What do you wear to dress up if you're androgynous?
May 24, 2014 9:56 AM   Subscribe

Looking for something in between gowns and suits.

My partner doesn't really identify as masculine or feminine. She has an androgynous, casual style that works really well in normal life - think jeans, v-neck t-shirts, button-ups, sneakers or loafers, etc. She describes her style as being "tomboy." However from time to time we need to dress up for an event (weddings, usually) and it's really hard to come up with what to wear. She would be equally uncomfortable looking like a "man" (suit and tie) or a "woman" (dress...of any kind.) She usually defaults to more on the manly side of things because it's slightly better than wearing a dress. Right now our working look is a slim blazer over a button-up and some sort of slacks (that don't match the blazer so as to avoid the suit look.)

Is there anything out there for people like my partner? Blogs, resources, shops, etc. I have definitely seen "butch" style blogs but that's not really right. She's not interested in things like bow-ties, suspenders, and other masculine trappings any more than she is interested in skirts or earrings. And to be clear we are NOT interested in looks that play with mixing both genders (for instance a tux with heels and a sparkly necklace) but rather in styles/looks that leave out gender completely.

Thanks for any recommendations you might have.

*I am taking some shortcuts here in referring to "masculine" and "feminine" and things like that, not because I don't respect all the variations of these two things, but because my question is about trying to find our way out of those conceptual boxes that culture has constructed for us.*
posted by ohsnapdragon to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (23 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Not sure if it's exactly what you mean.....but the kurta inspired look works really swell for both genders in an Anglo culture. I wouldn't be going for the brocade or silky ones...and I'd make sure the trousers were a bit baggy while the kurta was slightly more fitted and in a strong colour...and it's a unisex, dressed up look. I'd keep the kurta at tunic length....and likely ditch the scarf.

There are a million kurtas in google images...play around with the descriptions to see the possibilities.
posted by taff at 10:11 AM on May 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Keywords on tumblr like "dapper" and "dandy" might help her find style inspiration. A lot of it skews butch, though. I'm arguably less androgynous (slightly more on the femme end) and spend a lot of time digging around in the tag "tomboy femme".

I'm a huge fan of the blog Qwear, as well.

I've spent a long, long time trying to find looks that leave out gender entirely, and IMO in formalwear it's basically impossible. You're either looking at a dress or a suit. On the more femme end of things, I opt for dresses, but pick something classic and simple. I never wear pink or ruffles or feminine accents. You could go in the other direction and do something more menswear inspired, but yeah, in a formal situation that's going to mean a suit and tie. Period.

Keep in mind that a sportcoat and unmatched pants will not be formal enough for a dressy situation. That's a casual look. Might be OK for a backyard or "barn and barbecue" type wedding but is not going to be appropriate for a big affair at a country club or hotel ballroom.
posted by Sara C. at 10:12 AM on May 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

My personal solution has been to wear mostly men's clothes, and if it's an event friends are throwing go for the slightly punk side of androgynous - shirt, tie, black trousers, converse, blazer with buttons. If it's a really relaxed version of a formal event I like hideous dresses, fishnets, and combat boots. If I were braver, I'd go for high-end cosplay. I'm going to link to a bunch of stuff I've found interesting, but it sounds like your partner is having a lot of trouble with formal clothes in general - would she be okay with something like pants and a nice shirt or a shirt with buttons and a nice sweater? It sounds like she's trying to go for something minimal.

Here are some queer fashion blogs I've found helpful:

I love Esther Quek.

Autostraddle recommended a bunch of fashion blogs fairly recently.

Qwear has a bunch of stuff.

The Unfeminine Female is a photo blog of women rocking their own unfeminine styles, a lot of it is casual but may help for ideas.
posted by bile and syntax at 10:21 AM on May 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would do a google image search for Tilda Swinton. She always looks great and tends to go for an androgynous look:

Here you go!
posted by gribbly at 10:25 AM on May 24, 2014 [11 favorites]

Agreed that the androgynous look is hard with formal wear. I'd probably go with whatever dressy top she likes with a slim, long (black?) skirt, or a fitted ("girly") suit-thing.
posted by Weeping_angel at 10:28 AM on May 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Well, jumpsuits are back. They are not a tux or a dress.
posted by purpleclover at 10:29 AM on May 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

I don't have specific suggestions but I did read up a lot about clothes and wanted to do something in that area, career-wise, at one time. Here are some things I know about formalwear that might help you invent a style that will read as formal wear while being comfortable for her:

Formal wear always has historical roots. In other words, it references older clothing styles -- for example wearing long dresses at formal occasions even though that tends to not be done in daily wear anymore. You could look at the history of the suit for some inspiration, which started out pretty ...controversial. It dates back to the 1600s and was originally a long jacket over unmatched tight leggings, something that looks rather "gay" to our modern sensibilities, not butch. This sounds like it fits okay with what is currently being done.

