Today most people wouldn’t bat an eye at a women wearing pants or a bow tie (in the western world), but it wasn’t always this way. In fact, prior to the late 19th and early 20th century, social customs were very strict regarding women’s clothing, with women wearing dresses, underskirts and painfully tight corsets. Similarly, women’s hats conformed to a stereotype with the styles popular with prominent male members of society being worn only by women considered as daring and outrageous.
In the 1850’s, women’s rights activist, Amelia Bloomer, started to shake things up. She advocated for women to ditch the tight corsets and heavy petticoats worn under their skirts. Initially inspired from Turkish dress, the wide lose fitting pants worn under a knee length skirt, were aptly named the “Bloomer”. The Bloomer became a symbol of women’s rights in the early 1850s and was worn by famous feminists, like Susan B Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. But still with the exception of the famous fashion for turbans (imported from the exotic East) the fashion for men and women’s millinery remained distinctly different.
The Roaring Twenties…
Then in the 1920’s, there was another big shift in women’s clothing with women entering the workforce during WWI and gaining the right to vote. They had to think more practically about their outfits, and demanded less restrictive, more casual attire. Although women continued to wear skirts, their clothing became more masculine, loser and sporty.
One of the most influential fashion icons of the 20’s was Coco Chanel. She rebelliously dismissed the feminine styling of her day and embraced androgynous style. She accelerated the already growing movement towards female empowerment and paved the way for menswear-inspired clothing, designing elegant suits, tweed blazers and simple everyday-wear for women. She was best known for wearing nautical stripes, trousers, and chunky knit sweaters. Similarly women advocating suffrage began to also adopt men’s millinery styles.
The Golden Era…
The 30’s brought menswear-inspired fashion to the forefront, with actresses such as Marlene Dietrich, Audrey Hepburn and Katharine Hepburn sporting suits, top hats, trilbies and bow ties in popular movies.
Although Coco Chanel, Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn rocked trousers before the 30’s, it was really only considered socially acceptable for women to wear pants in specific situations, like sports or during the wars when they took over many of the men’s jobs. With their husbands away at war, women took on what were previously male dominated roles such as farm or factory work. Since traditional women’s attire wasn’t appropriate for the more physically demanding work, they raided their husbands closets and altered them to fit.
In 1939, Vogue illustrated a woman in a pair of pants on the cover of it’s May issue. The editors wrote, “Our new slacks are irreproachably masculine in their tailoring, but women have made them entirely their own by the colors in which they order them, and the accessories they add.” However the article goes on to depict when, where and how these slacks may be worn, stating ‘One Iron Rule is that they are well-cut and well-creased to appear properly ‘feminine’ and stresses the necessity to avoid the ‘mannish accessories’ that characterised the ‘early experimental days’ of trouser-wearing. So women could be free to wear whatever they wanted as long as they still looked like a Stepford housewife and looked pretty for their husbands!
Peace Love and Millinery
Although there were instances of women wearing men’s clothes throughout the 20th century, it really wasn’t until the 60’s and 70’s that menswear inspired fashion was no longer considered a rebellious political statement. In the 60’s women made large strides toward equality with the passing of Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which both gave women more rights in the workplace. In 1961 Audrey Hepburn wore black capri’s in the movie, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, inspiring a new resurgence of women breaking away from traditional feminine clothing.
Yves Saint Laurent took menswear-inspired styling to new heights with his “Smoking” Tuxedo Jacket, hailed as the alternative to the Little Black Dress. As he said himself, “For women, the tuxedo is an indispensable outfit, which they feel comfortable with, so they can be who they are. This is style, not fashion. Fads come and go, style is forever.” Another influence was credited to the 1977 movie “Annie Hall” starring Diane Keaton, where Diane Keaton’s menswear-clad character donned bowler hats, vests, wide ties and button-up shirts.
Then the 1980’s was all about the power suit, which included a tailored jacket with large shoulder pads and a knee length skirt. A recent article from Vice magazine about the evolution of the pant suit, stated, “These big shouldered jackets and pants disguised a women’s figure and took the focus off her gender, creating a feeling of authority as the traditional sex roles continued to blur.” UK prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, always wore a suit, saying that “she was in a man’s world, and she had to look the part.” Celebrities paired this look with a variety of male inspired millinery from the Stetson to the Fedora and top hat.
In the last twenty years, “menswear-inspired fashion” has increased in popularity from sculptural shoulders, buttoned vests, plaid patterns, classic fedoras, bowler hats, Stetsons, pork pies, beanies, classic flat caps and trench coats to slouchy boyfriend jeans and suit sets. But, until recently it still had a feminine element with cinched waists, addition of ribbons or lace, and pastel colours. In the last five years this trend for menswear-inspired fashion has continued to grow, but there has also been a growing demand for women’s clothing that is masculine without the feminine touches; so no longer just inspired from menswear, instead it is actual menswear designs fitted to the female body. This style has been given many names, but most commonly referred to as androgynous fashion, tomboy style, or menswear-inspired fashion. Millinery has followed the same trend with royalty and celebrities taking the dress down approach to everyday headgear.
The New Normal
At Hat Couture Creations we have been working for some time with traditional male shapes given a feminine twist in our creative millinery projects. Here is a small selection of some of the projects custom made for our clients. Some of these designs are still available to purchase online at www.hatcouturecreations.com.
Guys Getting it On…
Here at Hat Couture we’ve been receiving lots of great feedback from our customers but it seems that we’ve been neglecting a large portion of our potential market with many new enquiries coming in from guys wanting to find custom millinery with added pizazz. Our potential customers include those working in the theatre, movies, media and music industries (as well as those who would just like to look like they do). So our next big thing will be the launch of a range of flamboyant custom made Fedora’s, Trilbies, Homburgs and Bowler hats designed to make our male clients also feel exceptional. For bespoke, head-turning designs call me now and let us create something extraordinary for your next red carpet event.