Tomboy Chic: Style and Tomboy Femme


I’ve always adored women in menswear or menswear-inspired clothes.   (How hot does Katherine Hepburn look here?  Enough said!) So of course I was pleased about the buzz for the new “tomboy chic” and the so-called “boyfriend look.” (Note to the fashion industry:  Enough already with this boyfriend crap.  Heterosexism is not cute.)  Check out “Tomboy Chic” in H & M Magazine to get a sense of how this trend is playing out.    

For all of their supposed gender coolness, most of the recent articles on menswear trends in women’s fashion ultimately reinforce not only heteronormativity but also gender binaries.    For example, the H & M piece gushes about how fantastic it is to wear menswear (“straight from your boyfriend’s closet!”) only to remind readers in its final sentence:  “Don’t forget to add your own special feminine touch.”  Ugh.  Pardon me while I throw up.  

However, I will admit that this media hype has forced me to consider the differences between tomboy chic and tomboy femme, which I’ve discussed previously.   The more I think about it, tomboy chic doesn’t seem to be a mode of gender mixing at its core–I think it’s more of a revitalized style of femininity. (In other words, it’s like when I wear menswear-inspired pieces but still look femme).   Tomboy chic may be alluringly androgynous, but its gestures are not extravagant or theatrical.  Only tomboy femmes dare to take the risk of identifying with the extremes of gender.   This is what Katherine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich were all about.   In a contemporary context, Annie Lennox and supermodel Linda Evangelista seem to take similar risks.  Swoon away, my pretties.




What I particularly love about Evangelista is how all of her “looks” read as drag impersonations, lovingly realized.   She can transform into the second coming of Elvis or Sophia Loren, and in both cases she isn’t afraid of flamboyance or exaggeration.  I also love that when she’s looking butch or androgynous, she communicates an authenticity (or perhaps a depth?) that feels very different from the tomboy chic.   I use the word “authenticity” precariously, aware of the contradictions I’m invoking.  As the photographs show, it’s all an act–effacing any sense of a natural gender–but it’s still for real. 


Because she performs all facets of gender as genuinely fake, Evengelista brings a postmodern edge to the multigendered personas of classic Hollywood stars like Dietrich or Hepburn.   This is one of the things that champions of tomboy chic seem to miss when they mistakenly invoke these Old Hollywood stars as tomboy icons.   What was compelling about Dietrich and Hepburn was not just that they dared to wear menswear but that they were daring enough to make the muliplicity of their gendered identities visible for mass appreciation.  And on that note, it’s only fitting that I end with two images that showcase the flamboyant gender flexibility of Dietrich. (If they look familiar, it’s because I’ve copied them from a previous post!) 








8 Responses

  1. Interesting post SF. I find the heteronormative angle fascinating and frustrating. Aside from hitting someone over the head with a rainbow hammer I find it disconcerting that the automatic assumption that style and fashion as in culture and sexuality seems to be a default of heterosexual. What’s at the root of that assumption, do you think?

  2. ooh, fascinating!

    the “boyfriend” phrasing, to me, screams “claimed.” that’s an observation, not censure. in fact, that is a big part of the reason i like wearing jamie’s jackets, the “yes, i’m hers” aspect. am i interpreting it strangely? because it seems to fly in the face of all this “liberated women wear menswear” talk.

    looking at the pictures in the h&m article you linked, i can’t help but notice one major difference between the modern and classic examples they use. the classic examples (marlene dietrich!) take on a full masculine wardrobe, whereas the modern take of “tomboy chic” is simply accessorizing a feminine wardrobe with masculine touches. is it a fear of losing their femininity that keeps it at that level? it strikes me as “look how edgy we are” rather than being edgy. perhaps the final irony is that the full masculine wardrobe greatly accentuates the wearer’s feminine features, while partial execution actually looks much more androgynous to me.

    i want to pursue this further, it’s fascinating – and also fascinating that none of this is what i mean when i call myself a tomboy femme (i love the ambiguity of it all)

    p.s. am i the only one who thought “top gun” with that first picture?

    I completely agree about the difference between the contemporary and classic examples. Thx for making this point! xo SF

  3. I think its interesting she has a coupe glass in hand…makes me wonder what she was drinking

  4. gah. the boyfriend thing annoys me as well. not only because of the heteronormative aspect of it, but that it implies that a woman must have a partner (i guess that’s just the bitter single in me talking) and that what one does with ones wardrobe has to have anything to do with looking like the person you’re dating, getting claimed by the person you’re dating, etc… i mean, of course some people like that, but i don’t understand why it has to be the one thing they single out enough to use as a label for this kind of dress.

    Quite right! xo SF

  5. I love a crisp collared shirt and a tie…but I also like femme-ing that up I hate how it gets distilled into “masculine” accents. Why cant it just be *stylish*?

    Actually, in the early 20th century the “garçonne” look that was popular among new “liberated,” modern women was interpreted in precisely this way–i.e. as fashionable. The negative connotation attached to masculinity only happens years later when the “mannish” look is linked to lesbians. xo SF

  6. […] posted an article in March (oops, I’m a slow reader… bag blogger! Bad!) about Tomboy Chic and Tomboy Femme Style – with some absolutely hot photos. I think there is something so sexy about a feminine-looking […]

  7. Hepburn and Lennox look astounding in menswear! I’d love to be able to pull these off, but I’m still pretty grateful for the world’s tomboy eye-candies.

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