Need advice on making my wardrobe a little less gender-normative.
November 2, 2016 12:25 AM   Subscribe

I'm a 28-year-old lesbian who has always presented as very feminine: sundresses, tights, heels, the works. Lately I find myself really longing to dabble in more androgynous/masculine fashion, but I have no idea where to start.

The challenge: I have a VERY "stereotypically feminine" body (size 8-10 US, small waist, huge boobs and hips) and I haven't really seen too many examples of women like me "pulling off" menswear without binding their chests, which I'm technically open to but not especially excited about.

I'd love to hear general tips from women whose look has gradually gotten butch-er over the years, AND I'd love to see/hear about examples that prove me wrong about my body type not being ideal for this! Thanks so much in advance.
posted by Pizzarina Sbarro to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (18 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
The thing with more androgynous clothing is that they DON'T emphasis boobs and hips. Whereas typical feminine clothing would choose to emphasis either boobs or waist by nipping in the waist and having darts at the chests.

I wear a lot of leggings and long flowy shirts - both large men's shirts and tunics -- and I am happy with the general androgynous look.
posted by moiraine at 12:45 AM on November 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I identify and dress very feminine, but damn do I love a bold vintage menswear inspired look, even though it doesn't end up in my wardrobe most of the time. So this is just from me being envious of awesome women in dapper androgynous fashion.

I'm seeing TONS of body types at DapperQ .

Real life example - Sue Perkins Host of Great British Baking Show
Example 1 - Ex. 2 - Ex. 3
I LOVE her combos of blazers and shirts. You can see she wears things that fit her bust and accentuate her shoulders. They float away from the stomach to not emphasize the chest. She also doesn't tuck in shirts. You can see in example 2 that cohost Mel is dressed similarly but comes off as very feminine due to the cuts of the blouses, colors, and that she's often wear shell shirts versus button ups.

I found this stunning vintage inspired look on Pinterest. Again, while these are tighter, it's the cut of the shirts and the emphasis taken away from the chest with suspenders, bowties, and vests.

If you're not into blazers, then jackets are great. You can definitely shop in the men's section there. Most things won't be nipped in at the waist and will be broad in the shoulder. Men's peacoats, moto jackets, etc. Or again, look for a similar vibe in the women's section.

Other things I've observed in this type of fashion: SHOES! That's the thing that I WILL put into my wardrobe are menswear inspired shoes. Like oxfords and loafers and I see lots of Converse too. (I have two Cole Haan like these.) Straight leg pants. Broad shoulder items. Pocket squares. Shirts buttoned to the top. Ties. Cufflinks. Vests. Short hair. Definitely find shirts that fit at the bust and float down.
posted by Crystalinne at 1:42 AM on November 2, 2016 [9 favorites]

You can also go for a boxier look. Shirts that are broader and don't cut in won't emphasis your feminine figure. You are going to look bigger but more androgynous. So pick out some docks, straight pants and straight shirts. You can look androgynous pretty easily! But it may not feel flattering to your sense of style at first.
posted by Kalmya at 3:48 AM on November 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

There is actually a whole, like, thing about "women wearing things that are traditionally thought of as menswear but we designed it for women" or whatever. "Menswear inspired" is probably the fashion codewords you want to try. Or I've also seen J. Crew this season doing a whole thing about what they call the tomgirl - "borrowing from the guys, but made your own".

I will grant that some of the "menswear inspired" stuff put out for women still sometimes has a very girly/feminine vibe to it, or can be marketed with a very girly/feminine wink. I recommend only because it would be a first step in, and also because the womens' wear designers who go that route would have a chance of remembering the female form. It might be a place to start, and see what looks you like, before progessing next to menswear itself.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:59 AM on November 2, 2016

I would identify as butch, but not particularly androgynous, because I'm a plus size girl with a figure and bras are difficult enough as is, no way I'm binding. I don't think you need to bind to be androgynous and I encourage you to have some fun with this! I started out by wandering through the men's section and buying sweaters and flannels. Usually the flannels won't button, but they are meant for casual wear anyway. After that I graduated to t-shirts -- definitely try a few on and get a feel for them, because often men's crew necks have a higher neckline and it can be too tight on me. After that, finding buttonfronts that actually fit, which is an adventure. You'll have to size up probably to fit your chest, and maybe even put in hidden buttons at the breast; if you're worried about looking bigger than you are, you could wear a fitted blazer over the shirt, but I don't really care about it. Most men don't dress to shrink their shape. Try a bunch of different brands. Most of my buttonfronts are from Old Navy; they size their men's clothing very generously. Now pretty much everything I wear comes from the men's section except for jeans and bras. There are some women who can wear men's jeans but I'm not proportioned for them.

