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A group of people dressed in a dapper style, sitting on outdoor stairs Photo: Kirrin Finch

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Rethinking Who Menswear Is Designed For

Kirrin Finch is designing masculine clothing for anyone that wants to wear it.

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“This is ridiculous,” Laura Moffat says as she shoves her iPhone into the front pocket of her khakis. To no one’s surprise, it doesn’t fit. “Just look at my pants! What am I going to do with this?”

She takes it out and instead stuffs it in a back pocket that’s barely large enough for a few fingers. “It will fall in the toilet,” she says. Her wife, Kelly, laughs at the all-too-obvious demonstration of the horrific impracticalities of women’s pants while Laura settles back into the couch on the second floor of their Brooklyn townhouse.

Laura and Kelly Moffat launched their clothing line, Kirrin Finch, in 2015, after a lifetime of wearing clothes cut for men. “The idea came from our own constant frustration of seeing what we want to wear, but not seeing the clothing set up to fit our bodies,” Kelly says.

“When we had suits made for our wedding [in 2014], we had this aha moment about wearing these types of clothes, having them fit us, and being an authentic representation of ourselves.” And thus the brand, named after famous fictional characters Georgina Kirrin of The Famous Five and Scout Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird, was born.

The label caters to people who want to wear button-up shirts and trousers that aren’t overly feminine (similar to styles in the men’s department of clothing stores) but still fit a woman’s body (unlike what you’d find in the men’s). “We love the styles that you see in menswear, but they’re really just not available to women or queer and trans folks,” Kelly says.

The distinctive look of Kirrin Finch can be defined as “dapper,” a look that’s particularly popular with women who prefer traditionally masculine items like bow-ties, buttoned-up collars, and smart-looking statement glasses. On the brand’s website, there’s a dedicated section of bowtie-clad Dapper Scouts that features Kirrin Finch shoppers as well as models plucked from subway cars and the streets of Brooklyn wearing the brand’s clothing. “Dapper is really an embodiment of so much more than just dressing,” Kelly says. “If you’re dressing in a dapper way, there’s a confidence that exudes from you: You look good and you’re being your authentic self.”

Following a successful Kickstarter campaign, the brand officially launched in 2015 with button-up shirts because, as Kelly explains, it was the first garment friends mentioned needed improvement. A year later, Laura and Kelly felt like they were ready to build out an outfit and made the decision to add pants to the line. “Pants are really tricky for a lot of people, and there are some basic things that we just don’t understand why people aren’t doing them,” Kelly says.

So tonight, they’ve invited friends and shoppers over to their Brooklyn townhouse for a fit test to help them develop a pair of trousers for everyone.

Despite Hillary Clinton popularizing the pantsuit across America and more menswear-inspired trends hitting the fashion runways, most styles don’t translate for women who aren’t looking for feminine silhouettes. “J.Crew has been doing women’s pantsuits for a long time, but the cuts don’t work for my body, or the suits are a completely different look than what I’m looking for,” explains Leila Bozurg, a 34-year-old party guest. She says that so far, she’s only been able to find functional pockets in pants that have been custom-made for her, and “back in the day when I used to wear cargos,” she laughs.

Several pant-testers echoed the same frustration. “The fact that women’s pockets are so small and sometimes fake is an expectation that women don’t need utility,” 29-year-old Chris Nguyen, who never carries a purse, says. “Men don’t need a bag to carry [their belongings]. Pants just reinforce those expectations. It’s irritating.” Nguyen has invested in two custom suits from Bindle & Keep that fit perfectly and have pockets that fit what she needs to carry.

And it’s not just the fit of gender-specific garments that are a struggle. The entire shopping experience for those who live and dress outside a strict gender binary can be, in a word, miserable. Parinda Darden, an attendee with a buzzcut, says that people often mistake her for a man, which makes shopping in physical stores difficult. “It’s a struggle when you don’t have long hair,” she says. “I’ll get glances like, ‘what is this guy doing here?’”

At 5’1”, Nguyen says she usually shops in the boys’ department, where she can find styles and sizes that appeal to her at a lower cost. But since that’s not a particularly pleasant experience, she mostly shops online.

