Investigating the Tomboy Spectrum

By Guest Blogger, Clare Marie Myers

Last summer, Qwear published a piece in response to a reader qweary asking "What is tomboy style, and how is it similar to and different from butch style?" A few days later, the piece was republished on Autostraddle, prompting a lengthy and thoughtful comment thread that included some of the original writers. (You should read them now. Go ahead. I can wait.)

As a follow up, I want to look more closely at the spectrum and boundaries of tomboy style, and specifically where queer tomboy style is located with respect to other queer style-identities. Two common threads within the Aesthetics of Masculinity piece were a) that tomboy style is younger/less mature than butch style, and b) that tomboy style is more feminine than butch style. But these are not the same, and it’s unclear if they’re even compatible. Blake’s appraisal of tomboy style as “a continuation of that phase that was supposed to end before high school” is very different from Rae’s “tomboy style is when my girlfriend borrows [a chambray shirt and jeans] from me on a Sunday.” One is this:

and the other is this:

Can such distinct styles both be called tomboy? If so, what ties them together? Are they two discrete types of tomboy, or two ends the same spectrum?

The more images I collected, the more I noticed that what the Internet calls tomboy style (and on top of that, what I specifically read as queer tomboy style) falls along both the masculine-feminine spectrum, and what I’ll call the relaxed-refined spectrum.

As I began to separate the images into relaxed (skate park/picnic/dive bar wear), smart (“Could I wear this to work at a bookstore?”) and refined (“Is this too fancy to wear to work at a bookstore?”) I noticed something else that surprised me — though maybe it shouldn’t have. Most of the Relaxed Tomboys read as masculine-of-center or simply center, while the Smart Tomboys leaned more feminine-of-center. (The first is closely related to the established term “tomboi,” the second to “tomboy-femme.”)

Some Relaxed Tomboys (including celebrity crush):

Some Smart Tomboys (including celebrity crush):

(Refined Tomboy, if such a thing really exists, turns out to be Advanced Studies, so I’ll leave it alone for now.)

While I’d intended to examine tomboy as it related to itself, the more I looked, the harder it was to ignore its relationship with the “mature masculinity” of butch. Step away from butch in the direction of youthfulness OR step away in the direction of femininity, and you will land on tomboy.  In my head it looks something like this:

Tomboy style chart

As someone who finds tomboy identify and tomboy style so important and empowering, it’s uncomfortable to look at it this way—as mitigated, “lesser” masculinity. (There is also the problem that, as tomboy moves up and to the right, into the “smart/refined-feminine” space, it becomes even more the purview of thin, mostly white bodies — at least, this is the imagery that constantly cycles around the Internet, shared because it is valued and valued because it is shared.)  

But perhaps it’s the fluidity of tomboy style — this not-one-thing-or-the-other-ness — that makes it so powerful. Some of the looks I connect with most come from somewhere between the masculine scrappiness of relaxed tomboy/tomboi and the feminine tweediness of smart tomboy/tomboy-femme. (Some favorites, including celebrity crush):

Sean (who previously went by A.D.) points out that tomboy style is “unapologetically itself.” It doesn’t need to ask permission, and at its best, actually creates permission. It allows for movement within itself (it’s the Ellen Page case: at her scruffiest and at her sleekest, she is always a tomboy); it allows others to come and go: some tomboys might be butch at work, others femme when they date. It is — or at least it should be —not policed and open to everyone. It is a blazer one day and a snapback the next, or even better, both at once:

From: lookbook.nu

Clare Marie Myers is the owner and founder of Scout’s Honor Clothing Company

See more from Clare on Qwear: Skirts As Menswear

Style Profile: Rae Spoon, Montréal

By Luke & Sarah from “Kookie of London”

On an auspicious day in April of 2007, a few hours after I first told my dad that I was transgender, I arrived at a London pub to hear Rae Spoon play music. I became, that night, a fan for life of Rae’s natural stage presence & humour, their unexpectedly versatile voice and their brilliant songsmithing. In March of this year Rae was back in London at BFI Flare (formerly the London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival) to attend the post-Sundance, European premiere of My Prairie Home, a brilliantly engaging documentary/musical about Rae’s journeys across Canada, across gender lines, across musical genres and away from home. Rae stopped by the Kookie Cabin in Shoreditch to catch up over tea & sandwiches and we took a few photos of their current casual touring style.

