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A Tailor Shop for the Butch Ladies

Exasperated by her quest for a properly proportioned suit, a self-identified butch lesbian recently decided to open a custom menswear shop catering to queer women. Here, a Q&A with Tomboy Tailors owner Zel Anders.

Why do women need a haberdashery?
I’m 5-foot-11, and I’ve always had a really hard time finding women’s clothes that fit. I was taller than all my female teachers by the age of nine. I’ve worn suits for 30 years.

Why not just take your suits to a menswear tailor?
I’m just so fed up with the inconsistent customer service. You would think that men’s shops in San Francisco could deal, but tailors are often really uncomfortable fitting a woman. I’ve had pants unintentionally destroyed.

Who shops here?
I want our butch lesbian and trans-masculine clients to feel special, because they’ve never had a store that’s their own. But I work with men and women of all identities. I’ve had a number of small men and plus-size women contact me.

What’s the biggest difference when tailoring a woman’s suit?
Obviously, the crotch of the pant is much different. The shoulders and armholes will fit much better. These suits are custom-made, whether you want a low-rise modern suit, a peg leg, or a high-waisted 1930s look.

What’s your bestseller?
Footwear is a huge draw. We carry men’s shoes from Cole Haan, Allen Edmonds, and Carlos Santos, as well as limited-edition styles by Kenneth Cole.

What’s the significance of the paintings?
I blew up and framed prints of my favorite portraits by Romaine Brooks, a wealthy lesbian artist of the early 1900s.

What’s next?
I’ll probably open up a second store devoted to extra-large women’s shoes. When I first moved here in the ‘80s, there was a store that stocked up to size 14. It was mostly geared toward drag queens—I loved that place.

50 Post St., near Kearny St., 415-354-5694


Originally published in the March 2013 issue of San Francisco.

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