Menswear as Womenswear: The Case for XX[X]S


Lately I’ve been wondering something about myself. Am I the only woman not trying to specifically present as masculine that looks to menswear for style guidance?

It’s true that I have a tomboy streak that has never gone away. I still like picking up frogs when I find them, most insects fascinate me (as long as they’re not swarming…I can’t stomach a swarm), I like to clamber up a good ocean-side boulder, and I’ve never gotten into nail care or other stereotypical feminine activities. But still, I’ll go with a well-placed ruffle on a silk blouse every now and again and I’m way into endlessly collecting fall jackets that evoke a variety of womenswear eras.

I have to say, though, I look at and read menswear magazines and blogs more than those for women. There’s something so appealing about the ways in which menswear uses a solid, classic foundation to depart from, and alter with, contemporary innovations and cultural shifts.

Maybe a little ironically, given social and gender assumptions, menswear reflects a much broader spectrum of masculinity than womenswear does for femininity. Menswear magazines alone boast styles that range from the fey aesthete, to the cultured European businessman, to the urban mariner, to the  mid-Century gentleman, to something akin to the put-together “every man.” And don’t get me started on menswear blogs! Thomas McBee’s and Adam Boehmer’s posts here on IBC last week were two great examples, but there’s also Sartorially Inclined, Highsnobiety, and Swipelife (which isn’t specifically menswear, but they feature some great menswear lines and tips), just to name a few.

Point being, I thought I’d take this opportunity to encourage some of you female people to check out menswear sources to riff off of, to cite some examples of how menswear styles can translate, and to implore more menswear designers to make some xxXs pieces that might work in a more unisex way. LIKE BASIC WOOL FISHERMAN SWEATERS. Ahem.

Off we go…

Two AWESOME dudes in Europe, Courtesy of The Sartorialist

As Thomas pointed out when he cited these guys in a previous post, these two dudes are obviously crushing it. They’re somehow managing to straddle the worlds of dandy-ish business aesthete, classic James Dean cool, rugged fisherman/poet, and Swiss yodeler-with-striped-socks. This is exactly the look I like to try to translate to outfits  for a pleasant walk about on a Sunday afternoon.

Fortunately, this girl already figured it out.

Some lady in Europe somewhere, obviously. Women in the States prefer to look less awesome.

In my mind, those two dudes and this lady run into each other by some antiquarian books lying at their feet on a cobblestone sidewalk and decide to form an alliance of well-dressed people who drink espresso and lead by example.

That girl made me think of something else that always bugs me. The problem of handbags. What’s the deal with handbags? They’re so ugly so much of the time. Even the ones that everyone says are supposed to be the best. They’re not the best. They look like leather diapers that are overfilled with things you don’t want to think about. I don’t need to cart around a leather diaper with little designs all over it. Gross. Even that little bag that girl up there has. It looks like if a marshmallow had sex with a diaper. What a disgusting love child. That bag is a prom night dumpster baby if I’ve ever seen one. Which I haven’t.

Guys seem to have a variety of bag options ranging from over the shoulder leather satchels like this:

To NICE backpacks like this wool Bill Amberg bag:


So instead of handbags that look like all the other dumpster babies, I look for bags that look more like the cool stuff guys get. Like this:

Orange waxed cotton for a cheap $48, by Death and Tears!

Death and Tears...Mahogany and Leather

Hardware is always a nice thing

A large part of the draw of menswear is the return in recent years to a variety of “classic” vantage points. Sturdy, single source fabrics, the incorporation of both a rugged outdoors look AND a more sophisticated “I have a fully-stocked wet bar” look, and a resurgence of old school grooming techniques. It’s all very tactile and grounded feeling. There’s something so comforting about the idea of a classic barbershop that serves scotches on the rocks. Or of wool suits and silk socks.

Hiroshi Awai is so COZY!

Shut UP, Nigel Cabourn cameraman jacket!

The Barena Family is pretty comfortable with its eccentricities.

Close your mouth, honey.

While there’s an issue with the bizarre quilted skirt and floppy hat, overall that Beams girl is looking pretty ready to sit in front of a fireplace with a warming brown liquor.

Mm-hm and also..hmm.

Wool jacket! Pocket square!

Menswear is also fun to mess around with because when you’re not a guy and you’re not presenting as particularly masculine, incorporating elements of guy style can create a really fun, unexpected look that sets you apart from the sea of lady snore-fests out there. Barbara Stanwyck knew that.

When this first went up on Carrie Leilam Love's Facebook page, I thought that Kate Winslet had suddenly gotten interesting.

 So does this cute little person:

Classic mens cut on an adorable girl!

