Today most people wouldn’t bat an eye at a woman wearing trousers or a bow tie (in the western world), but it wasn’t always this way. In fact, prior to the late 19th and early 20th century, social customs were very strict regarding women’s clothing, with women wearing dresses, underskirts and painfully tight corsets.
Then, there came one the most influential fashion icons of the 20’s, Coco Chanel. She rebelliously dismissed the feminine styling of her day and embraced androgynous style. She accelerated the already growing movement towards female empowerment and paved the way for menswear-inspired clothing, designing elegant suits, tweed blazers and simple everyday-wear for women. She was best known for wearing nautical stripes, trousers, and chunky knit sweaters.
Although Coco Chanel and other stars such as Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn rocked trousers before the 30’s, it was really only considered socially acceptable for women to wear pants in specific situations, like sports or during the wars when they took over many of the men’s jobs. With their husbands away at war, women took on what were previously male dominated roles such as farm or factory work. Since traditional women’s attire wasn’t appropriate for the more physically demanding work, they raided their husbands closets and altered them to fit.
Thus, it really wasn’t until the 60’s and 70’s that menswear inspired fashion was no longer considered a rebellious political statement. In the 60’s women made large strides toward equality with the passing of Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which both gave women more rights in the workplace. In 1961 Audrey Hepburn wore black capri’s in the movie, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, inspiring a new resurgence of women breaking away from traditional feminine clothing.
Yves Saint Laurent took menswear-inspired styling to new heights with his “Smoking” Tuxedo Jacket, hailed as the alternative to the Little Black Dress. As he said himself, “For women, the tuxedo is an indispensable outfit, which they feel comfortable with, so they can be who they are. This is style, not fashion. Fads come and go, style is forever.”
In the last twenty years, “menswear-inspired fashion” has increased in popularity from sculptural shoulders, buttoned vests, plaid patterns, classic fedoras and trench coats to slouchy boyfriend jeans and suit sets. But, until recently it still had a feminine element with cinched waists, addition of ribbons or lace, and pastel colours.
However, in the last five years this trend for menswear-inspired fashion has continued to grow, but there has also been a growing demand for women’s clothing that is masculine without the feminine touches; so no longer just inspired from menswear, instead it is actual menswear designs fitted to the female body. This style has been given many names, but most commonly referred to as androgynous fashion, tomboy style, or menswear-inspired fashion, a trend which continues to rapidly grow in 2020.
Thank you for reading,