I Am Feminine

red white and blue kat sundress

I am feminine. I want to be feminine. I like being feminine and looking feminine. However, I often struggle to feel like I look feminine. I delved into the major source of my struggles a bit when I talked about being tall, but it has been something I have struggled with since I was a young teen and first worrying about my appearance and presentation.

I find gender fascinating, even though I’ve never had to struggle with my own gender identity – I’m female and happily so. But I have many internal and external traits that are not considered feminine – I’m tall, I’m a scientist, I have broad shoulders, I like using power tools, I’m very analytical, I have huge feet – and sometimes I feel like others don’t see me as feminine, and that’s hard for me.

Irridescent green and pink rose ceylon

I’m still exploring what parts of feminine clothing appeal to me. I love wearing dresses and skirts all year round. I love miniskirts and maxi skirts and party dresses and sundresses. I don’t like wearing ruffles. I always love lace in theory (as my Pinterest inspiration board will attest) but I rarely feel comfortable in it in practice. I love floral prints, but feel silly wearing them unless they are big and bold.

Sewing has very much helped me to feel like I look feminine. Sewing clothes that fit is a major part of it – I can emphasize my more feminine physical aspects (like my small waist and large hips) and minimize my more masculine physical aspects (like my broad shoulders) by fitting clothes to my body in a way that I can never get off the rack.

How does sewing fit with your gender identity? Do you like to sew feminine clothes?


Each week this year I’m going to reflect on an aspect of myself and how it affects me as a sewist, crafter, or blogger. It may get deep, it may get emotional, it may get totally silly. It may be something I’m proud of, it may be something I cringe at, it may be something I aspire to. I may say a lot, I may say a little, I may ask questions, I may not answer them. I don’t quite know where the project will take me, but I’m excited about the journey. I’d be honored to have you join me on this journey. Chime in any time this year in my blog comments, on Twitter, Instagram, or your own blog. Join me in my theme for the week or make up your own.

Comments 20

  1. I don’t understand why people think broad shoulders aren’t feminine. I have very broad shoulders, since a girl – they busted out of PJ’s and nightgowns every year, i had trouble sitting three across in the back seats of cars because of them, RTW is a nightmare – and i’ve always loved them!

    I’ve never seen a broad-shouldered woman who looked ANYTHING like Arnold Schwarzenegger. My shoulders balance out my outsize tatas so i don’t look out of proportion and from the back especially make my waist look much smaller than it would otherwise. I have never received one comment on my ‘manly shoulders’ from anyone – and believe me i’ve gotten remarks on just about every other part of my bod.

    I understand all the cultural hooha we get subjected to as women to ‘measure up’ to various crazy ideals….it is everywhere; yet in the end it is a fool’s errand. Over the decades i’ve been fortunate to become less and less influenced by those ideals and as a result i find i have much more emotional and mental space to my own self. Don’t know if this goes to your question – but i feel so sad to see a lady with such awesome shoulders not reveling in their splendor!!

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      Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I don’t think it’s right that I have hangups about my shoulders, but I do think that the only way to get over such things is to start by naming them, so that’s where I’m starting. If anything, I love seeing broad shoulders on women as it does make the waist look smaller, just like runway models are all tall and many women admire and aspire to height – appreciating traits in others doesn’t always translate to me appreciating them in myself. But I’m working on it, and that’s part of what this #IAmAWIP project is about for me!

      1. Hi Erin! i absolutely agree that looking at things square in the face, as it were, is the first step to making a change if you so desire. And it’s no sense beating yourself up over being culturally indoctrinated – the main reason i started to love my body was a life-threatening illness which started at age 15. I missed most of my junior year of school, and have had bad bouts on and off since. I realized that i couldn’t afford to hate my body whilst fighting for my life, and jettisoned that baggage.

        But how deep and festering must those cultural bonds be that it takes a death threat for a person to let them go? Bad. Good for you for taking an honest look at all this morass and choosing to extricate yourself!

        I really like Carol In Denver’s ‘elegant’ description of you. I find i do not resonate with ‘feminine’ as much as ‘womanly’ myself – ‘womanly’ is a bigger, more grownup and sophisticated word. I also like Ali B.’s word ‘romantic’ as while it tends to be associated with the female it has more to do with relationships – between people, between a person and ideas or the world.

        A ‘romantic’ persona is something you cultivate by how you live your life, it doesn’t have so much to do with let’s say the size of your chest or feet. It is, like ‘elegant’, more on the ‘doing’ rather than ‘being’ side of things, which i find attractive in a style descriptor.

        Fun things to think about! Give those shoulders a hug from me! ;) steph

  2. I think your shoulders and your whole mien are splendiferous and feminine. You may tend toward the more elegant side of feminine as heavy silks and other luxurious fabrics draping from those shoulders would be stunning. I’ve never seen a photo of you on your blog where you didn’t have lots of feminine appeal.

    1. Post

      Thanks! I like that description – I think I do tend toward the more elegant side of feminine, but I had never thought to categorize or phrase it that way. That helps me to understand my own style to have that description!

  3. I have a bit of the same problem as you- I’m 5’11”, and although I don’t have a masculine shape at all- I just feel big, which never lends to feeling overly feminine. When my friends are a head shorter than me, and their measurement are so small, and everything is petite and cute, it can definitely make me feel large, awkward and less feminine. Otherwise- I like my figure, and I wear quite a few feminine girly things, but I also don’t mind a more loose, androgynous look for some of my clothes. But since I mainly sew bras and swimwear now- it definitely helps makes me feel more feminine, it’s hard to feel masculine in a bikini!

