Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

Gender Studies: Girl Meets Boy

Even before Diane Keaton as Annie Hall launched a thousand baggy menswear looks, une femme was a fan of androgynous style. Growing up I loved watching old movies on TV, not the least for the clothes/costumes; I particularly loved the fluid trousers and crisp shirts worn by Katherine Hepburn, and the unfettered, intellectual style exemplified by Audrey Hepburn.

In the 80’s the androgynous look found its heyday again, influenced by Annie Hall, Annie Lennox,and Laurie Anderson.Androgynous dressing has always appealed to me. I don’t know if it’s because girls’ clothes were so uncomfortable when I was little with their tight collars and stiff petticoats, or because my mother tried to instill in us the stultifying femininity of the 1950’s, or because my childhood passion (horseback riding) became associated with boots and jeans, but I’ve never felt at home in uber girly-girl garb. When I was thirteen, our middle school finally relented and allowed girls to wear pants. I showed up at school almost every day in my embroidered Mexican peasant blouse and corduroy trousers with my boys’ desert boots and felt myself in my clothes for the first time. In my twenties I wore baggy oversized blazers, pleated trousers, ties. I enjoyed how wearing masculine garb felt subversive, powerful. Over time I also realized that a full-on Annie Hall/Annie Lennox/Laurie Anderson menswear look requires a boyish figure to pull off without looking like a Mack truck.

In the 90’s, I graduated to tailored pantsuits for work, but lately that look has felt too structured and boxy for me. Though currently I’m feeling more comfortable (physically and emotionally) in moderately feminine styles that have some fluidity, softness and drape, or are more simple, clean and Audrey-inspired (see above), I still enjoy including a masculine element or two like a bigger watch or chunky boots to add some edge and satisfy my subversive streak. I also would probably not pass up an oversized “boyfriend” blazer if the right one were to cross my path. I’ve read and observed that mixing feminine and masculine styles is a hallmark of French chic, a way to keep one’s look from becoming to staid and predictable.

Where on the femme-homme style continuum to you tend to reside?

~

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36 thoughts on “Gender Studies: Girl Meets Boy

  1. Arabella

    The Katherine Hepburn style trousers are a constant in my wardrobe. I like to pair them with a fluid, feminine top; the mix makes me feel balanced – I’m getting the best of both worlds.

    Reply
  2. Nancy (nanflan)

    I don’t know that I’d call my style androgenous although I lean towards more tailored clothing and masculine accessories that can get an outit a bit of an edge. I also have too many curves to do full-on mannish well.

    Reply
  3. Northmoon

    I like to dress more on the ‘boy’ side of the continum, always have. Girls had to wear a skirt in school, but otherwise it was pants for me. I still remember a pair of dark gray pinstripe trousers that I stole from, my boyfriend when I was 17. They had a wide waistband with buttoned closing, just so cool!

    Even today, I have no dresses in my wardrobe, and only a few skirts. For a dressier occasion a fancy top with black pants or skirt is most comfortable for me.

    The Katherine Hepburn trousers are a bit wide for me – I’m only 5’2″ so I try to keep my clothing streamlined, but I admire the look for someone taller.

    Oh and I was into horseback riding too in my youth. I always admired the crisp white shirts, the hunting jackets and beautiful leather boots that the grownups wore.

    Reply
  4. Frugal Scholar

    I realized a while back that I haven’t worn a skirt for (now) 4 years. The avoidance of stockings, careful leg-shaving–what a relief. In fact, now that it’s ok to wear dark jeans everywhere, that’s what I’ve been doing. I only hope this acceptability continues. Now I only have to think about the top half, so it’s a time and stress-saver.

    Someone I was in grad school with wrote a book called “Hollywood Androgyny.” I never read it, but I think it has great pictures. There’s also a fun book by Marjorie Garber called “Vice-Versa.”

    Reply
  5. dana

    I’ve always found that girly styles, ruffles, etc., make my curvy figure look like I’m trying out for Best Little you know what in Texas.

    I think us curvy types can really work the straighter lines and more simple silouettes! And if the fabric drapes, all the better.

    Reply
  6. Duchesse

    Great post, Pseu.
    I’m 60 and that’s a very ard age to pull off a severe boyish look. So I’d wear the Hepburn trousers and a simple silk blouse, with jewelry. I love the full-on andro look on young women and agree with Nancy- one has to be rangy to wear it well.

    Reply
  7. greying pixie

    All the women you give as examples have two things in common; firstly they are (or were) young and secondly they are supremely beautiful with perfect photogenic bone structure. Katherine Hepburn especially may have felt comfortable in boyish clothes, but her looks were so exceptionally feminine that she could get away with it.

    For us mere mortals, I think Coco Chanel’s take on the masculine or androgenous is more inspiring. She also used to dress in men’s attire during her relationship with the Duke of Westminster. She was particularly fond of Englishmen’s tweed jackets, traditional hunting outfits, etc. But she used all this inspiration to create the most feminine and yet practical style of female dress. All the cuffs with cufflinks, jackets over shirts, comfortable pyjama pants… it all comes from the masculine wardrobe but is made wearable for women.