Rae Close Lipstick.jpg

Where did you grow up & where do you live now?
I grew up in Calgary and I now live in Montréal.

How do you think your friends would define your style?
"Grunge prep," according to my friend Nazmia Jamal.

What’s your favorite item in your wardrobe?
My new black bomber jacket.

What’s your biggest style challenge?
Compared to most men's styles, I have pretty short legs, so that can be a challenge. I usually roam between the men’s and women's departments in stores and cobble together the most gender ambiguous outfit that I can.

Which literary figures do you most admire?
I like writers who can capture my attention while still experimenting with style or form. I just finished Carnival by Rawi Hage and I really liked it.

Who’s your style icon?
Big Edie from Grey Gardens and Angela Lansbury.

Look 1: Cardigan & Silver shoes
Cardigan: Club Monaco
Patterned shirt: Zanarobe
Black jeans: Topman*
Blue socks: Topman*
Shoes: John Fluevog

Look 2: Baseball jacket and purple trousers
Black Baseball: American Apparel [see disclaimer]
Purple trousers: Zanarobe
Shoes: Dr. Martens

Kookie of London gathers and sells hand-selected, pre-owned & vintage items as well as those they’ve upcycled & crafted at their studio in Shoreditch East London. Visit them at kookielondon.com

*Topman is sponsoring Qwear. Read about their sponsorship here.

FFAF Goes Tomboy Femme with Topman's Floral Bomber Jacket

For the most part when I borrow from the (tom)boys, it's more practical than subversive  fishing one of her rumpled dress shirts from the floor in the morning to make coffee or brush my teeth, stealing a pair of socks if I've run out, that sort of thing. Once in a while something clever will catch my eye in menswear, and I like the challenge of mixing in something new and out of the ordinary with my typically femme wardrobe.

Fit For a Femme and Topman

Meet one of spring's trendiest lightweight jackets the floral bomber. Breezy bomber jackets cropped up last S/S and are here to stay for a bit; they're kind of the new unisex casual blazer. The bomber isn't normally a piece I'd gravitate toward, but now that it's in my closet I reach for it a lot  it's especially handy going to and from barre class and over my usual crop of Everlane basics.  

Fit For a Femme and Topman

This one is from Topman, and I like how it manages to mix bright foliage with mesh and jersey and still look cool. I love florals in menswear, especially wee Liberty prints and big, lush tropicals (even the banana leaf we've all seen overmuch). Paired with plain black trousers, a black bodysuit and a pair of killer mesh sandals, this outfit felt fresh and tomboy femme  but still "me," which is so important! As weather warms up, swapping the trousers for tailored black shorts and pleated minis would work the same way. 

Fit For a Femme and Topman

It's got kind of a beachy, rashguard-esque quality, doesn't it? I can see it making an awesome cover-up over sporty swimsuits for summer beaching. 

Fit For a Femme and Topman

For a twist on a classic femme look, I traded the trousers in for a floral brocade pencil skirt and bright heels. Hooray, pattern mixing! A half-tucked tank in a nice, bright silk or rayon would look awesome and really lend itself to the "jacket thrown over my shoulders" vibe, or for the very bold and casual, with the bomber tied around the waist. Awesome outfit ideas for Sunday brunchin' and carousin' with pals in the city.

Fit For a Femme and Topman
Fit For a Femme and Topman

Craving a bomber jacket for yourself but want to see more ways to wear it? Find more inspiration here, check this and this out. Want more menswear ideas? Bombers and florals galore. I think the trick is not to overthink it. Now go blossom, Qwears!