  4. Love this post. I’ve been thinking a lot about feminine/masculine lately as I’m going through the coletterie wardrobe architect series. I played the tom boy role growing up for sure and never understood why girls would want to wear dresses and tight clothes :-) But as I grew up and especially now that I sew, it’s been really interesting and fun to mix some strong/masculine styles with romantic/feminine ones. I like to think of my blazers and combat boots a throw back to my tom boy days but I try to balance out these “strong” pieces with something softer…floral shirt, lace detail, ect. I actually wish I loved wearing dresses…like your comment about lace shirts, I like the idea of dresses but feel awkward wearing them!

  5. Oh Erin I have massive shoulders and my beautiful daughter inherited them too! They do balance our generous bosoms though, can’t imagine how silly we’d look without the shoulders to carry our brastraps!
    My hangups started when I had a short haircut, it was the 70s. The man behind the post office counter said “yes, son, what can I do for you?”. I was mortified he thought I was a boy. I told my Dad, he called me son for the rest of my life. I was always so conscious of my ‘strong’ jaw too. Now it looks perfectly proportionate. The thing is, we can’t change what genetics supplied can we? Thoroughly enjoying your WIP series.

  6. Very interesting post. I fully understand your thoughts though my experience is different. I have been years without wearing dresses because they were “too feminine” for me. But what is feminine? Or why should be not feminine being tall and a scientist? Or why should I feel that wearing a ‘too-feminine-dress’ is going to make me feel less powerful in a business meeting with men? My conclussion: I don’t care about others think is feminine or not.

  7. Why do you think being a scientist isn’t feminine? My lab is full of kickass women in science and I never once, nor have the male scientists around me (Dad, college friends, teachers, mentors) thought of science as a masculine pursuit. It is a field of study that some men and some women happen to do.

    1. Post

      I don’t think that being a scientist isn’t feminine, but our society does. If you ask almost anyone to “picture a scientist”, they will picture an old white man. The majority of my colleagues and all of my mentors were male, and while equal numbers of women and men get biochemistry Ph.D.’s (yay!), with every step up the career ladder there is way more attrition for females than males.

      One of the most fun things I did while working as a scientist was to volunteer in the public school system. Each year I would ask my class to draw a scientist and all of the pictures would look like Albert Einstein. After 3 months of being in their classroom and teaching them discovery driven science, I would ask again, and almost all of the illustrations would look like me or like my students, and that was wonderful and amazing.

      1. I’ve done a similar type of outreach at elementary schools and have found the same thing. I think it’s really interesting to see the reaction on the kids’ faces when their teacher tells them a scientist is coming to visit, and I walk in as a young(ish) female. Hopefully the take-home message is that they can all grow up to be whatever they want!

  8. I look feminine, but I am an Engineer and I definitely think analytical. I have gotten comfortable dressing in skirts in the summer, but struggle to get out of the jeans and sweater rut in winter.

  9. Hi Erin,
    What a fun post. I’m feminine too! I am tall with broad shoulders and a bit of a scientist (business-IDS) too. Dresses dominant my closet, and I absolutely love playing dress up. We have a lot of great qualities. Being tall we stand out in a crowd. Broad shoulders only accentuate our sexy back. Smart/attractive girls rule!

  10. Hi Erin,
    You are beautiful, smart, and talented. I’m sure that you will come out this feeling more confident in your feminine appearance.
    This is just food for thought; it is not a criticism of you or your blog. You are very brave to open up about this. But I wonder if, by stating that being tall, analytical, broad-shouldered, etc. “are not considered feminine,” we perpetuate the problem?
    Again, it is just food for thought.
    Warm Regards,

    1. Post

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment Elizabeth. I appreciate what you’re saying. My thought behind these statements (and other statements that I have made and probably will make in this series) is not that this is how things should be, but that this is how things are, for me, in this moment of my life. I think the first step toward overcoming any problem is to state the problem, so I don’t necessarily see my comments as a perpetuation of the problem but instead as my first move toward overcoming it.

      That being said, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and I will definitely continue to think about what you have said.

  11. Tall, broad shouldered, smart and gunboat feet are unfeminine? According to whose standards? Only if you let them be unfeminine. I possess three of those four traits. I’m not tall, I’m average height, but no one would ever call me unfeminine. As my mother would say, “Stand up straight, square your shoulders, set your chin and stop feeling sorry for yourself.” It works.

  12. For me, femininity has always been more about grace rather than specific (culturally-centric) ‘signals’. I work in archaeology which is a mixture of (dirty) labwork and manual labor (and before that spent quite a lot of time on construction sites and farms) so I can understand how it can be frustrating when your profession is not considered feminine but if I focus more on grace and elegance, I can feel feminine even when I’ve literally moved a ton of material from one place to another.
    I too rarely feel comfortable in lace and prints (I wear solids or stripes…sometimes polka dots) so I focus on the drape of my skirts and the way it swirls around me. I sew because RTW designs simply don’t swirl enough, skim quite right over my figure, or cloak my favorite silhouettes in prints I could not wear more than once. So, I tend to sew female clean and classic designs with the occasional pintuck and make sure the skirts have so much fabric that they almost float.

    As for external traits- I have small enough feet to be forced to shop in the children’s section but have been told I walk heavily like I am perpetually angry, a Spartan, dinosaur, a body builder; with the most benign comments calling it “unique” or “strong” so really it’s not about the feminine/masculine traits but how you use ’em isn’t it.

  13. Hi Erin. I have broad shoulders as well and am 5′,11″ along with having a small bust, it does not make things any easier for appearing feminine towards others, yet it all starts within. I feel feminine and that is the most important step to take, you have to love yourself and your femininity, not matter what society may think. Believe me, it is not easy trying to fill out a dress with no boobs.

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      Thanks for sharing Sue. It’s so true that it comes from within. Interestingly, since I wrote this post I’ve had a child and my body now has a lot more curve than before and I’ve become much more interested in exploring androgynous presentation.

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