Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.
~ Coco Chanel
It’s hard to imagine a time when women’s apparel wasn’t inspired in some way by menswear. Trousers, blazers, the button-down collared shirt, oxford shoes, and even jeans are all elements that were once the domain of men only.
I’ve been drawn to these styles since I can remember. Even as a girl growing up in the Seventies and Eighties, I balked against what I perceived was itchy lace and girlie frills in favor of more masculine bowties and vests. (More about my lace phobia in a future post.)
The photo below is a contrast between what I chose to wear and what my younger sister wore. Of the two of us, she was girlier, choosing to wear her hair in a bun as often as she could and opting for soft, feminine looks. Whereas I am on the left with my hair down and the more masculine bowtie and vest on top of a blue plaid skirt.
By the time my sister and I came along, the gender lines in women’s fashion were thoroughly blurred. No one blinked an eye at my penchant for choosing more masculine styles. I was not scandalized for wanting to wear what I did. In fact, the Eighties were a great time to be alive and aware enough to explore these notions. Not only were women wearing what was once deemed “men only,” men were trying on more feminine looks.
|Both Boy George and Nick Rhodes explored feminine styles during the 1980s.|
La Garçonne broke gender barriers in the 1920s
None of us would have had such freedom were it not for Coco Chanel and other designers in the 1920s tapping into the psyche of the post-World War I era. It was a time when women were just beginning the process of owning their independence and power. (Not coincidentally, this also opened the door for men to explore their own femininity, which led to longer hair and softer colors and details for men’s fashions later in the century.) This time period in the Twenties was an awakening of sorts and Chanel was right there to capture that moment in fashion–even if it was considered scandalous at the time.
La Garçonne (tomboy or Bachelor Girl) was a trend that paved the way for men’s styles to be incorporated into women’s fashion. The trend grew out of the popularity of a novel entitled La Garçonne written by Victor Margueritte. In it, the heroine decides to live life on her own terms after her fiancé cheats on her. It was quite the scandalous read, even causing the author to lose his high-ranking status within the French government. Today, it’s nothing when compared to the exploits in books like Fifty Shades of Gray, but back then, it set the world ablaze with a trend for “new women” who wanted to emulate it, if not in practice then at least in appearance.
In the photo below, Chanel and her friend Vera Bates are thoroughly embracing their garçonne side. They’re wearing oversized plaid blazers with layers that include a collared shirt, a long cardigan, and a sort of ascot tied at the neck. Their pants, which look like denim, are baggy and rolled up or stuffed into socks, and their shoes are heavy-toed. Chanel’s boots look like steel-toed, lace-up work boots.
In spite of what I said above about having strong leanings toward menswear, I was surprised to discover in my first attempt at interpreting this look that I felt a little like an old-timey hobo with so many layers piled on. Maybe it’s because I felt my petite frame was weighted down with each piece. In addition, I broke a cardinal rule for petites: never roll up jeans or wear cuffs. It is said to break the line at the ankle and make the legs look shorter.
Still, I had to try it. In the photo below, I am as close to Chanel’s look as I can get: button-down shirt, long cardigan, plaid blazer, topped with my version of her ascot. I’ve put on some “boyfriend” jeans and rolled up the cuffs to reveal my brown lace-up boots.
It’s not a bad look. I don’t even mind the rolled up jeans that much. But, what I learned is that I can’t go whole hog on the menswear thing. Maybe I feel powerful wearing a blazer and boots, but I need to balance that out with some feminine touches. I need the world to remember I’m still a woman. No, strike that. I need to remember I’m still a woman.
So, I took off the cardigan and baggy jeans, changed my scarf to a lighter color, and slipped on a pair of skinny jeans, which I tucked into my socks. Granted, it is still very masculine. (Friends of mine who have seen this photo equate it to the 1970s Annie Hall look.) I like this look a lot better. What do you think?
If you like these two outfits, scroll down for more details about how to find similar pieces for your wardrobe.
Shop these looks:
Zenobia jacket, vintage: Similar on sale at Talbots here, here, and here | Cream-Colored Cardigan, thrifted: Similar here, here, and on sale here | Crisp White Shirt, thrifted: Similar on ThredUP in 6P, on Thredup in 2P, and on sale at Talbots here | Garnet Hill Boyfriend Jeans, no longer available: Similar here | Eileen Fisher Scarf, vintage: Similar here and here | Rieker Lace-Up Boots: Similar styles here, here, and here | Wool Felt Hat by Goorin Bros. from several years ago: Similar here and here
Zenobia jacket, vintage: Similar on sale at Talbots here, here, and here | Crisp White Shirt, thrifted: Similar on ThredUP in 6P, on Thredup in 2P, and on sale at Talbots here | Talbots Skinny Ankle Jeans from last year: Similar here and here | Eileen Fisher Scarf, vintage: Similar here, here, and here | Rieker Lace-Up Boots: Similar styles here, here, and here | Wool Felt Hat by Goorin Bros. from several years ago: Similar here and here
Affiliate link disclaimer: Please note, most but not all of the items linked above are affiliated with companies I am associated with. By clicking the affiliated links and purchasing from those stores, I might receive a small commission. I do not place these links lightly — any company I represent is a company I buy from regularly, including eBay and ThredUP. By purchasing from these stores, you support the work I do here and I greatly appreciate your support!