Fascinating and Fashionable: Peter and Cathy, A Sewer and his Muse

I’ve been friends with Peter for several years and read his blog, Male Pattern Boldness, for even longer. His focus is on sewing and related topics, but he writes thoughtfully and frequently about body image, pop culture, style trends, and consumer ethics. Although I’ve never met Cathy, I’ve always been fascinated by Peter’s interest in sewing for her … and for women in general. (You may notice an uncanny resemblance between the two of them!) So I requested an interview to find out more. Let’s hear from Peter and Cathy!

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Could you describe your relationship to Cathy?
I call Cathy my identical cousin (inspired originally from the Sixties sitcom “The Patty Duke Show.”) Is Cathy really my identical cousin? I think anyone looking at us side by side can see that while we’re strikingly similar in appearance, we are definitely not identical. For starters, Cathy is much younger!

What prompted you to begin sewing clothes for her?
True story: When I had just started sewing in 2009, I was walking down the street one night in my neighborhood when i stumbled upon four bolts of black fabric on the sidewalk near the curb where people leave their trash on trash pick-up nights here in NYC. I brought the fabric home and decided I’d make an LBD (little black dress) with some of it, since there was in an LBD competition on a sewing website I am active on called “Pattern Review.” Naturally I needed somebody to model the dress for me, and just my luck, my cousin Cathy was available! (You can the results of our very first modeling session here.)

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Since then, Cathy and I have done more than twenty photo shoots of outfits I’ve made for her, nearly all from vintage sewing patterns I’ve bought online. Cathy has modeled everything from a chiffon Twenties flapper dress to late Fifties maternity! (Cathy had her first child late last summer: A baby girl named — what else — Simplicity.)

As best I can, I’ve tried to assemble period-appropriate accessories (on a pretty tight budget) for our shoots. With the help of my local Salvation Army and the Chelsea flea market on weekends, I think we’’ve done pretty well. Thankfully Cathy wears a 9 or 9 ½ shoe, which is not hard to find.

You sew for yourself, too. What interests you about creating clothing for a woman’s figure?
It isn’t so much a woman’s figure per se that interests me as much as the huge range of styles and garments — and identities — available to women. Let’s face it: when it comes to men’s clothing, it’s pretty much just pants and shirts, and there’s not a whole lot of variation for most men. Are there exceptions to this standard male uniform? Of course there are, but most American men don’t wear kilts, tights, caftans, ponchos, pirate shirts, turbans, or any of the other garments that you might see men wear if you live in a big city or watch a lot of adventure movies.

What’s your favorite garment or outfit you’ve created for Cathy?
It’s really hard say because I’m fond of all of them. I think Cathy’s 1940’s playsuit turned out especially well and we really had a lot of fun photographing it during Fleet Week here in NYC:

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Cathy’s vintage Forties reversible two-piece swimsuit – which she modeled on the beach in Provincetown, Massachusetts last summer – certainly raised a lot of eyebrows, especially as my cousin had only just given birth but looked as toned as any Hollywood starlet.

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Any advice for people who would like to create and/or wear clothing that’s designed for a sex or gender other than their own?
As far as creating the clothes, it helps tremendously to know how to sew. Vintage patterns are readily available on sites like Etsy and eBay, where I’ve found most of mine. Prices vary but it’s not hard to find a simple design from, say, the 1950’s, for less than $15. If you can’t sew, thrift stores and many flea markets are great places to find fashions from the past. You’ll have better luck finding true vintage at vintage clothing shops but naturally you’ll have to pay more too. There are so many blogs written by women who wear vintage who don’t sew but who have a love for, say, the 1940’s, and have learned how to put a period look together inexpensively. These days, it’s not hard to find contemporary clothing that echoes styles of the past. (In fact, most does.)

As far advice about wearing clothing designed for another gender, it all depends. Today it’s not unusual to see images of men (if not the actual men themselves) who like to wear women’s clothing but who aren’t trying to look like women. They feel more comfortable wearing skirts, for example, or find high heels sexy. There are many different reasons for wanting to wear the clothing of the opposite gender (not that gender is solely a question of opposites; its actually quite fluid for many people), and most of them have nothing to do with “passing” as a member of a gender other than one’s own.

