Rachel Tutera is like any other style blogger. She posts photos of her outfits, offers shopping advice, and shares details about planning her wedding. She's even been profiled for her sartorial sense by The New York Times. But make no mistake, Tutera is not merely some fashion week front-row hopper. The 29-year-old voice behind The Handsome Butch is proudly queer and she writes to offer inspiration to those who are inventing new rules when it comes to identity and fashion.
When you first meet the Brooklynite or see a photo of her on Instagram (@RTUTERA, where she goes by the name "Mr. Rachel Tutera"), you'll be struck by her big brown eyes, well-groomed brows, and porcelain skin. Those features are complimented by her close-cropped hair (much like Brad Pitt's slicked-back top with shaved sides) and dapper men's wardrobe.
Tutera's story is about to reach a much greater audience. She just became the subject of a documentary helmed by director Jason Benjamin (who has worked as a boom operator on Orange Is the New Black, Girls, and Sex & The City) along with Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner's company, A Casual Romance Productions. But before she makes it to the screen, we thought we'd give you a proper introduction.
Lauren Levinson: Why did you start The Handsome Butch?
Rachel Tutera: I started The Handsome Butch because I could relate to the experiences of folks navigating retail landscapes that didn't welcome them. I wanted to create a resource or reference guide (non-practicing librarian over here) for my handsome brothers and sisters. At the top of the blog's page, it says, "In case you ever forget I'm here to remind you that you have the right to be handsome." My goal is to help visitors feel empowered and understood.
LL: You are known for wearing bespoke men's suits. What about them do you like?
RT: I wouldn't characterize my wearing men's suits as something I like to do as much as I don't know what the alternative would be. It's already a mainstream fashion trend for feminine women to wear menswear-inspired clothing. Tomboy style is alive and well and I think it's a very good look, but it's not the same thing as when masculine women wear menswear.
LL: How would you describe your fashion style?
RT: My aesthetic is pretty classic, clean-cut and slightly rugged. I wear variations of a monochromatic, gentlemanly uniform based on either navy khakis or Levi's 508s (much more comfortable than too too-slim-for-me 511), a blue button-down shirt, a wool sweater and boots (lately Timberland Abington x Woolrich or Red Wings).
LL: Have you always worn men's clothes?
RT: I am blessed to have a family that was supportive and underwhelmed when I attempted to come out to them. Illustrative of this: About a decade ago, my then-teenage brother was doing laps in a pool, and I yelled out to him, "Hey, Teddy! Do you know I'm gay?" to which he replied — by pausing his breast stroke — and saying "Yep!" Then nonchalantly got back to swimming.
But I did have to come out to my family as, for lack of a better word, "masculine." Sure, they all recalled my childhood uniform of New York Knicks jerseys (John Starks forever), which eventually transitioned into my adolescence of flannels. But there was definitely a moment when I was 25 and felt like I had to state that I couldn't have 1.5 versions of myself exist in the world, the additional .5 existing just to make other folks (instead of myself) comfortable. I created that .5 to lessen the amount of contact folks had to have with my form of masculinity.
LL: How do you describe your gender?
RT: Gender is experienced in a variety of ways — not just two ways: masculinity and femininity. I would describe my gender as being rooted in the fact that I'm a woman, while also acknowledging that my gender shares certain realities with a variety of other genders across the spectrum.
LL: Tell us more about your engagement and fiancée!
RT: Yes, I'm engaged. I actually didn't propose! My fiancée (still getting used to the sound of that!) proposed to me while we were in Thailand in December. She packed a ring in our luggage, so I unwittingly carried my future engagement band around on my own back as we traveled from New York to China, from China to Bangkok, and then on a 15-hour train ride from Bangkok to an island.
My partner is feminine and lovely, and has spent as much time thinking about her gender as I have mine. We don't spend time processing our genders together anymore, but we do encourage each other to feel our best and sometimes that's manifested in how we dress, and other times it isn't. Something I love about her is how she's the kind of person who has a natural ability to upgrade ordinary things and make them beautiful — like how she put our toothbrushes in a teacup she bought in Morocco. I also love that she's the household handyman (I'd really rather say "handybabe" but probably "handyperson" is best) and that I often come home to her using a drill and wearing a top knot like it's no big deal. (It's a big deal to me.)
LL: What do you plan on wearing to your wedding?
RT: A suit. I'm going to have a new one made special. We're not getting married until the summer of 2015, which gives me plenty of time to meditate over wools.
LL: What is your advice to others to feel comfortable with their own bodies and style?
RT: My friend Jamie who runs The Test Shot once said, "You can dress braver than you feel." I think that this is something that will resonate with anyone who has a body, not just folks with queer bodies. My advice is not to follow "the rules" or to impose any on yourself. The "I'm too X to wear Y" mentality that we have all at some time or another absorbed from around us; it can be unlearned. That's how I felt as I approached menswear with my body. If you dress (and therefore act) braver than you feel, you'll grow into that braver version of yourself.