Societial expectations pressurize young girls to wear feminine outfits over gender-neutral clothing. Purino/Shutterstock.com
Michele Yulo is a mother to her gender non-conforming daughter, Gabi, who wanted to wear a tux to her violin recital. Her daughter’s request later came to inspire a Kickstarter campaign, SUIT HER.
“Women wear suits and it is not only acceptable, but stylish. Why can’t little girls? They should not have to wear a suit that is too broad in the shoulders, short in the arms and baggy in the pants. In short, they shouldn’t have to wear a suit that isn’t tailored for their bodies,” Michele Yulo says on her Kickstarter page.
“My story begins with my daughter who is now 10 years old. At age three, she began to make her own choices about the clothing she wanted to wear. She did not like pink and she did not like sparkles. She liked bright and bold colors. She liked things not found in typical girls’ departments.”
Gabi is not transgender. “You don’t have to be transgender,” Yulo tells Glammonitor. “Why do we want these kids to all look exactly the same when one has the guts to get out there and mix things up?”
But it was difficult to mix things up, because Yulo couldn’t find a tux for her daughter. SUIT HER was born out of the desire for girls’ options. Yulo founded a line of diverse suits for girls aged five to 12, with seven sizes in each.
“When you do go out and look for suits for girls, it’s almost impossible to find. And if you do, you’re not getting any depth,” she says.
This isn’t the first time Yulo has advocated for inclusive products for girls. She also started Princess Free Zone, which she says is a “brand, blog and website” for girls like her daughter, who prefer “race cars, building toys and super heroes” to princesses and other “traditionally girly” items. And through Princess Free Zone, she published a book entitled Super Tool Lula: The Kind Warrior, which follows a young woman who likes to help her father with fixing things at home.
“I just was very, very frustrated by the choices out there for girls, because I have a little girl who just didn’t go for the typical, feminine, whatever you want to call it. I think over the last few decades, a lot of that has just been narrowed for girls,” Yulo says.
“I grew up in the ‘70s and it wasn’t like that. We wore primary colors and jeans—there just wasn’t this very demarcated way at the time. Now, if you’re not into the ‘girly stuff’ and you go out into the world as a child, you’re questioned right away. People have questioned my daughter since she was four.”
Yulo realized the necessary effort that her project required, so she hired a fashion designer and a manufacturer to help her turn her vision into reality. She hired Karen Patwa of Dangerous Mathematicians, a company that creates suits for women, and NYC-based female-powered company Julie Hutton, Inc. that uses six factories in Manhattan.
Dangerous Mathematicians’ flagship store opened in 2006 on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, offering professionally tailored attire for “smart women.” In 2007, the company created its first wedding suits for women. In 2010, Dangerous Mathematicians relocated to Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, shifting its focus fully to custom-designed tailored suits.
“We were doing wedding work to celebrate all kinds of love and commitment regardless of government activity. However, once gay weddings came with actual state-sanctioned rights, the number of people interested in marriage, and therefore, our product, increased,” says Patwa, who doubles as a physics teacher. “We were one of the first companies to shape the aesthetics of gay weddings, and continued to develop those aesthetics in a more public way after gay marriage was legalized.”
Patwa says that one of her models introduced her to Yulo, thinking that their respective visions of female empowerment and suit aesthetics could find some common ground.
“When Michele and I spoke, we immediately realized that our missions are very similar,” she says. “I totally support the vision that Michele has for young girls. The suit is a time-tested representation of power and elegance. Women and girls should also have access to that representation in their own versions of tailored suits.”
Hutton, who started in the industry more than 20 years ago, said there are challenges associated with launching a new product as start-ups need to manufacture domestically.
“I have factories in China, but they are not suitable for new launches. You have to be in the factory, in the cutting room, know the right fabric supplier, work with the pattern-maker and so on and so on,” she explains.
“There is no proper supply chain here in the USA. Every step you take you have to do yourself…[But] I only take on clients whose ideas I think have a good chance of succeeding, and Michele defines that. All she needs to do is to market it, and the product will take care of itself because it’s fabulous.”
Yulo says that she decided to “go big or go home” with her product.
“Some people are just never going to get it. I think we need to accept that and just move forward because there are plenty of girls out there who would wear suits,” she says. “Maybe they don’t even know. I think a lot of girls don’t even realize that they have those options. They’re stuck in that princess mode, and don’t even know those other options, and then it’s too late.”
Yulo designed three suits: one is more of a casual style, with a military look, the second suit is more of a classic style and the third is the tux look. The initial collection will offer three different looks: The General She (casual), The Classic She (semi-formal) and The She-She (formal).
“This campaign is going to open up design possibilities for girls. But it is not just about a girl wearing a suit. It is about changing the way we think about what girls ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ wear, and what girls ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ be. It’s about giving them options,” Patwa says.
Yulo offers different options to make the possibilities even greater, including pants, shorts and skirt bottoms. If she makes it beyond her pledged goal of $90,000 by September 20, she would like to include a red or patterned suit as well.
In addition, Yulo will offer a white, Oxford-style, button-down long-sleeved shirt. She has also teamed up with Cyberoptix Tie Lab to offer unique silkscreen designs that will retail separately.
Once the campaign has ended, it will take approximately six months to get from sketches and designs to the final product, manufacturing and shipping.
Gender is a spectrum and some girls like dresses, others like suits, others like both.
“It’s very broad. We just narrowed those boundaries that I think children are so restricted in terms of self-expression and what they feel they can go out in; and then they go out in the world and that’s what they see,” says Yulo.
“They see it in the media, on television, in advertising, in the stores. Their parents see it. Their parents reinforce it, and then it’s done. And then they hit 18 and they want to go out in the world differently, and it’s this big huge thing. I’m trying to make that jump a little earlier.”