The more formal, the older the style. So, for example, Dress Blues in the U.S. army replicate the military clothing of the Civil War. (This is why the jacket is darker than the pants. The jackets were not worn very often and tended to be stored in the saddle bag. The pants got worn more, exposed more to sun, and washed more often, thus lightening the color of the pants which started just as dark as the jacket.) And the Vatican has styles of clothing that date back a lot farther than that, I think to something like the 1600's.

In formal wear, there are actually two levels of formal: Black Tie and White Tie. White Tie is the more formal. You see this principle in the military as well. There are (or were, back when I was a military spouse) Dress Greens that look similar to a regular suit, Dress Blues that harken back to the Civil War, and Dress Whites that are yet more formal and tend to be mostly be seen on very high ranking officers. Most of the lower ranks don't own them. (My ex was issued Dress Blues when he did recruiting duty because Dress Greens were his daily office wear, so he needed something more formal/dressy for formal occasions.)

So one trick you can use is just to dress in all white or a lot of white or otherwise dress in something persnickety and hard to take care of. White does not hide stains. It requires you to have mannerisms and behaviors which are rather prissy and keep it clean. Etc. So lighter colors or fabrics (like silk) that are not wash-and-wear friendly can be used to convey that same sense of formality and prestige.
posted by Michele in California at 10:34 AM on May 24, 2014 [10 favorites]

High-waisted straight-cut trousers in black, a plain white silk t-shirt, and a Nehru jacket that coordinates?
posted by DarlingBri at 10:38 AM on May 24, 2014 [9 favorites]

What about either the kind of suit (tuxedo/smoking jacket) that already carries a strong suggestion of Marlene Dietrich/androgyny or sort of "Katherine Hepburn masculine" - silk shirt (undarted, men's or mannish) and wide-legged, high-waisted pants? Or a mannishly cut silk women's suit (undarted jacket, plain pants)? Or a suit in a non-standard color - I saw a great picture of some queerly gendered people in bright pink suits recently, or you could go with purple, emerald, lavendar, cobalt, etc. Or a velvet suit for winter?

I myself (hard to fit, small fat but muscular and wide-shouldered) go with a collarless silk jacket (Eileen Fisher via ebay), band-collared silk shirt and wide-legged mannish pants, plus men's tuxedo pumps.
posted by Frowner at 10:42 AM on May 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

I bet a women's seersucker suit with cropped pants would be great for summer too.

If I were thinner and richer and looking to dress this way, I would wear men's styles but cut for women - simple pants suits with masculine detailing in unusual colors or fabrics.

Think of print and texture as a way to bring the gender confusion - a mannish suit in a blue floral or cut velvet or thick satin isn't that mannish. You're probably saying "but where would I find such a thing since I don't have a million dollars" - I find a good deal of unusual clothes on eBay, and there's actually a genre of WASPy mother of the bride suits that are good. They're meant to be worn with femmey hair and high heels but can be detourned. Talbots and Boden both sometimes have stuff like this.
posted by Frowner at 10:49 AM on May 24, 2014 [5 favorites]

This is totally biased because I live in Scotland, but I went to a lovely wedding not that long ago where gender was playful - and there were a lot of kilts worn by both genders.

A proper kilt attire is considered the most formal of outfits here - complete with a sporran, kilt hose, ghillie brogues, a sgian dhubh and so forth.

Your partner could forsake those formalities and focus on getting a good kilt, some nice brogues, a good quality shirt and a well-fitting jacket.

