Menswear Had a Dream
Constance C.R. White says His is Now Hers, but He Won't Mind
The best ideas from men’s style work incredibly well for women. You might even say menswear has helped move the sexes a little closer together, breaking down barriers of dress and of imagery. When females get to wear the pants (cliché intended) these days, they need not give up one iota of femininity.
There are, in fact, those who believe there is nothing more alluring than a woman dressed in her man’s, well—any man’s—clothes. The provocations of menswear sheathing the female form are many: The pull of opposites, the idea of a woman in control, the subversive.
Designers have dreamed up astonishing ways to express menswear for women. The style lives in coats, jackets, dresses and even in shoes, furs and handbags. Tuxedos in white or black are again attracting attention as an alternative to the evening dress.
The abundance of top names that came out big here make it a champion look. Believers include Michael Kors, Dries Van Noten, Ralph Lauren, Reed Krakoff, Stella McCartney and Narciso Rodriguez. For thought leaders Alber Elbaz at Lanvin and Phoebe Philo at Céline, lush, sartorial fabrics hold great beauty.
Philo’s straight, elongated pants and minimal yet luxurious long coats and jackets strike a modern note. Likewise, Krakoff, as if on air, rises above the restrictions of what’s old and over. It’s an argument naysayers like to make: Lace is too fuddy-duddy, and rigorous tailoring too hard. Krakoff dips lace in lacquer and juxtaposes it with plush gray cashmere and voilà, to borrow from the First Lady, “All of a sudden you have something going on.”
Monotones give a grown-up and in-charge look. This is, after all, a woman who is driving her own bus, so to speak, and if you’re not, this is your chance to at least look like you are in charge of your own life.
Stella McCartney and Alexander Wang layered color over color. Gray, the shade of dove feathers, was a favorite. A coat over a jacket, sweater, pants and gloves all in the same hue makes dressing simple yet luxurious. A sharp jacket or matching suit is just about one of the easiest, most versatile ideas to pull off and feel confident in.
Though it’s not entirely déjà vu, three years ago designers were similarly besotted. Back then, high-waist pants and solidly tailored suits in earth tones meant serious business. We’ve returned to this inspiration, but there the similarities end.
There’s more experimentation. Taking chances is the order of the day, and nothing is phoned in. The result is some of the most seductive moves you can make through autumn.
But what draws us to this butch style time and again? Kors believes utility plays a role. “It’s functional and comfortable and generally looks polished without a lot of effort,” he remarks by e-mail. “I know that’s what inspires me. Also I love when a woman looks as if she’s just grabbed something out of her boyfriend’s closet and walked out the door.”
Like a recurring character in a TV series, there is the expected: the white shirt, the briefcase, the suit. But now there’s a jeweled necklace making the shirt more enticing. Sleek lines, smooth leather and a changed proportion transform a briefcase into a sharp handbag from Céline. A suit is soft and curvy, accentuating a cinched waist, at Lanvin.
Most evocative are the make-me-smile ways in which sartorial fabrics show up as prints in unexpected places. A maestro at creations with a soupçon of Old World and New mixed with extraordinary fabrics and evocative patterns, Van Noten hits a high note with his signature white shirt paired with an embellished skirt.
Houndstooth put bite and bark in a Dior stiletto-heel pump in black-and-white. Closer to earth and just as arresting are the Miu Miu oxfords reminiscent of rockabilly style, with pointy, metal-toe caps, perfect with trousers or soft skirts and handy for chasing bugs into tight corners.
Showing just how inventive he can be, Kors crafted a must-lust fur jacket in big black-and-white houndstooth check, a face-framing collar and elbow-length sleeves that are the soul of elegance.
The counterpoint to these richly appointed accessories and fancy, detailed sportswear are sweeping, voluminous coats that have little in the way of embellishment. They’re ample protection against winter’s chill and generous enough to go over long trousers, big shoulders and full skirts alike. A man’s topcoat, with its clean lines, minimal detail and sharp cut, has buckets of versatility. Quite simply, it goes with everything from the Tom Ford color-drenched and floral-patterned boots you will marvel at to the architectural white-piped black jacket by Rodriguez.
But really, for me, it is all about how you don’t need a personal stylist to be the star of our own imaginary red carpet. Women who have adopted some aspects of male wardrobe into their own signature are historically among the best dressed.
“There’s a timeless aspect to menswear,” muses Krakoff. “It never looks old.”
Katharine Hepburn is remembered as much for her roles in films such as The Philadelphia Story and The African Queen as she is for her high-waist pants. (She was one of the first big Hollywood actresses to court scandal by regularly donning trousers in public. Imagine!) Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich both made statements with natty suitings. Dietrich’s famous top hat and tails helped stoke her mysterious AC/DC mien. And then there was Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, who it seems never saw a pair of finely wrought trousers she disliked.
More recently, singer and Covergirl cosmetics spokesperson Janelle Monáe has turned heads with her black-and-white androgynous style. What these women intuit is that when you borrow from the boys, you are always well-suited.
Now, will women ever get comfortable seeing men in dresses and skirts?