Women wearing menswear-inspired clothing isn’t new. Actress Marlene Dietrich embraced the idea in the early 1930s, often appearing in movies or at special events dolled up in a tuxedo or loose trousers and a jacket. Sometimes she took a more literal approach by adding a tie and vest.
Nine decades ago, it was a gutsy, fashion-forward look that often garnered appreciative second glances, as well as a few questioning stares. Today, it’s a stylish, timeless, striking and, at times, fun alternative to other, more predictable clothing options.
Most years, designers include a few feminine takes on traditional menswear in their collections. Many times, it’s a focus on classic masculine patterns such as herringbone, pinstripe or glen plaid in styles that are more flattering and appealing to women. Often, it’s menswear tailoring elevated with luxury fabrics or a more casual but pulled-together look such as slim or wide-leg pants cinched with a belt and a striped shirt, finished off with loafers, oxfords or brogues.
A white shirt, whether oversized or more fitted, also lends itself to a modern masculine-feminine look that can be paired not only with a plaid or striped jacket, but with everything from slouchy trousers to a more tailored black pantsuit. Or consider layering a favorite white shirt under one of this fall’s standouts, a lightweight sweater vest or a bold buffalo check shacket that’s best described as a cross between a jacket and a shirt.
Another borrowed-from-the-boys look offers a bit of a tomboy feel – or at least it was for famed aviator Amelia Earhart, who preferred more fitted pants, bomber jackets, neutral hues and a colorful scarf for a hint of femininity. Her short, tousled hair seemed to enhance that boyish feel, as it did for actress Katharine Hepburn, who also embraced a similar spirit and attitude toward clothes and life.
Tomboy looks aren’t just casual these days. They can be elevated or made more distinctive with Greek fisherman caps, suspenders, ties and ascots.
Women are still taking their fashion cues from icons Dietrich, Earhart and Hepburn, as well as legendary designer Coco Chanel, who enjoyed wearing pants and popularized them for the women who had earlier started slipping into them while working in factories during World War I. The look eventually spilled into the streets and beyond, allowing women the freedom to move more easily and be comfortable in their clothes.
For most women today, embracing a nod to menswear is about blending personal style with just the right mix of masculine and feminine – chic but not costume-y, sophisticated when wanted and tomboyish if the mood strikes.
Menswear on women was a good look decades ago, and it still is. What’s different today is that more women are looking for clothes that go beyond just something to wear; they’re seeking sustainable fashion and accessories that are designed, manufactured, distributed and used in ways that are environmentally friendly. Ethically made clothing with fair working conditions also are being considered.
More and more designers and brands are using organic materials, forest-friendly fibers, recycled polyester, reusable materials, regenerated cashmere, antique lace and biodegradable dyes, all of which have less impact on the environment. Many have switched to engineering patterns that create zero waste.
More shoppers also are turning to vintage and consignment shops as they strive to refresh, reinvent, reduce and rescue fashion, since millions of tons of clothes become waste every year. They’re also investing in clothes that offer longer wear instead of wear-and-toss fast fashion.
It may take a bit more time to seek out stores and brands that are trying to make the world a better place, but it’s worth the effort.
LeSpecs sunglasses, Chanel bag and Prada heels from rosegold; Pearl by Lela Rose cape jacket and pants from Cindi Shelby.
Jolie lace trim blouse, Alexander McQueen pinstripe skirt and Phillip Lim 3.1 biker jacket, all from CK & Co.; tie from Jack Loves Jill Vintage.
Smythe stripe jacket with gold buttons from Balliets; Nice Things blouse, Rag and Bone jeans, Louboutin patent pumps, all from rosegold; vintage print vest from Oak City Vintage; scarf from Jack Loves Jill Vintage.
Greek fisherman’s cap from Oak City Vintage; Just Female short sleeve top from rosegold; Phillip Lim 3.1 pink pants from CK & Co.; pocket watch and suspenders from Jack Loves Jill Vintage; Stuart Weitzman metallic loafers from Balliets.
Chiara Bon glen plaid dress with ruffle front from CK & Co.
Dorothee Schumacher jacket, Vince pinstripe shirt and Lela Rose pants, all from CK & Co.; tie, suspenders and antique watch from Jack Loves Jill Vintage.
Louis Feraud jacket from Oak City Vintage; white blouse and tie from Jack Loves Jill Vintage; Phillip Lim 3.1 plaid shorts from CK & Co.
Balliets, 6443 Avondale, balliets.com
Cindi Shelby, pearl.nyc/cindishelby
CK & Co., 6429 Avondale, ckandcompany.com
Jack Loves Jill Vintage, etsy.com/shop/JackLovesJillVintage
Oak City Vintage, 1112 N Walker, oakcityvintageokc.com
rosegold, 6423 Avondale, shoprosegold.com
Photography and art direction: Shevaun Williams
Wardrobe and stylist: Elizabeth Wheat
Hair and makeup: Suzi Thompson
Special thanks to The Study Wine Bar