I live in an interesting world. The guys at my school, (yes dudes, blokes, whatever you call them) have evolved to carry PS1s and Luggage Totes. My classmate even threw his Birkin onto the floor. Egads. They are able to re-contextualize them with huge swooping coats and large rectangular blocks of color, in what I can only describe as profound forwardness.
Like a three-piece suit, these items work off each other to form a larger scheme. What is the equivalent for women? The straightforward answer is that there is none. Although, there is an argument for pyjamas and slippers. The roundabout answer is if we take fashion items temporarily out of their gendered context, they can become quite flexible to work with. We are not asking our readers to cross dress, but to learn the art of disguise. There is no need to be a tomboy. The goal we are shooting for is gamine.
The most easy thing for girls to steal is the boyfriend shirt. It has been adapted to women’s curvilinear bodies. I have grown somewhat allergic to that term, which should have died with dinosaurs and the last decade. This is the most versatile piece of clothing, as this viral video from last year (2011) proves.
There can be denim, dress stripes, gingham, paisley, and countless more iterations. The next favorite is the blazer, adorned with tweed, zippers and hypersaturated hues. Common knowledge? As for what’s next, we’re getting there…
The award for most ubiquitous men’s shirt goes to flannel, which has gained some notoriety for laziness and to a certain extent, hideousness. Next comes the oversized hoodie or football jersey, which when worn everyday, turns into forgotten soup; lukewarm and bland. There is certainly a greater opportunity to exploit the diversity of menswear out there. Recognize the relative advantage in shopping for menswear. For one, it is simply unlikely your gal pals would shop there. Secondly, menswear operates on a totally different wavelength. Imagine, they have their own trends, which can totally shift the dynamics of womenswear. (Thirdly, psst… they generally have lower price points!) It is a goldmine and I am swimming in it.
Womenswear is inextricable from frivolity. Just recall the times your face contorted at seeing afterthought lace and unnecessary ruffles. My eyes bled. Any shape, size or volume you can imagine, women have. Yet, civilization has not advanced to the stage men can sashay in peplums or empire waists. This resilience towards change is somewhat attractive, as they point towards consistency and subtlety. Ribbons? Men have none of that. They are serious. What can womenswear learn from the opposite sex? The fellows are doing something different, and the devil is in the details.
Apart from the jewelry department that women have an edge in for the variety and craftsmanship of connecting the most inventive and ridiculous materials together, men have some cooler gear. By cooler, I mean less pretentious and showy. First, there’s luxury watches with jarring rhinestones, shiny precious metals, flowery scrolls and pearls. Unless at gala events where the Grandes Dames are daintily dripping in diamonds, it cannot count for casual. A certain type of wisdom, status and affluence are also required to wear it, which put quite bluntly, do not apply to the majority of the population. Men’s watches however, have an articulated sensibility of balancing understated materials such as stainless steel and matt titanium with leather. Defined forms, holistic shapes and textures tend to stand out rather than stylistics. There is more sophistication in their design vocabulary in terms of functionality and readability. How many of you ladies envy their large faces and unfussy dials?
Bags. A women’s briefcase is a paradox. Why not try some sturdy men’s briefcases from Gucci? I fancy the one in the middle, with black diamante leather.
Ladies, if the men’s store is too hairy and sweaty, I am afraid your choices are limited. Thankfully, Reed Krakoff comes close. Close shave, Mr. Krakoff…
Menswear design is so embedded into the form that it becomes a secret code. It is time to enter the mainframe and hack it.
Steal No. 1 (with caution): The T-Shirt
Men’s T-Shirts have a wider graphic vocabulary, borrowing from popular culture’s library of posters, icons, logos and album covers. Cutesy can take a hike. Go for big and striking prints, enlarged type and illustrations. Watch out for dropped armholes, which leads to flappy sleeves, and higher collars that can be quite unflattering. Smaller sizes also tend to have a flattening effect in the front that can only apply to those blessed with androgyny. In stealing all men’s clothes, look for a distinctive detail. Most importantly, listen to the voice in your head that says, “I wish I had that! That looks dope!” Well, now you can. Pair these with a flouncy skirt.
Steal No. 2: The Tank
Let us put our lessons into action. Prepare to go wild. The dropped armholes and collars become kind of risqué as they lose those tragic tents on your upper limbs. Unlike women’s tanks which are shorter, more body-conscious and diaphanous, with rounded hems and light fabric, men’s tanks are longer and medium weight with straight cuts and hems. The images they have are also naughtier and filthier, like this fresh number from French brand Eleven Paris. Over jeans, they become a sharper and edgier tunic that loses the billows and frills. If you are going for a street edge, their tanks are just the right length. Be careful though, contrast rib trims can sometimes look really ugly.
Steal No. 3: Pants
This is tricky because of the dropped crotch. Rework it to your advantage. The smallest size stocked will be a 28, so go loose if there is no fit. They may not have our silky pants, but they have equally comfortable wool and jersey. Wool drapes incredibly well, and holds intense colour. Jersey is cotton, which in this case is a little simpler to wear – sweatpants. I picked out this pair from Kidda by Christopher Shannon because of this bitchin’ chain print. Sure we have seen them on women’s blouses, but is a refreshing respite from the all too intricate and fussy scarf prints. Christopher Shannon is a graduate from Central Saint Martins in London (of Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney fame) with an MA in menswear. I recently discovered his stuff stocked at Opening Ceremony, ASOS and Oki-ni. If the buyers there are listening, definitely keep an eye out for what he does next.
Steal No. 4: The Button Down
It is important to find the right size, or beware of the dreaded Parachute Bodice. It will make you fall to sartorial death. Stay away from anything too topstitched or riveted, especially with the sleeves, collars and chest pockets, because it makes the garment look thick. In turn, you look thick. Eyeball it for a lighter weight fabric to avoid looking too bulky. Hunt for distinctive prints or unusually placed seams in the fabric. What I like about this shirt from ASOS Men’s are the sectional sleeves with cloudlike camo. It is almost cartoony, and not too NS Man. Selective blocking is a trend you will only find more of in dude town, with a different fabric used specifically for the collar or front pocket. SUPER fun. They also use better materials such as cotton and rayon instead of the clammy polyester we have.
Steal No. 5 : The Sweater
Tired of tight-fitting sweaters? Abolish these modern-day corsets. Men’s sweaters are straight cut too, so throw in some geometry. It is fine to be oversized as long as it is balanced with tapering, like here with the sleeves. Unless you are opting for the boxy look I have, go for a lighter and softer fabric. Dropped shoulders create a fake raglan, which can dramatize a small frame. It gives that extra definition and upper body emphasis.
Another day, another lesson learned. The trick is in the details. Bolder cleaner shapes, some geometry, intense colors, distinct prints and textures, all tempered with a little feminine lightness. Drift away from frivolity towards serious fun. If the ideal male figure is a V, with androgyny being waif-like, menswear presents possibilities for females to break away from the typical hourglass silhouette. Take a stab at breaking up the usual lines of the body into another natural art form and ideal of beauty. Embrace eclecticism and divergent points of emphasis. Be it the shoulders, the crotch or the length of a hem, underline it. Build upon surface designs, combining it with form, textures, materials, objects and finally, punctuate with accessories. Leverage small touches to transform them into big punches.
The Global Radar series examines activity in New York, Singapore and around the globe. The writer is a student in Design and Management at Parsons the New School for Design in Manhattan, NYC. She has a natural affinity for spotting trends and thoroughly appreciates diversity and internationalism.