Other things that help are buying men's undershirts instead of tank tops and occasionally wearing boxer briefs -- those aren't pieces most people see, but they help me with the mindset/comfort. I love wearing men's clothes. They cover the parts I want to cover, are often made of better quality fabric, last longer, are thicker, and never unexpected sheer or revealing. For a great comparison, if you do end up going into Old Navy, compare their men's polos to their women's. The women's are thinner fabric, meant to fit much more tightly, much shorter, and some of the lighter colors are sheer enough to see your bra under.

There are some stores that probably most people would think of as frumpy where you could find women's clothes that would work as part of a menswear wardrobe -- Land's End is one, LL Bean is another. You want stuff that is not closely fitted, short, or particularly trendy -- think classic, thick, and long. The trick with places like that is to just use pieces in a larger wardrobe instead of buying your whole outfit there.
posted by possibilityleft at 4:48 AM on November 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

I like wearing the dapper-queer look, but also have an hourglass figure - and I don't like going boxy (it just makes me look larger, and no more androgynous).

Things that work for me:
- fitted button-up shirts - cut for women but styled more masculine; I usually go for white or pale striped.
- vests/waistcoats in dark grey - they decentuate the bust without making me look much larger
- straight legged trousers - I actually do fit men's trousers and the pockets are wonderful.
- unisex shoes / boots (like Doc shoes)

I've also learned I look better in a straight tie than a bow-tie, though the latter is more popular in the queer world right now.
posted by jb at 5:11 AM on November 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Work with a tailor to have some shirts that deaccentuate your bust made. It doesn't have to be as expensive as you think. If you're in a city that Trumaker services, I can generally recommend their dress shirts.
posted by lieber hair at 6:26 AM on November 2, 2016

A good, easy stepping stone is to select pieces of clothing that are heavy and structural and mix them in with your regular clothes. Military style coats, Doc Martens, collared shirts, etc. Just start mixing them in with your dresses and "girly" things until you find stuff that works for you.

Sundresses and combat boots worked for River Tam, is kind of my general thinking on the matter.

FWIW I'm also very stereotypically lady shaped and pants are some impossible bullshit, so I wish you luck in that endeavor.
posted by phunniemee at 6:32 AM on November 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Take a look at some photos of the singer from Christine and the Queens. I especially love what she does with shoes.
posted by matildaben at 7:00 AM on November 2, 2016

I dress masculine-of-centre most of the time. I think the key is buying clothes -- at least for me and my body shape -- that are cut for the female figure. I am busty, but don't bind. I just buy shirts (not blouses) that fit me well. As possibilityleft suggests I do in fact buy most of my clothes from Lands' End, LL Bean and sometimes Eddie Bauer. They have very solid choices that fit my figure and are not at all girly. For example, I have this navy blue blazer. It fits me well and the style is more masculine.

And yes to shoes! This has been hard for me as I have small feet, but I splurged and bought a pair of Church's brogues. They are super solid and don't look at all girly.
posted by Lescha at 7:17 AM on November 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Bowling shirts? Hawaiian shirts?
posted by at at 7:59 AM on November 2, 2016

Hi! You are me! I am 30 and came out a few months ago, and always dressed more feminine - think kind of ModCloth style with more retro dresses and lots of cardigans. But I've been exploring more androgynous fashion as well. I too have a very typically feminine body, though I'm a bit bigger than you at a 10-12. The term I've been using for searches is "tomboy femme," which to me is more androgynous and less "masculine." I'm not the bowtie-wearing type, so I want things that are less gendered period and not more male.

My everyday outfit is skinny jeans or leggings with a t-shirt (and hoodie if it's cold) or a button-down. For winter, I am loving shawl-neck sweaters like this one, which don't read as super masculine but more comfy. (Mine is a men's small from Old Navy Outlet.) I work from home, so I can keep it very casual. I recently presented at a conference and did so in ponte leggings with a button-down and heels.

