written by Lauren Milligan
November 14, 2013
ELLIOTT SAILORS made her name in the world of womenswear modeling - from couture catwalks to Ellen von Unwerth shoots - but now, after cutting her hair short and stripping back everything she had learned about being a model, she's starting again as a menswear face - so why is her journey so different than that of anyone before her? Well, first of all because Sailors isn't "becoming" a man, she's a woman - a very tall, very beautiful, very happily married woman. She harbours no desire to be a man - but her journey has nonetheless ignited debate about everything from her decision's impact on the transgender community to the longevity of female modelling careers.
"I definitely wasn't a girly girl growing up, although I wasn't good at sports so I suppose I was missing the athletic skills to be called a tomboy! I kept my Barbies in their boxes thinking I could probably sell them later. There was always confusion about my gender because of my name, which is my mother's maiden name, but when I was 19 I started modelling and fell in love with everything about fashion. I quickly had a great appreciation for the creativity behind it, and loved wearing it, but I still had no real desire to wear it on my days off - I'm more of a jeans and T-shirts person. I had some great moments in my womenswear career - shooting swimwear campaigns, Abercrombie & Fitch with Bruce Weber, working with Ellen von Unwerth, modelling couture - but as I got a little older, and got boobs and hips, it certainly become more stressful than fun.
"It was 2011 when I first saw pictures of Andre Pejic, and I immediately thought, 'I could do that.' I tried a few shoots with my long blonde hair, like Andre, modelling menswear and it just didn't work. I wrapped my breasts and didn't pose as you would for womenswear, but stylists and make-up artists still saw me as a woman - and the make-up was all wrong, shading my face to make me more manly - so I knew I had to cut my hair. I was concerned about losing womenswear clients if I cut it, which made me wait a long time before doing it, but when I wear my hair back people often think I'm much younger than my age - some even asking if I'm 18 yet - so I knew that this would extend my career. There is a market for womenswear models into their thirties and forties but it is much more commercial and, the truth is, if you love working in high fashion - which I do - you can do that much longer in menswear.
"My husband, Adam [Santos-Coy], just didn't even know what I was talking about when I first suggested it, and when he did he was like, 'Oh no, I'll miss your hair', but now he's really cool with it. My friends were wary, especially female friends who are also models, but most of my male model friends were really encouraging and excited for me. My family is Mormon so it's taken my mum some time to come to terms with what I'm doing, but my dad has been really supportive. After seeing me in couture, in so much make-up in shoots, my dad says that when he sees these pictures, all he sees is Elliot.
"Some aspects of the change have been great - people on shoots talk to me more directly and take my opinion into account. I'm not sure if that's a womenswear to menswear shift, or if it's because I've taken control of my image and how I appear, but generally I'm just treated with much more respect. It's easier for me now on shoots, too, since I was always told, 'Your shoulders look too big', or 'Could you look more feminine, please' - but now I can just be myself.
"There are some downsides to it though. A lot of people assume my husband and I are a gay couple, which doesn't bother either of us, but we have had some people make really unkind comments on the street - even in New York, believe it or not - which is really shocking and heartbreaking on behalf of people we know who have to deal with that prejudice. Luckily my husband is a martial artist, so if it ever caused any trouble he can definitely handle himself! Sometimes I do still wear a sexy dress and heels, even with my short hair, but Adam just wants me to feel sexy, he doesn't care what I wear.
"I don't want what I've done to be seen as any kind of revolt against the fashion industry, I love the industry and what it creates, I'm just adding another voice to the narrative. As a menswear model you work twice as long as a womenswear model, but probably earn half as much, so it evens itself out. Hopefully the change I've made will mean I'll have the same time I've already had over again - which I'm really looking forward to."