There’s nothing new about women in menswear. Coco Chanel, Katharine Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich, Diane Keaton all became icons of menswear-inspired style. Lately we’ve been awash in boyfriend jeans, boyfriend sweaters, boyfriend jackets, brogues, fedoras…. I certainly get the appeal. Menswear worn by women conveys a confident, insouciant attitude.
Karen pointed me to this October article in the Wall Street Journal about fashion insiders shopping in the men’s department for wardrobe basics. Nothing particularly new there either, but it’s interesting that the focus is on value as well as style. (If you can call $275 shirts a “value,” but the point still holds at lower prices.) I’ve been tempted to try menswear, especially after seeing how much better made men’s clothes seem to be.
“Men have a lower tolerance for high price tags and expect higher quality,” Mr. Grant explained. “They want to buy a sweater and have it last forever.”
But in the past when I’ve tried either men’s clothing or even some menswear-inspired styles for women, I’ve found that rather than looking insouciant and chic, the effect is well, a bit… butch. (Butch is a valid style choice, but it’s not what I’m aiming for.) Back in the 1980’s after reading a profile of Tina Chow where she mentioned that she loved wearing men’s white cotton undershirts, I dashed off to Thrifty Drug to grab a package of Hanes. The shirts were nice, a soft and heavy cotton, but looked awful on me. I gave them to a neighbor.
I’ve periodically tried on men’s jackets, but somehow the effect is always…
The women who really can carry off menswear (at least the clothing) tend to be a bit more on the tall and/or willowy side.
At J.Crew, president and creative director Jenna Lyons said the men’s cashmere sweaters are a big hit with female customers, so she often requests them in brighter colors. Two years ago, Ms. Lyons introduced a women’s version of the company’s popular men’s Ludlow jacket. The blurred gender lines are a part of the brand’s DNA, Ms. Lyons explained, recalling that, when the company was run by Emily Woods (daughter of founder Arthur Cinader ) in the 1990s, it offered unisex sizing. “Emily did this because she liked to wear men’s clothing herself,” said Ms. Lyons. That’s also true of Ms. Lyons, a willowy 6-footer who has bought menswear all her life.
For those of us who are a bit curvier (or short, or both), it gets tricky. The line of most men’s clothing is basically designed to drape from the shoulders, and a bust gets in the way of that. “Slouchy” or oversized on a curvy body can easily read as “sloppy.” My short stature also complicates shopping in the men’s department, as few, if any, men’s clothes are designed for a 5’1″ frame. I’m willing to have alterations done on a superior piece, but a simple men’s shirt that fits my bust is too big in the shoulders, too long in the torso and arms, and huge through the waist. Sweaters hit me mid-thigh. Boys’ sizes are too narrow in the hips and bust.
Another thing I’ve noticed about women who successfully incorporate menswear into their wardrobe is that they often choose pieces and fabrics with a bit of movement, drape and fluidity. Look at the suit Katharine Hepburn is wearing in the top right picture in the collage at the top of the post. There’s nothing stiff or starchy about that fabric. Likewise with this picture below of Coco Chanel from the WSJ article, you get the sense of movement in those trousers even though they’re structured. (I’ll grant that probably neither of these were actually men’s clothing, but rather custom made based on men’s designs.)
I love outfits that mix masculine and feminine elements, but find that in general it works best for me when the “masculine” bits are shoes and accessories. A bespoke suit is a nice idea, but has little place in my life.
Are there men’s items in your wardrobe? Do you have them altered? What do you look for when shopping for yourself in the men’s department?
MORE “BORROWED FROM THE BOYS”:
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