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The Tailor Creating a Safe Space for Women — and Other Gender Identities — Through Clothes

By Hillary Kang

'You feel annoyed at the system of gendered clothing, of having to look a cetain way if you are a certain gender... you get very disgruntled, thinking like there are no options for you. You feel annoyed at the system of  gendered clothing, of having to look a certain way if you are a certain gender.'
 
Photograph by Katherine Ang and Aman John, styled by Michelle Kok
'You feel annoyed at the system of gendered clothing, of having to look a cetain way if you are a certain gender... you get very disgruntled, thinking like there are no options for you. You feel annoyed at the system of  gendered clothing, of having to look a certain way if you are a certain gender.'

Anger was a large motivator for much of tailor Sheryl Yeo’s youth. As a woman who liked suits and baggier cuts, it felt impossible to find clothes that fit her style — and actually fit her body — in the early aughts. “I would find things in the men’s department, and there would be some adjustments to make, which was okay,” says the 30-year-old founder of tailoring studio 3Eighth. “But the frustration was, why aren't these styles available in my size immediately?”

“It's the same conversation for sneakers,” she adds. “I love mens’ sneakers, but they never make them in womens’ sizes. Instead they’ll give us options like pink or whatever — it’s very patronising. And you get very disgruntled, thinking like there are no options for you. You feel annoyed at the system of gendered clothing, of having to look a certain way if you are a certain gender.”

Yeo then became an apprentice in a tailor shop, thinking it might help, but it wasn’t as therapeutic as she’d anticipated. “Customers would think I know less just because I was female,” says Yeo. Creating tailored shirts and suits for women was also a challenge that few tailors knew how to tackle: It was, as Yeo’s former mentor once said, “like wrapping paper around a ball.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by 3EIGHTH (@3eighth.co)

Female friends and clients would confide in her, saying they often felt “invisible” in more traditional tailor shops, which are largely run by men. “They would feel like the tailors are talking down to them — like they weren’t entitled to a suit just because they were women.”

So in 2018, Yeo started her own studio, 3Eighth, which specialised in suits for female clients. “When I first started 3Eighth, it was like a rebellion,” says Yeo. “I was really motivated to put every woman in a suit.”

3Eighth is, as Yeo describes, a “safe space” for women to share with Yeo exactly what they wanted out of their clothes, and what was on their mind: “Some women would tell me: ‘I bloat a lot during my period.’ And I would take that into account when making their clothes. It's harder to say that to a male tailor — it’s a bit awkward, and women might worry about making them feel uncomfortable, so they just don't say it. I wanted to make tailoring accessible, to make it easy to come towards.”

But somewhere along the way, Yeo realised that on her crusade to put every woman in a suit, she was doing the exact thing that mainstream clothing brands were doing. “I was coming from this angle of exclusivity, like a suit was a woman’s right,” she admits. “That frustration — I was angry at something, but I wasn’t sure what, or why.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by 3EIGHTH (@3eighth.co)

Now, Yeo says she recognises what she says was an “unhealthy relationship” with clothes. Growing up, Yeo says she was always perceived as tomboyish by her friends and family due to her husky voice and penchant for mens’ clothes. Yeo says, half in jest, that her father has the “weird thought” that her husband might leave her because she is not traditionally feminine enough.

“Growing up, I always got made fun of for my voice, because I sound very manly — I always got called ‘mister’ on the phone,” she says. “It’s not something I’m unhappy about, but it seeps into my subconscious — that I’m not feminine enough. And it does feel uncomfortable, because it makes me wonder, ‘Am I attractive enough as a female?’ It felt like nothing was ever enough, no matter how much I’d try to make up for it. So I thought if I put on a men’s suit, that’s my best way to counter it: If I cannot be seen as feminine to men, I want to be seen as their equal.”

Yeo says that while putting on mens’ clothes has always been an authentic representation of her personality, there was an element of “defensiveness” in what she was doing. “I just didn't accept that I had another side of me that wanted to explore feminine dressing,” she admits. “Because I felt like if I wore a skirt, men would just be like: ‘Ugh.’ But now I'm like — why have we come to this point? We should be able to dress however we like — whether it’s a skirt or pants.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by 3EIGHTH (@3eighth.co)

It’s part of why 3Eighth now offers tailored dresses and skirts — not just for women, but also men, and for people who identify with neither gender. Yeo recently launched 3Eighth’s first collection of tailored made-to-order pieces. The items in the Staples collection are, as the capsule description reads, “made for her, him, and everyone else in between”. And though Yeo has always tried to get away from traditional gendered cuts of clothing, she admits that gender-sized clothing is “very hard to get rid of”. 

“Our bodies just appear very differently, which is why we still retain female and male sizes — it’s not just about sticking to a message,” she says. Still, since each piece from the Staples collection is made to order, she is able to customise certain elements for each customer, such as sleeve and shirt lengths. 

“I realised that there are people on the feminine spectrum who are being left out — people that feel like their bodies are not being honoured as well,” she says. “I realised if I was going to be so close-minded about the styles I want to create, then that's not custom clothing, that’s just me. I wanted to try to include feminine silhouettes in my collection, or at least something for people who feel like they aren’t part of society’s norm.”