High Fashion Androgyny

In her comment on my Tomboy Chic post, angiesyounglover posted a great Studio Show movie  featuring the androgynous Danish model Freja Beha Erichsen.   (Thanks AYL!)  For me, Freja highlights the distinction between being a tomboy and being androgynous.  Like Jenny Shimizu, Freja is so gender flexible that she’s almost post-gender.  And yet, she really does take the risks of identifying with the extremes of gender much like tomboy femmes.  

Especially in light of the “tomboy chic” phenomenon, I’m curious about the influence of Freja and other contemporary models (of various sexual orientations) who are known for their androgynous looks.   Omahyra Mota?  Agyness Deyn?  Anja Rubik?  Who else?  I’m not very familiar with the world of high fashion modeling so please make suggestions.  

Here are some pics of Freja from the February 2009 issue of i-D magazine.  What do you think?

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Tomboy Chic: Style and Tomboy Femme

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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.

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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. 

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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!) 

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