I think people should wear whatever they feel comfortable wearing, regardless of the whether the garment is strongly gendered or not: It’s really nobody’s business but the person wearing it. It may give us satisfaction to know that others find what we wear and how we look to be pleasing, but it’s not our job to please others. (Unless we’re literally being paid for our efforts; most of us are not.)

If you are a man who wishes to wear women’s clothes in order to pass as a woman, it helps to keep your face stubble-free, choose a foundation as close to your skin tone as possible, and, please, go easy on the lip liner! 😉

Any questions about me (Peter) or Cathy? We’re happy to answer them!

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16 Responses to “Fascinating and Fashionable: Peter and Cathy, A Sewer and his Muse”

  1. Michelle

    Love Peter and Cathy. Thank you so much for pushing the envelope. We should all be so free.

  2. K-Line

    Peter is a blogger gem! His posts are amongst the most thoughtful I have ever come across and he’s hilarious. And he sews well. This is a terrific profile, Sally.

  3. jo

    Hello Peter, I’m someone who is very interested in men getting more variety in their fashion. So my question is: Why do you feel the need to create female persona in order to wear feminine-inspired clothing? Would you like to incorporate more feminine styles into your normal wear, but fear homophobic backlash?

    • Peter

      Excellent question, Jo!

      I’ve tried on many of Cathy’s outfits and I look like a man in women’s clothes — which is fine but not something I think flatters me. Cathy pulls it off with aplomb and joy, however.

      There does seem to be backlash toward men — gay, straight, and everything in-between — who don women’s clothes. I don’t think it’s homophobic as much as anti-female: i.e., a man in women’s clothes is surrendering a piece of his masculinity, which in our culture is — paradoxically — both the ultimate symbol of male power and fragile as a soap bubble: otherwise why would it be threatened by a wig or pair of nylons?

      It’s complicated and probably pushes different buttons in different people. I think there’s an authoritarian-type personality (i.e., someone extremely comfortable with the traditional hierarchy of power in our society) who is unsettled by the upending of clearly proscribed gender roles — i.e., a man should act like “man” and a woman a “woman.”

      Hope that answers you question, at least in part!

        • LinB

          Not all men are threatened by nylons! In the 1980s, Leggs experimented briefly with knitting up panty-hose for men — three “legged”, sort of — when they picked up on a small demographic of he-men who were buying up all the queen-sized hose in a certain market. The guys wore them under hunting clothes, for light-weight insulation. The men claimed that they stayed warmer, longer, when duck and deer hunting, which involve lots of sitting still. My dad tried it, but they made him too hot: he’s a quail hunter, which involves lots of walking. He brought home a sample pair of the unusual undergarment to show us. Don’t think it ever made it to the mainstream. The Hanes brand researchers were Dad’s customers in his barber chair. Sometimes they paid him in pantyhose, which was nice for the three women in the family.

  4. Chelsea

    Great interview. It’s interesting that traditional American male clothes are so easy, but on the flipside, so boring!

  5. D

    I always enjoy reading Peter’s wonderful blog, thank you for the interview!

  6. Molly

    I love this, Sal–what a great stop on your mission of body and style love. Thank you for including Peter and Cathy!

  7. Rebecca Grace

    The interview was a great idea, and very well done. Although I don’t do the same kinds of sewing that Peter does, I love reading his blog for all the reasons you mentioned — his interesting takes on the world, on fashion, culture, gender, and his terrific sense of humor. I can’t wait to see where he and Cathy take us next!

  8. Ripple Dandelion

    If Peter didn’t exist, how could we possibly invent him? A true original, as well as warm, human, kind and endlessly interesting.

  9. Rachel

    Love this interview! Peter is charming as ever and Cathy looks wonderful in everything he sews for her. <3

  10. Thursday

    Great interview, I love both Peter and Cathy’s adventures. His blog has been a must-read since I discovered it via Already Pretty!