Guide offers glimpse of transvestites' world: Marianne Macdonald reports on a new book advising cross-dressers on 'TV-friendly' shops, pubs and restaurants

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The Independent Online
AN EXTRAORDINARY insight into the secret world of cross-dressing is provided by a new, practical reference book - The Transvestite's Guide to London 1994, on sale next week.

It lists shops, pubs, hotels, beauticians and clubs friendly to men who enjoy dressing as women - a group estimated by some as one-tenth of the male population. Entries include mainstream stores such as Marks and Spencer, Harrods, Selfridges and Fenwick's.

Other sections advise novice transvestites where to go for a feminine hairstyle, who to ask for beauty treatments and hair removal, where to stay without being harassed in London, which restaurants will serve cross-dressers and which taxi services are best for politeness and discretion.

Marks and Spencer in Oxford Street is particularly recommended, offering 'a good selection of clothes and lingerie with sizes in most styles going up to a size 16'. It adds: 'M & S head office confirmed to us that it is their policy that their staff treat all customers with equal respect whatever they want to buy and that includes men or cross-dressers in the lingerie department.'

Harrods is described as stocking 'all that any upmarket cross-dresser could possibly wish for' - although its entry warns that unconvincing TVs, as they are known, are likely to be followed by a security guard. Fenwick's has 'excellent' accessories, while at Selfridges, readers should 'not be afraid to ask about trying on goods'.

The 110-page volume available by mail order from the Way Out Publishing Company and from shops including Paradiso in Old Compton Street, Soho, was edited by Vicky Lee, 29, a former engineer, and 'Caroline', 28, an investment analyst made redundant from the City. Both have worn feminine clothes from childhood but their parents do not know they are transvestites. Vicky, brought up by a 'Janet and John-book family' in north London, said: 'In a barber's aged about 13 I read a girlie magazine which had a letter about dressing up in women's clothes and I thought, 'Jesus, others do it too]' '

Caroline comes from a middle-class Tory family in Kent and started to 'dress' about nine years ago. He says he took it up partly to counteract the stress of his City job.

They believe cross-dressing allows men to express the feminine part of their personality and allows them to indulge their sense of touch by wearing silky fabrics.

But indulging in cross-dressing brings its own problems. Many TVs want to keep it secret from their wives, girlfriends or families. Even those not forced to lead a double life can encounter practical problems.

One of the most common is hair. The guide lists cross-dresser friendly hairdressers who 'will happily cut, colour, or perm to your wishes'.

There are further obstacles. One is finding glasses which can be worn as a man or as a woman - the guide offers advice and opticians who can help. Another headache is buying shoes that, unlike clothes, must be tried on. TV-friendly retailers listed include Saxone ('accepting staff'), Derber ('cool' shop assistants) and Dolcis ('sizes do not unfortunately go above size 8').

Lingerie also poses a few problems, and the guide's recommendations are to avoid women's underwear ('It may feel nice, but it will not fit'), tuck the obvious extra bits out of sight and enlist the help of flesh-coloured dance tights, pantie girdles, corsets, padded bras and false breasts.

The Independent can vouch for the editors' reassurances that shopping is not half as embarrassing as some TVs fear it will be. In our trip along Kensington High Street with Vicky we visited Kookai, Marks and Spencer, Morgan, Saxone and Barker's. The assistants were tolerant and, in several cases, positively friendly. The only problems we had were with Vicky. He liked hardly any of the clothes.

(Photograph omitted)