Underdressing means wearing differently-gendered clothing underneath normatively-gendered clothing. It's a common transvestite strategy. When social/cultural norms and pressures, internalized shame or embarrassment – or just specific dress codes – prevent us from wearing what we might like, there is some relief to be found in doing so under cover, as it were. That is, wearing certain underclothing concealed under other clothing – as indeed underclothes tend to be, unless you want to dress up as Superman. As an example, filmmaker Ed Wood wore (perhaps apocryphally) a bra and panties under his military uniform while serving with the US Marine Corps in the Second World War. Nice one.
Googling brings up numerous trans-related blogposts (and forum threads) on the topic of underdressing, ranging from support and advice to personal taste to kink and guilt. There's usually some sort of guilt thrown in there somewhere, some need to apologize, to qualify something somehow. We so often feel the need to do that. *Sigh*. One exception is the blog of an American crossdresser called Meg, who (admirably) isn't offering even the hint of an apology.
The oblique prompt for my own post was a fashion piece in The Guardian this week: ‘Why women are buying men's underwear’. And why are they? Some are buying it for their male nearest as always; some are buying it for themselves because, for instance, it's “so comfy”; and I'd guess, although the article doesn't consider this motivation, some women are buying it to underdress, in order to express (some sort of) masculinity (or something) in themselves, to themselves, for themselves.
Below the line, someone called ‘mikiencolor’ makes the following point: Women wear "men's" underpants: latest unisex fashion trend. Men wear "women's" underpants: crossdressing sexual fetish.
Actually, that quote makes (perhaps unintentionally) a whole load of points: about gender and sexual assumptions and stereotypes and judgments and proscriptions. *Sigh*. It makes me tired just thinking about all that, so I'll leave the comment alone as one of the very few worth reading. Here's another one I liked (from someone called ‘Hosieryformen’). Otherwise, as you'd expect, the comments are the usual pile of pants.
As someone who underdresses myself – and I'd call it that even though virtually all my clothing is technically (if not obviously) non-normatively gendered – the best passage I've ever read on underdressing comes (perhaps inevitably) from a lesbian femme. In a chapter on personal femme style in ‘The Femme's Guide to the Universe’, Shar Rednour writes:
Lingerie is like the fabulous gift wrapping between the birthday girl and a precious treasure, and baby, that treasure is you. Wearing sexy undergarments makes you sexy. It means you're ready to be sexful at the drop of a skirt. Wearing sensual next-to-you things can also remind you that you are a Queen no matter what you have to be wearing on the outside. I used to wear camisoles and lacy slips underneath these ghastly uniforms required by the hostess job I had at the Ramada Inn. Try wearing a velvet or embroidered bra under your McDonald's uniform. Or a PVC G-string under a power suit. No matter what costume we have to don to face the world, our lingerie is our armor protecting our inner Queen and keeping us sane with reminders of our true nature.
Quite so :)
And no, there's not the least hint of apology in Rednour's writing either. And I just love that. More and more, nowadays, I find, I have less and less time for useless internal bullshit.