The shop window at 2652 N. Lincoln features a male mannequin in a woman's negligee and two female mannequins, one on all fours in hot pink shorts, the other in a rubber dress, carrying a whip. Outside the window, a man hesitates, then paces back and forth.
"Get in here," shouts Lita, the owner of the shop. She returns to her telephone conversation and in a low voice informs the listener, "Most cross-dressers are submissive. They want to be told what to do."
Translucere opened three years ago as the Full Moon, a lingerie shop for large women, that is, women weighing 170 pounds or more, Lita says. But she could never get the business off the ground. "The women had too many hang-ups about their looks. I had great stuff--fishnets, bustiers, garters, all the really fun stuff--and they'd say, 'I can't wear this because I'm too fat.' They'd want some plain cotton job. And I'd say, 'Puh-lease. Go to Sears. Goooo to Sears.' I didn't have that many women coming in, but the boys came in in droves! "
So Lita changed her-business strategy, renamed her shop--the name means "to shine through"--and began catering to the better customers. She began stocking things like beard cover (a heavy makeup that will erase even the most persistent five-o'clock shadow), false breasts, and girdles that not only flatten tummies but offer padding to round out the derriere. The wardrobe was expanded to include sporty micro minis, pink poodle skirts, black satin French-maid costumes, and ruffled sissy panties.
She also.added a selection of reading materials--magazines like Incredible She-males and Petticoat Power, and a crossdressers' book series that numbers 1 to 91. All the books sport similar covers, sort of on the order of Hardy Boys mysteries, but with titles like Guys in Gowns, House of Taffeta, and Seduced and Trapped Into Girlhood. Lita also added an imposing collection of D-width, six-and-a-half-inch spiked heels, ostrich slides, and thigh-high patent-leather boots.
Wigs and wig forms take up an entire wall. And at the makeup counter next to the cash register a man can buy lipsticks in tubes shaped like lips and false eyelashes full and fluffy enough to stir a mild breeze.
One ordinary-looking man who refused to be identified offered this explanation for what he sees as his hobby: "It's kind of a turn-on, also a relief. You can change roles, you don't have to be the supermacho guy. You can express the other side of your personality. It puts you in a different state of mind, and it's kind of a nice change of pace."
But some men manage to find less forthright reasons for coming to the shop. "There were these huge weight lifters," Lita says, rolling her eyes. "They insisted they needed the high heels to build up their calves. Right. They weren't fooling anybody."
A man dressed in a business suit comes to the shop, asking for a complete makeover, and Lita and her assistant Rachel Carey set to work. "Get the tits," Lita yells to Rachel, who has gone to the front of the shop in search of a bustier.
Within seconds the man is stripped down to his underwear and trying to decide between the black or the purple bustier. And which wig? The poodle blond. Definitely. "Might as well go all the way," he says with a smile.
Soon he's wearing sissy panties, black seamed stockings, a bustier, and a red rose choker. He glances in the mirror approvingly. The women smile. "He likes it!" they chirp in unison.
Thigh-high patent-leather boots, opera-length Spandex gloves, a patent-leather miniskirt, a leather corset, bangles, false eyelashes, a gold lame leather whip, and the crowning glory--the big blond poodle wig, and the transformation is complete.
The women compliment themselves on another Translucere creation. The man blows himself a seductive kiss in the full-length mirror.
"Ah! Did you see that?" Rachel jokes. "He loves himself."
The three laugh.
"What we see might seem hysterical to somebody who's not been around it," says Rachel. "But day after day, after so many years, to us it's just business, just another day."
"Another day, another buck-fifty," Lita adds.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Lloyd DeGrane.