are pumps of the submersible variety. Not at all as fun and beguiling as the shapely pumps that come in pairs and smarten up our postures just so. Given the continuing rain and the not yet fully receded potential for more damage to my home and belongings, I am resigned to devoting my unwandering thoughts and attention to these functional, practical, sensible pumps. Evidently a girl cannot have too many of either variety.

This entire episode has upended things rather dramatically. I lost a lot of daylight that I had planned to spend on a client project with an end of October deadline. The project has been grappled back into a state of relative submission, and this frees up some time for other things. Things like ripping up the basement floor for waterproofing and resurfacing. Things like trench digging, and plastering of foundations.

Not so much of the plastering, painting and parading of myself en femme. My exteriors are fully drab, and no change in that weather is in near sight.

But there is the interior life. Yogi Berra famously said of baseball that “90% of this game is half mental”. So it is with matters of cross dressing, at least 90% half-mental. Here is some half-mental for your consideration.

I read a great piece at Femulate in September called Girl Talk. Worth a read if you missed it the first time. Staci Lana spoke about how comfortable she had always felt in company of women and how their company was always more interesting to her then the company of men. She wrote about how much more natural, open, revealing and intimate women are with her when she is en femme. It really got me thinking and I am only now getting around to digging out my two pennies from purse bottom and offering them up.

My experiences are entirely similar. When en femme, I witness a whole battery of evolutionary and social adaptations to the presence of men just melt away. A subtle vigilance is given a rest. I get welcomed into a club. These are moments that are amongst my favorites. They are both a privilege, and a great lesson.

In my guy life I believe that I am pretty well attenuated and alert to the effects that gender has on how we interact with each other. I see many men fail epically in their attempts to win the confidence and trust of women in professional and social settings. Perhaps they are perceived to be trying to win something else, something tactical, something that happens after trust and confidence.

Trust and confidence is the thing that I have typically sought to earn first. These are the foundation elements, elements that are difficult to build when you are carrying an agenda. As a rule therefore I try to not carry an agenda, and this makes life easier for me. In my adult years I think of this behavior simply as respectful.

In younger, single years though, it came with a different label. Sensitive.

Sensitive sometimes lead to different, and typically unwelcomed outcomes. Trust often grew as some of the more male bits diminished. Metaphorically of course. The dreaded F word. … “you know I love you like a friend …”. There were days that I would have paid dearly, anything, to be thought of as whatever sensitive was not. When I tried to be otherwise, I simply could not pull it off. For long, anyhow, or without feeling like I was untrue to myself or hurtful to someone else.

So after all these years, and a little bit of thought, it feels good to be able to place that behavior in a broader context. Women are interesting, fascinating in fact, relative to men. I envy much about them, their looks, their lives, and choices. It is a real privilege to be trusted by women and to become more intimate with them, whether I am drabbed down, or en femme. Especially en femme though.

I wonder how closely related sensitivities like these are tied to my cross dressing. Regardless, I am glad that I have both. I am sure neither is going away anytime soon. I would miss them both dearly as I am missing the sun just now. How about you?

Happy dressing, and everything else…
Subscribe in a reader