Rebel Rebel!

This scenario has been playing out in menswear for some years now: the whole no socks/leather shoes/rolled trousers thing. I hated this on guys at first. Maybe it’s because I don’t know many men who take care of their feet and so I assumed that, without the protection of socks, there was a mess going on inside the leather. I like it better now.

Leather shoes, sturdy slacks, no socks

But I like it best when women do it.

My current style icon for the fall is this random lady from another country.

I don’t know why menswear sources overall seem to be more inspirational than womenswear sources. Unlike most womenswear junk, they’re full of suggestions, rather than orders. I like all the tips and tricks that mens magazines dole out and the ways in which products seem to be incorporated as elements of a whole lifestyle that smacks of ease and simple luxury. What the hell am I supposed to do with the likes of this:

Heading: “Slave to Fashion”

Wow. Yeah. Thanks for nothing, Glamour magazine.

It’s really unfortunate for her that fashion seems to be a super ugly, boring slave master. Additionally, can we STOP calling people slaves to things already? It feels so weird. We don’t say “Oh yeah, she’s concentration camper to fashion.” Or “She’s such an indentured servant to eclairs.” I mean, right? Anyway.

Apparently Express Jeans sent her a gift certificate, so she made a whole post about how they're stylish.

 Incorrect. Jesus. INCORRECT.

Anyway, in conclusion, I am such a mail order bride to menswear ideas, it’s ridiculous.

Next week: the country’s rapidly going down the shitter! Let’s look to ’70s punk rock for how to dress for the coming class war.


About Michael von Braithwaite

Does it look like I'd wear it on a boat, at an eccentric person's estate or accompanied by a peacock on a chain? Yeah, I'll probably buy that.


  1. I love those bags! They have so much more dignity than shapeless and/or blinged-out lady bags. I would happily be their concubine.

  2. amy

    ok, i’m hooked after one post! can’t wait to read more.

  3. Cathy

    Michael! Marshmallow x diaper = trash can baby = I love you.

  4. carrieleilamlove

    Michael! Your post is so timely. I have been wanting to wear more menswear lately. One thing you forgot to mention is how SEXY this is. Whether it’s a woman-identified-not-intentionally-masculine-presenting person ala leather-diaper-bag lady, or a queermo looking person like “rebel rebel,” chicks in boy clothes is HOTTTT. *SWOON* People like this send me into the “be her or do her” spiral of bargaining on a regular basis.

    • Michael von Braithwaite

      Oh, I agree. But saying “sexy” makes me uncomfortable. Like you can say it and it doesn’t bother me, but I just can’t say it. It feels so weird in my mouth. Anyhoo…MENSWEARDOIT!!!

  5. Amal Joury

    i’m going to have to start incorporating this…my brain says “Brilliant…when michael does it…less so when amal tries it” shut up brain.

    it’s also true that you never say the word sexy. which is hilarious.

    • Michael von Braithwaite

      Amal, you have to find the bits that work for YOU! You have a completely different style repertoire than I do, so a lot of the stuff you can get away with, I can’t and vice versa. Also, I don’t know if you have any tomboy in you. I actually think a lot of the Beams items would work for you, though.

      I just can’t say sexy. I also never think of things as “sexy.” Like I’m not sure what it means when something is “sexy.” Hot, yes. Sexy, ew.

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  7. “She’s such an indentured servant to eclairs.” As a child soldier for Ritter Sport, I totally identify with this. Great post!

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  9. Kat

    You’ve nailed my sartorial sensibilities. What’s funny to me is that when I briefly, absent-mindedly posted about it on Facebook, people seemed to think I was coming out of the closet or something. It was so strange. I got an unusually high number of “likes” and comments, and received a few emotionally charged private messages telling me that I was great for living “my truth”, being open about myself, being an example, etc. It happened a few weeks ago and I still haven’t responded because I feel a bit overwhelmed by the response.

    In any case, I adore how you’ve illustrated the aesthetic. You also nailed something that I’d felt a sense of but hadn’t articulated, which is the difference in tone between menswear and womenswear fashion writing. So true. And I’m a child sex worker to the truth!

    • Michael von Braithwaite

      THAT is the most hilarious personal fashion story ever told! I’m going to start telling people that I’m glad they’re living their truth(s). Thanks for reading!

  10. I could not agree more. I get very frustrated as all of the nice, plain/simple clothes are “for men”. Too many times I pull something off a rack of clothes to look at the front of it just to find that someone has vomited beads/sequins all over it.

IBC LOVES your brain, and we encourage thoughtful, lively discussion. We will, however, moderate comments that are abusive or disrespectful. Stay classy!

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