“It's just a piece of fabric!” Czech couple defies fashion stereotypes
Vlasta Černý and his wife Michaela describe themselves as an “almost” normal heterosexual couple. However, when the two of them step outside, they almost never fail to attract attention because of Vlasta’s weakness for women’s dresses. The couple, who usually wears matching outfits, share their pictures on a blog called Gender Blender with the aim to encourage other people to dress as they wish in public. Vlasta, accompanied by his wife, recently paid a visit to Radio Prague to talk about his own journey to fashion freedom:
“I grew up in the Communist era, so it wasn't really possible. And then later in my life, there were a lot of things happening and although I considered it, I decided against it, because it could have hurt me professionally or privately. So I probably did it too late, but at least I did it.”
So what was the first time you stepped out in women's clothes, what was it like? How did it feel? And how long did it take you to muster the courage to do something like this?
“I remember standing in front of my door for at least 10 minutes, trying to find the courage to open it and go out.”
“It felt like having a dumpling in my throat. I remember standing in front of my door for at least 10 minutes, trying to find the courage to open it and go out.”
So when was that? How long ago?
“It was about 15 years ago. But I really went out for only about five minutes, just walking around the block. Still, I felt like I had conquered Mount Everest.”
So would you say relief was the major emotion you felt at that moment?
“Yes, because you think the world will collapse, but then you realize that nothing happened. When we go out, people sometimes stare at us. Sometimes they say something positive, sometimes it is negative, but it is much less common than you would probably expect.
“And if you feel that you are strong enough to do that and you feel comfortable, then people around you will notice that and then you will naturally dodge the negative comments and reactions.”
Have you ever received any abuse from people?
“That is an interesting question, because if I put on women's clothes, then men usually react according to the patterns they learned in their lives. They open the door for you, they let you in first. But they also shout at you or whistle, because it’s something they are used to doing.
“At first I thought: how is that possible? But my wife told me: you are not used to that, but it is actually very common if you are a woman. So that is something I didn’t expect, but it is a really interesting experience to see how the society reacts towards women.”
Why do you think a man in women's clothing still sparks emotions and controversy while women have been hailed for wearing men's clothes?
“That’s a difficult question to answer. There could be a lot of reasons. But what I am experiencing is that if I am wearing women’s clothes I am sometimes considered weak. This is how men sometimes behave towards me. And that’s why they sometimes try to abuse me.
“What I am experiencing is that if I am wearing women’s clothes I am sometimes considered weak.
“I think it has something to do with our culture. In West European culture it is something that is not accepted by the society. You can see it for instance in the movies. But if you cross the borders of Europe, you will see that it's not so uncommon for men to wear skirts or dresses.”
That brings me to another question. I know you and your wife like to travel. Does it feel different to walk the streets of Prague or let's say London or Paris? Or would you say the reactions of people are generally the same?
“Of course, there are some differences because every nation is a little bit different. So for example Italians express themselves more vividly, but if you go to Germany, people stare at you the same way they do here. But basically we have never experienced any major difference around the world.”
And would you say the Czech society is becoming more tolerant towards things that are considered different?
“Definitely, because we have been walking in the city centre, where we live, and we can see that the mood is changing, that people are not so surprised to see us. I would say that the dividing line is between the younger and older people. The young ones are watching Netflix, and they are used to diversity. Their friends are openly gay or bisexual or lesbian, so they don't care. It's a generational change and we can see that.
“But also, my wife Michaela just said yesterday that she saw an older man wearing a skirt here in Prague. So I think people are starting to have more courage. Some men have accepted that a skirt could be a part of their wardrobe and that there is nothing wrong about that. It's just a piece of fabric.”
I wanted to ask you about how the two of you met. I know you met through a dating site. What was your wife's first impression of you?
“She later told me that she initially thought it was some kind of candid camera. She said she wanted to turn around and leave.
But we met in Werich’s villa and she really wanted to go there, so she thought: I will stay and see. So she stayed and we had a date that lasted for about two hours and then we just left, thinking that we would never meet again…
But then a year later, the two of you had a church wedding, wearing the exact same white lace dresses. How did that happen?
“We were on holiday with the kids, sailing on a boat, and after we came back, we were sitting in a restaurant discussing that we might have a wedding sometime in the future. And Michaela said:
If we have a wedding, you have to wear a dress, because it's a one-time experience and you have to wear it.
“So we decided to check some wedding studios to see if they have any dresses and as you can imagine, it was a little bit tricky for me to find a dress in my size and for them to have the same dress in my wife’s size. And from that point to the wedding, it was just one and half month.”
You started a blog called Gender Blender where you encourage people to wear what they like and where you share the pictures of the two of you in matching outfits. What is it that fascinates you about fashion?
“The endless possibilities. We have seven wardrobes at home and I have much more women’s clothes than men’s. You can dress up to your mood, you can dress up to the weather. There are so many variations and combinations you can use.
“My wife has helped a lot with that. You have to combine colours, lengths and materials. It's different if you go to work, if you go to a social gathering with friends or if you go to the theatre. So I really love to discover all the possibilities.
“You will understand what I'm talking about if you go to any shopping mall, where there is usually one floor of men's fashion and two, three or four floors with women's fashion. So that's the difference and this is what I like!”
You spoke about mustering the courage to step out in women's clothes for the first time. How does it feel looking back? Did this journey help you to overcome other challenges in your life?
“I would say it improved my health. I never realized before that that there was something inside me that wasn’t settled. So it helped me to calm down. It also raised my self-esteem, which is something you definitely need if you decide to go against the current.
“That was one thing Michaela told me when we starting dating. She said: Dress or skirt, why not? But it has to suit you. That was the most important thing for me to succeed.
“It has become so natural that sometimes, somebody is staring at me and I'm thinking: why are they staring? And then I realize: “Oh, I know.”
“Also, when we started dating with Michaela, she said it was difficult for her as a woman, because when people were staring at us, it was because of me, not her.
“Nowadays, when I am wearing jeans and shirt, I will tell her: OK, if they are going to stare at us, it’s because of you, not me. So that’s something I also noticed. If I put on jeans and a shirt, I immediately become invisible!”