Another guest, Corrine Phillips, says she now exclusively shops in men’s departments because the suiting in the women’s sections of stores like Banana Republic were too feminine for her personal style. “Being in the men’s department is an interesting experience,” she says at the event. “Depending on where you go, you might get looked at very weird. I know where I can go now where I’ll be completely comfortable, and where I know I’m going to get looked at and stared at.” She’s had remarkably pleasant experiences at Topman and Ted Baker; not so much at J.Crew.

Laura and Kelly started the design process by looking at menswear trends for inspiration and asking customers what they’d actually want in a pair of pants. Then they worked with a pattern maker from The Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator to turn the sketches into actual clothing. After five months of work, they were able to manufacture the pants in a variety of sizes to be tested on different body types.

A model wearing a light pink short sleeve button-down shirt and sunglasses Photo: Kirrin Finch

Neither Laura nor Kelly have a design background (Laura is a former marketing consultant with a PhD in neuroscience, and Kelly was a New York City school teacher), which in some ways is a plus. Both women approach design with a functionality-first mentality; the important thing for them is that everything is wearable. “We’re not artists,” Laura says.

For now, Kirrin Finch pants will be produced in sizes 2 through 18 — which is reflective of traditional women’s sizing — and are scheduled to launch in early fall. (However, some of the brand’s customers who are used to wearing menswear say they prefer a waist size, like 30 or 32, rather than a dress size, like a 12, on their pants.)

To no surprise, sizing for gender-swapped clothing is inconsistent: Many people struggle to find a men’s waist size appropriate to their hip width, which often leads to purchasing a pair that’s too wide and long in the legs, and perhaps awkwardly big in the crotch area. Kirrin Finch’s pants are tapered at the legs and meant to accommodate the average woman’s height at each size, though the pants can be cuffed or hemmed for shorter wearers.

Because fit can be so tricky, bringing in those shoppers to try everything on was crucial from a manufacturing perspective and a customer loyalty standpoint. “People feel empowered by being part of the process, and that’s really kept them connected to our brand. If you’re not making things that people want to wear, there’s no reason for you to be around,” says Kelly. And because the brand is direct-to-consumer (the clothes are currently only sold on Kirrin Finch’s website), it’s easy for them to collect feedback.

The fit parties — which Laura and Kelly first hosted when they began designing shirts — have also created a space for talking about personal style as it affects the LGBTQ community. “So many queer people struggle to find a style,” says Christopher Ovanessian, who works as an intern at Kirrin Finch. “Things like this help you feel amazing in your own clothes.”

Alex Koones, the founder of the LGBTQ pop-up dinner party Babetown, agrees. “For gay women to have an outlet like this is really special,” she says. “Obviously every single day we don’t have power lesbians giving us townhouses, but these events are crucial to understanding what the needs of the community are.”

As guests mingle and snack on crudités throughout the Moffat home, Kelly meets with each attendee individually for the fit session. Measurements are taken, questions are asked, and tons of notes are jotted down. During the 10-minute consultation, shoppers scrutinized the feel of the waistband, admired the way their butts looked, and complimented the softness of the fabric and the depth of the (functional!) pockets. The entire process was unlike most guests’ typical dressing room experience.

At a price point above $150, some fitters say the made-in-New York pants are out of their budget. But for shoppers seeking menswear for special occasions, options are pretty much limited to a custom suit, which typically runs at about $1,200 or higher, almost making the pants seem like a bargain.

“I struggle to find menswear-inspired pieces that I can wear in a formal setting,” 28-year-old Celeste Robert says after trying on the pants. “That’s been hard — the lifelong struggle of finding pants that make you look less feminine. They don’t exist, they’re expensive, and you have to get everything tailored.”

As numbers are exchanged and promises to meet up for drinks or brunch or shopping in the near future are overheard throughout the townhouse, it’s evident that Kirrin Finch is more than just a clothing line: It’s a social movement. Strangers who’ve bonded over lifelong quests to find men’s clothes that fit properly form friendships, becoming part of the brand’s ever-growing community. As Kelly says, “Clothes are obviously clothes, but they’re so much more than that, because they really represent who you are as a person.”

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