.. outside Scotland, the kilt may read as even more gender fluid.
posted by kariebookish at 10:55 AM on May 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

A friend of mine goes with a J.Crew women's suit, but paired with a non-button-up shirt. Something like this. The cut and color of the suit somehow make it way less guy-suit-like, but without making it all that femmy.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:58 AM on May 24, 2014

Yeah, Does your partner object to a women's suit?
posted by Omnomnom at 11:07 AM on May 24, 2014

I sorta, kinda dress like this, and I go for either J Crew or Armani suits with either a plain t-shirt or tank top underneath. If I want to be femme, I wear heels. If not, alligator loafers ( I have a high arch, and lace up shoes bug me.) Sometimes, I wear little pearl earrings. I don't really like jewelry and have to be reminded to wear my wedding ring.
I don't like button down shirts or ties anyway, as both seem too much like costumes. I don't like bracelet length sleeves, cropped pants, pastels, neon colors, anything too tight or patterned. ( I know it sounds boring, but I like it. Gray is my favorite and severe is my watchword.)
posted by Ideefixe at 1:00 PM on May 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

If it is a super formal event... why not wear a woman's tuxedo? something like this?
posted by larthegreat at 1:48 PM on May 24, 2014

As long as the clothes are well cut and made with fabric with a bit of a sheen to it, any outfit can probably qualify as formal. A unisex silk scarf will provide a nice finishing touch.
posted by alusru at 2:03 PM on May 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding the suggestion to look at Tilda Swinton's formalwear. For instance, this outfit is gorgeous, looks festive and polished, yet doesn't fit easily into either a masculine or feminine category. Likewise, here her clothes look well designed and perfectly tailored--it's as if her personal style is "clothing that fits my body well" rather than "masculine" or "feminine."

One tip for making sure that simple clothes look appropriate in formal settings: have things tailored with special attention to getting the shoulders and sleeves exactly right. A jacket that looks like it was made just for you looks significantly more polished and formal.
posted by Meg_Murry at 2:21 PM on May 24, 2014

Response by poster: I think the suggestions for a very well fitting women's suit paired with something other than a plain button-up are probably on target. I will take her to a J Crew to try on some suits - any other shop suggestions for that crisp, trendy look? A lot of places (Banana Republic) have suits that look a little too office-oriented.

I also found this image of Ellen Degeneres which is sort of close - simple, well-fitting shirt and pants but then the blazer/jacket is a little non-traditional. I doubt my partner would do sequins but...something like that.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 3:02 PM on May 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Angelina Jolie here And here

And the inimitable Tilda Swinton as mentioned above.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 3:38 PM on May 24, 2014

I think what you need to really complete the women's suit look in an dashing way is a really beautiful fitted brocade vest

Something that is tailored to show off a bit of curve, and has a sumptuous colour and texture is the height of elegance. Especially good is finding a vintage vest and getting it perfectly fitted to your figure.

(seriously, I can't properly express my love for a lovely vest. I don't think I've ever used this many adjectives in this short of a comment before)
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:38 AM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Diane Keaton (both on- and off-screen) might give you some ideas.

Also, Lauren Bacall and Katherine Hepburn wearing pants.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:07 PM on May 26, 2014

This is the second AskMe in a row that I have Ellen Degeneresed, but that's for a very good reason. She's hosted the Oscars! Everything she wears (and she does a LOT of wardrobe changes during!) is exactly perfect and wonderful like her.

Do a goog image search for Oscars + her!

(Now I'm off to see if anyone has posted a question about who the best talk show host ever is...)
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 9:46 PM on May 29, 2014

My brother had an expensive, fancy black tie wedding in New York and my girlfriend at that time was an androgynous lesbian like your partner. She has a very cool, casual, west-coast andro lesbo style. She had a lot of anxiety about what to wear but was ultimately very happy with the outfit we put together. She wore a woman's blouse in a very androgynous boxy cut but sheer fabric, white with black cuffs, collar, and placket, over an undershirt and with a very closely-cut black tux-type vest over it part of the time, paired with black pants and dress shoes. She felt both comfortable and appropriate and we got zero blowback. Granted, my family is extremely liberal and cool and they adore my weirdo, lesbian self. But it was still a black tie affair. I wore a gold sequined formal dress. It worked out very well.

I'd be happy to share photos of this particular outfit if you me-mail me.
posted by palegirl at 8:30 PM on July 12, 2014

« Older What format is this timestamp: 2456799.87848174 ?   |   From 7" soul to 12" soul Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.