    In answer to your question, I used to own quite a few items of men’s clothing, a tweed jacket, jeans, shirts. But with age I’m no longer attracted to all that. I find as I near 50 that I need the feminine cut of clothes to feel good. I don’t think that ‘feminine’ has to mean ruffles, etc. which I actually hate. To me feminine just means made for the female figure.

    Reply
  8. metscan

    I find it difficult to wear formal pants. They look ok when I´m trying them on and I know-being 5ft 10 and slim, that I could were them without shame. Medium washed jeans are my every day wear. I don´t wish to dress perfectly and at this age a great bag and a divine coat are my number 1´s when I leave my house. I do love fine jewels too,but they must be authentic,nothing artificial for me!

    Reply
  9. Jen

    I prefer clean lines to ruffles, drapes, lace, and flounces (boy); but am wearing a lot more flamboyant colors (girl, but see recent Sartorialist menswear photos); and will wear mini-skirts long after I “should” stop because I’m “too old” (girl, headstrong).

    Wherever on the continuum I am now, where I want to be is where the woman in the Sartorialist photo “At Lanvin,” posted 1/26, is. I love that photo so much because she is a woman in full — not young, and she clearly doesn’t give a damn about it.

    Reply
  10. spacegeek

    Love vests, and also “granny”/menswear lace up shoes. Otherwise I do tailored feminine. My grandmother had a pair of black leather pants that I inherited. Wide-legged pants are another one I adore.

    Reply
  11. Imogen Lamport

    I have always loved the Katherine Hepburn look – but now realise that with my short, non-existant waist, as I cannot tuck, this is not a style that suits me, and tends to look too boxy, or unfeminine on me.

    I need clothes that are more shaped and feminine as the masculine look works best on the long waisted woman who can draw attention to her mid-section with a belt or tucking to remind others that they may be dressing like a man, but are still all woman.

    I used to dress in feminine, but classic suits, but these days prefer more creative and dramatic clothes, classic bores me with it’ts lack of detail and uniqueness. A classical piece here and there works, and I like a white shirt – but it has to be ruched, or have other femininity about it in its styling to work for me.

    Reply
  12. Leanne

    Oh, my! I was laughing as I scrolled down your blog as I saw pictures of Every. Single. One. of my style icons as a young woman. Laurie Anderson still rocks the androgynous look, and so does Patti Smith. But since I turned 50 that I’ve decided to start dressing in a more “feminine” way. To me, that means skirts, heels, scarves, and more fitted, flattering clothing. But I still don’t do ruffles and flounces.

    Reply
  13. Rubiatonta

    I wear a lot of wide-legged trousers, as I find they really flatter my 5’6″ size 18 figure — no tucking, though, despite having a long waist. The short legs rule it out! And I tend not to wear collared blouses, but rather sweaters or soft tops. My great passion is accessories — scarves, shoes, bags, ethnic/artisan jewelry, hats. So I tend to dress “plain.”

    That said, I love the WOW! reaction I get when I wear my favorite Eileen Fisher wool jersey dress — or my rather tight pencil skirt and a ribbed turtleneck — both with boots.

    Reply
  14. Toby Wollin

    My absolutely fav item of clothing when I was 7 years old was a red Kate Greenaway dress with a huge platter collar. I wore that thing until it was rags. I was never, ever tall or slim, so the whole androgynous gender-bending thing never did anything for me. In college in the 70s, styles for us were in the jeans and workboots range, which did nothing for me – once I got out of school, I hopped right back into dresses as soon as I could. I wear pants to work, but I’d rather dress up in the skirt and top or dress any day. My sister, on the other hand, is very tall and thin – but she stays away from that look like poison.

    Reply
  15. Completely Alienne

    I wear trousers most of the time too – I have a school uniform approach to work clothes (black trousers and a selection of jumpers blouses and jackets). At home I wear jeans and khaki trousers. Very, very occasionally I have to get a dress or skirt out (weddings and funerals) but I can usually avoid Frugal Scholar’s point about the need to shave my legs by wearing woollen tights (this is England – we don’t do hot weather here). I could not however describe my look as androgynous as I am short and curvy – there is nothing remotely boyish about my figure!

    Reply
  16. Mardel

    When I was young and thin I loved that androgynous thing and could pull it off well. Now at 50 and thicker and curvier it is not so easy. I can do the wide or straight pants, but I need something softer that shows some shape to pair with it.

    When I think about it, even then I was not androgenous in style, I just like pushing things a little bit.

    I like mixing the messages, something in between masculine/feminine pretty/rough, although still working out the details.

    Reply
  17. Karen

    I love really feminine looking women in menswear or permutations of menswear. I am not much for androgynous looks per se, (like women who look like David Bowie) but a sexy woman in say a men’s shirt with a grandfather watch is great.

    Reply
  18. Deja Pseu

    Arabella – lucky you! I love that look.

    Nancy – Your style sounds very classic.

    Northmoon – I like your word, “streamlined.”

    Frugal Scholar – jeans are a lifesaver at times, aren’t they?

