Reader Lianne wrote with this challenge:
I’m a long-time jeans-and-t-shirt type who’s always thought that style was something exclusively for very girly women, with the goal of looking feminine or cute; I associated it with a very traditional view of femininity, and with being or acting heterosexual. I’m not straight, and my taste is a little on the butch side, so I figured style wasn’t for me. (Nothing wrong with feminine, cute or heterosexual of course, just not my thing.)
Thanks in no small part to your blog, I’ve started to realize that style can just be about dressing in clothes that make you look and feel amazing, whatever your idea of amazing is. I’m acquiring more interesting pieces that I love and flatter my body, and developing a sense of my own style.
But when it comes to moving beyond tops and into the realm of outfits, I’m lost. The go-to items you and many other fashionistas rely on seem to be mostly very feminine – skirts, cute heels or ballet flats, necklaces, scarves. I’m happy to be female and look female (which is lucky, since I’m petite and feminine in build and would have a rough time pulling off a man’s style), but such specifically feminine articles don’t appeal for me (though they look lovely on many people – I’m not proposing a war against femininity!).
Do you have any suggestions for how to move beyond black dress pants and a blazer without going full-on girly or taking up cross-dressing? I realize this might be rather far out of your realm of interest, but I’ve found your comments on reclaiming femininity interesting and open-minded, so I’d love to hear what you think about UN-femininity even if you don’t have any tips. I know I’m not the only one – there are a lot of people, both straight and queer who, for a wide range of reasons, prefer their style just a little more androgynous.
I asked Lianne to clarify the difference between “butch” and “androgynous,” and we agreed that the former is mostly neutral or masculine elements with a feel of masculine toughness but not necessarily concealing physical gender, while the latter combines explicitly masculine and feminine elements and sometimes obscures physical markers of gender.* And since Lianne described herself as “a little butch” and my own stylistic knowledge skews pretty femme, I made a few suggestions that are probably equal parts butch and androgyny, by our agreed-upon definitions. Here’s what I told her!
Brands to try
Updated to add: In the past few years a number of amazing brands have emerged that cater to women with butch style leanings. The ones on my radar include:
Haute Butch – everything from bow ties and cufflinks to vests, tees, and button-fronts. Also includes prom and wedding wear.
Saint Harridan – custom shirts and suits, plus crowd-funded ready-to-wear pieces
Wildfang – great suiting along with jeans, joggers, button-fronts, jackets and more
Androgyny – fab button-fronts in plaids and solids, designed for bodies with curves but not tight or fitted
Also check DapperQ’s amazing list of stores.
Vibrantly colored pants scare just about everyone, but since skirts aren’t an option and there’s only so much you can do with a selection of gray, black, and brown slacks, I think tracking down some colorful trousers could work. If bright yellows and greens scare you, try rust, navy, or aubergine to start. Both Land’s End and Old Navy typically stock chinos in a few fun shades.
The world of vests has exploded over the past few seasons, and the offerings continue to grow. Many stores are starting to cut vests low to accommodate breasts and some nip in nicely at the waist, but if you prefer a boxier look there are plenty of versions that have a traditional menswear vibe. A sassy, fitted vest over a button-down shirt and sharp slacks looks contemporary and cool. Some good sources for vests: ModCloth, Etsy, and Anthropologie.
FLUEVOGS AND TRIPPENS
Both of these brands are fantastically expensive, but both also make comfortable, gender-neutral shoes that have edge and interest. Fluevog has an entire unisex section with some gorgeously designed shoes, but a few of their women-specific styles are also dynamite. Trippen is a German company and their wares are a bit hard to track down here in the States, but well worth it. (PedShoes sells ’em.) Comfy, funky, and amazingly well made, many offerings are unisex.
With every passing season, rings seem to get bigger and bolder. Although the multiple-finger styles and enormous chunks of metal are more “tough” than “androgynous,” I think adding a few prime pieces could be a great way to liven up otherwise tame ensembles. People say that after your face, the observing eye travels to your hands. Put something awesome on your fingers, why don’t you? Shopbop and Etsy are both great sources.
A world of solids can become staid and dull, and adding a few patterns is a great way to enliven androgynous ensembles. Florals, watercolor pastels, and animal prints all read femme, but houndstooth, plaid, some geometrics, and many dark-colored paisleys are more neutral. Blouses and shirts are the easiest pieces, and I’ve gotta put in a plug for the thrift stores here. Nearly ALL of my printed items were thrifted, and secondhand shops of all types are print goldmines, in my opinion!
Most of these suggestions could be implemented for work or casual looks, I think, and most can be done on a budget. OK, maybe not the shoes, but all the others.
This is, undoubtedly, just the tip of the androgynous iceberg! Are you a fan of gender-neutral dressing? What are your favorite techniques and key pieces? How do you keep your looks from falling flat or getting repetitive? Any other brands, looks, or sources of inspiration you could recommend to Lianne or others hoping to spruce up their butch looks?
*Neither Lianne nor I are gender studies experts, but we needed some definitions to create the parameters of our discussion. You may disagree with those definitions, but please assume positive intent. This blog is not a scholarly work, nothing in this post is meant to be assumptive or insulting, and even if none of these stylistic suggestions appeal to you, they may to others.
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