Things/places that have worked for me:
* Old Navy has been great for actual men's clothing because everything is cheap and there's a huge selection. I need to do women's button downs (size L) because of my bust, but the men's tees in size S and their non-button downs in S or M fit me well.
* Kohl's Sonoma shirts tend to be on the bigger side and are pretty gender-neutral. Lots of cardigans, flannels, and sweaters.
* For shoes, I've gone more toward sneakers. I have a pair of Onitsuka Tigers that I love. For boots, I've gone toward combat and motorcycle style boots.
* Uniqlo is another great option for more gender-neutral stuff, both male and female. If you don't have one where you live, they regularly do free or low shipping sales, and they have a big one going on now.
* Accessories help. I wear simple earrings everyday. I bought a more masculine watch (this one, which is cheap but looks great). I am a typical lesbian who loves hats and beanies, including fedoras and newsboy caps.
posted by anotheraccount at 8:50 AM on November 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

The challenge: I have a VERY "stereotypically feminine" body (size 8-10 US, small waist, huge boobs and hips) and I haven't really seen too many examples of women like me "pulling off" menswear without binding their chests, which I'm technically open to but not especially excited about.

It sounds like you're saying you're cool with your body type but don't know if you can pull off menswear - you totally can! But the absolute #1 critical thing for you will be to get your shirts tailored. For women with larger chests this is SO IMPORTANT for button-up shirts. It makes all the difference.

Also for the hips/waist issue, I would suggest going for higher-waisted pants and possible tailoring those as well (to bring them in at the waist). This will make your tailored shirts look a lot better tucked-in.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:06 AM on November 2, 2016

Also: when I was grappling with this very question, I found searching pinterest for 'tomboy femme' and 'soft butch' to be very very helpful!
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:07 AM on November 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Start with shoes. I just bought two pairs of oxfords (burgundy and black patent) and I have had a blast styling them. My style is usually edgy-feminine-casual, and I've found a million ways to wear these shoes and they really bring a nice menswear feel to any outfit. Examples:

- cuffed boyfriend jeans with a v-neck tee in a season color, knit blazer, oxfords.
- knit t-shirt style dress, moto jacket, oxfords.
- Ankle-length trouser pants, dressy-ish blouse, oxfords.
- grey skinny jeans, un-tucked button down, slouchy cardigan, oxfords.

and this are good examples of what I've found easy to wear lately.
posted by tryniti at 1:00 PM on November 2, 2016

Hi you sound a lot like me! I really like to rock an androgynous femme style. I have been really happy lately wearing lace up boots, straight leg jeans or corduroys cuffed just above the boot, a t-shirt, and an unbuttoned plaid shirt. If you want to close the buttons, I use fabric-adhesive velcro between the buttons at the largest part of my chest. I'll button up the shirt and put on a pullover if it's cold. And honestly, you can even get rid of the "femme" aspects of this completely - I wear makeup and have long hair - remove those elements and I don't think this reads as femme at all.
posted by capricorn at 1:01 PM on November 2, 2016

Fit For a Femme blogs her partner M's style (search for posts on that blog that are tagged "Tomboy"). M likes dapper / masculine clothing, and has a curvy body.

Other words to try searching on Google, Tumblr, and Pinterest that may yield the kind of style you seek and may include the body type you're dressing:

handsome butch, masculine woman, masculine-of-center, masculine presenting, masc, tomboy, dapper, queer, FtM, transman (I suggest these because you may find some trans* men with curvier bodies who do not bind), androgynous, stud, ootd (outfit of the day).

If you find people whose style you like, also check who they follow on Instagram, and you may find more people with similar style.

Miki Vargas' Handsome Revolution Project is great, too.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:20 PM on November 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I wear plain shirts with my blazers, since button ups don't button. Flat shoes with everything (mostly cons). I am of the hourglass persuasion and I find tucking in the shirt partway down my hips works well to add some masculinity to my look. I wear earrings, that's it, and glasses, and no makeup.

Admittedly this is all because I have a standard bloke's haircut now - if I still had long hair this would just look like I'm wearing menswear inspired stuff instead of being something like masculine of centre.
posted by geek anachronism at 8:39 PM on November 2, 2016

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