    Reply
  19. Deja Pseu

    dana – “simple” and “drapes” have become my watchwords! I’m slowly moving away from more stiff and structured styles.

    Duchesse – I envy your ability to wear those trousers. I think one really needs some height to make them work. I’ll bet they look fabulous on you.

    Daffodil – a woman who knows exactly what she likes, excellent!

    Wendyb – Heh. I’m going to have to watch that movie again. I remember la di da, but not much else.

    Reply
  20. Deja Pseu

    greying pixie – you make an excellent point about a feminine appearance and masculine clothing. And like you, I’m finding softer, more feminine shapes more appealing at my age, with an occasional edgy masculine accessory.

    metscan – a divine bag and coat are important!

    Jen – I’m right there with you on the clean lines, though I’ve recently added some sweaters with a simple, soft ruffle and find them to not be too fussy. And yes, I love that picture too. She has such presence!

    Reply
  21. Deja Pseu

    spacegeek – lace up granny shoes…how fun! Your black leather pants sound fabulous.

    Imogen – oh yes, the curse of the short-waisted. I’d also always gravitated toward tailored, classic styles, but like you I’m gravitating toward softer and more interesting shapes.

    LBR – I’d describe your style as modern feminine. Nothing too fussy or frilly, strong but all girl.

    Leanne – too funny! I think we’re on a parallel style path!

    Reply
  22. Deja Pseu

    Rubiatonta – it sounds like you’ve sussed out your best style quite well. I’ll bet you look smashing in those wide legged trousers!

    Toby Wollin – skirts are great for dressing up. I’m still getting the hang of wearing them.

    Completely Alienne – that “school uniform” approach can be a lifesaver on workday mornings!

    Reply
  23. Belle de Ville

    I wonder why it is that I find dresses so much more comfortable than trousers. It’s probably because my figure isn’t in any way Katherine Hepburn-esque. I wear a dress or skirt and heels almost every day to work. A good watch, bracelet and earrings are part of the work uniform too.
    The weekends are another thing all together….cargo shorts and flip flops and maybe a baseball cap. So not chic, but comfortable.

    Reply
  24. Deja Pseu

    Mardel – those sound like good strategies, pairing the wide pants with something more shaped, and mixing the masculine and feminine elements a bit.

    Karen – that’s true. It’s that contrast tension between the feminine and masculine that creates the great effect.

    Reply
  25. Rooi_Skoene

    I love dresses and skirts. And I’d love to wear more pants but it’s a bit difficult finding pants that fit a pear shape nicely.

    One of my favourite dresses is a pink vintage one. It’s a classic and I get many compliments on it.

    And my favourite skirt has pleats. I twirl whenever possible.

    Reply
  26. Narya

    I have been all over the map. Well, okay, no, never at the frilly flouncy end. I tend to dress to meet the needs of my life. When I had a job moving furniture & fixing things (while in grad school), I wore jeans and dress shirts or t-shirts. I wear dresses and skirts, but also pants. I adore cowboy boots, in part because they are so multi-season and so comfortable. I never ever ever wear heels; I have done, in the past, but I have decided that they are too uncomfortable and I simply will not wear them. (I’m only 5’4, so I suppose many people would recommend them.) I do not shave any body hair, but will still wear nylons or shorts or whatever; people just have to deal with the hair. I tend to buy men’s shirts, because I have broad shoulders and small breasts, and women’s clothing doesn’t fit me well.

    I have no idea where this puts me on any of the spectra, though.

    Reply
  27. Nancy (nanflan)

    Classic? I guess there’s an element of that. But even as I do classic shapes, I also do color (for example, I have a whole collection of wool blazers in brights) and “statement” jewelry. On the other hand, some days I go extreme neutral (charcoal or black). Maybe it’s a Gemini thing.

    Fortunately, its easy to do quirky classic in the Southwest. (How’s that for a descriptive style, BTW?)Seriously, I think it has a lot to do with the quantity and quality of light here, combined with the ready availability of unique jewelry, as well as the offbeat nature of our populace.

    Florida was the same way–you can really rock a lot of color there too, especially in the Southern part of the state.

    Reply
  28. Deja Pseu

    Rooi_Skoene – yes, the twirl is one of the best things about wearing a skirt!

    Narya – I think a lot of us move back and forth between the masculine and feminine poles. It’s about dressing to fit who we feel ourselves to be at the moment, and IMO it’s all good!

    Nancy – I think I know what you mean. I love some of the Southwest-inspired jewelry. I also love your “quirky classic” descriptor; it’s quite apt!

    Reply
  29. Shay

    I spent the first half of my adult working life in a military uniform so I tend to favor the femme side, now that I have a choice.

    In fact, when I see high school and college women prancing around in bits and pieces of camouflage I have to fight the temptation to ask them if they realize how UGLY those things are.

    Reply
  30. Deja Pseu

    Shay – first of all, thank you for your years of service!

    Second, I’m no fan of camouflage prints on anyone save those in the miliary or those who wear for practical reasons (e.g. hunters). And they seem to be everywhere these days.

    Reply

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