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Cross Purposes

Carla Blair
Christopher Garnder

Clothes Remake the Man: Looking for a way to make her new salon stand out, Carla Blair decided to focus on a very specific clientele.

At a new beauty salon, men can enjoy being a girl

By Richard Sine

Carla Blair has opened three salons during her 30 years in the beauty industry. She knows how tough it is out there. "There's a salon on every corner and two in every shopping mall," she says despairingly. But then a cross-dressing friend of hers made a suggestion: There were plenty of places offering to help women be more feminine, but how many will help men be more feminine?

So in October, Blair opened Crossers, a full-service salon for cross-dressers (men who dress as women) and male-to-female transsexuals (who have undergone a sex change). We're talking wigs, nails, makeup, clothes, shoes, jewelry, tanning, breast prosthetics--the whole shebang. It is apparently the only such salon in the South Bay.

Blair knows an untapped market when she sees one. The cosmetics and women's fashion industry chugs along with no regard for men whatsoever. Meanwhile, men are being hounded out of women's clothing departments and refused service at makeup counters. Terri, a transsexual and former cross-dresser who takes glamour shots of Blair's customers, is familiar with the logistical difficulties.

"Many cross-dressers buy clothes at department stores by saying, 'It's for my wife,' " Terri says. "You know, the saleswoman asks you what size your wife wears and you say, 'She's about my size.' But you can't try it on in the store. I bought so many dresses that looked great on the rack but terrible at home. And if you don't like it, you can't return it and say, 'My wife doesn't like this dress; she wants this one.' I ended up with this big pile of clothes in my closet that I never wore."

At Crossers, the cross-dresser may experiment with clothes and makeup to his heart's content, taking advantage of Blair's expert advice. In many ways, Blair says, her business is much as it was before--except her new clients sometimes drive around the block 10 times before they work up the courage to walk in. And Blair doesn't know many of her clients' real names, only their femme names. And she pretends not to recognize them outside the store unless they acknowledge her.

As it turns out, men's makeup needs are only slightly different from those of women, Blair explains. They often ask for longer wigs to cover bull necks or Adam's apples. They need extra camouflage cream to fix up facial marks, or cover stick to mask the shadow of a beard.

Some men look better as women than men, Terri says. But even cross-dressing men don't always take proper care of themselves. "How many construction workers who are cross-dressers moisturize their skin?" Terri asks.

"Or push back their toenail cuticles?" Blair adds.

"Full service" means a lot more at a cross-dressers' salon than a women's salon. At the back is a rack with books on cross-dressing and newsletters for support groups and social events. And there are fliers for charm teachers who will teach men not only how to dress like women, but also how to walk and talk like them.

Terri, 49, had her sex-change operation five years ago. She looks quite feminine, but she retains the wide frame that suggests her former life as a law enforcement officer. (Now she's a building contractor.) Her big hands clasp, after months of practice, like a lady. In many ways Terri's cross-dressing was typical. She started at a very young age, wearing her sisters' and mother's clothing, but stopped as the opportunity for putting on women's clothes diminished. After marrying, Terri says, "I curbed my cross-dressing by dressing up my wife in the clothes I wanted."

Only in middle age did Terri begin the process of becoming a woman. She sat in airports and malls and watched women move to absorb a composite identity. She took estrogen shots to prepare for the operation, softening her hair, her skin and her sex drive.

But most cross-dressers are heterosexual men with no desire to change gender, according to Brown, author of True Selves, a book on transgenderism. For those men, the most important thing is to be comfortable with their proclivities. "Most cross-dressers have been dressing like women since puberty. They judge themselves negatively throughout their lives. But at this salon they're not judged. They only want to make you look as beautiful as you can."

Crossers may be changing its name soon, but the salon can be reached at 378-1003 or at 3110 Impala Drive, San Jose.

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From the November 27-December 4, 1996 issue of Metro

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