Look 1: Biz on the Beach
Bomber Jacket: Topman
Trousers: Calvin Klein
Bodysuit: ASOS
Mesh Sandals (Vegan): Olsenhaus
Earrings: Jewelmint 

Look 2: Penciled In Prints
Bomber Jacket: Topman
Pencil Skirt: J. Crew Collection
Bodysuit: ASOS
Pumps: Christian Lacroix
Earrings: Jewelmint 

As ever, 

Fit for a Femme

This post is brought to you by Topman. Read about their sponsorship here.

Qwearly Dashing Week 6: Queer Activists and Chicago Designers

This week I was continually reminded of incredible, brilliant queer activists who are healing, living, loving, working, cooking, and being FINE AS HELLLLLLLL. 

Kay Ulanday Barrett released a brilliant interview this week. I love this outfit, because it so clearly an expression of who they are: academic, boi, activist, performer, speaker, educator, and so much more. | From: kaybarrett.net

Kay Ulanday Barrett released a brilliant interview this week. I love this outfit, because it so clearly an expression of who they are: academic, boi, activist, performer, speaker, educator, and so much more. | From: kaybarrett.net

Angelica Ross, host of Miss Ross, recently hosted the Second Annual Trans100. She's the coordinator for the TransWorks project of the TransLife House / Chicago House. This outfit (snapped by Jen Richards on the train in Chicago) is just fabulous. The oversized items - boots, cardigan - exemplify Angelica's huge spirit and lovely personality. From: http://instagram.com/smartassjen

Angelica Ross, host of Miss Ross, recently hosted the Second Annual Trans100. She's the coordinator for the TransWorks project of the TransLife House / Chicago House. This outfit (snapped by Jen Richards on the train in Chicago) is just fabulous. The oversized items - boots, cardigan - exemplify Angelica's huge spirit and lovely personality. From: http://instagram.com/smartassjen

Cherno Biko, a trans activist based in Ohio, stands with Janet Mock, who's currently touring for her new book Redefining Realness. I adore Janet's fantastic print dress and Cherno's fabulous all-black ensemble. | From: http://instagram.com/chernobiko 

Cherno Biko, a trans activist based in Ohio, stands with Janet Mock, who's currently touring for her new book Redefining Realness. I adore Janet's fantastic print dress and Cherno's fabulous all-black ensemble. | From: http://instagram.com/chernobiko 

Joy Messinger, a new (and already dear) friend, wrote this beautiful piece last week about healing, activism, and relationships in activism. She also has achieved that perfect queer-business-casual-but-still-hella-cute look. Just look at the cardigan + colored pants + haircut. I'm in love | From: Joy Messinger, credit Les Talusan at the NAPAWF Conference.

Joy Messinger, a new (and already dear) friend, wrote this beautiful piece last week about healing, activism, and relationships in activism. She also has achieved that perfect queer-business-casual-but-still-hella-cute look. Just look at the cardigan + colored pants + haircut. I'm in love | From: Joy Messinger, credit Les Talusan at the NAPAWF Conference.

(L-R): Tiq Milan, Kortney Ryan Ziegler, Geena Rocero, Cherno Biko, Myles Brady, and Kokumo. This photo exemplifies #transexcellence, #transpower, #transcreativity, #transbrilliance, and #transh4ck! This photo (taken by me and edited by Kortney) atTransH4ck in Chicago shows so many beautiful people and outfits, including Tiq's dappercasual patterned oxford and beautifully fitted jeans to Myles' white shirt and white cardigan to Kokumo's all black ensemble with great accessories. (Also, can we just talk about Geena's face? She is gorgeous.) From: facebook.com

(L-R): Tiq MilanKortney Ryan ZieglerGeena RoceroCherno BikoMyles Brady, and Kokumo. This photo exemplifies #transexcellence, #transpower, #transcreativity, #transbrilliance, and #transh4ck! This photo (taken by me and edited by Kortney) atTransH4ck in Chicago shows so many beautiful people and outfits, including Tiq's dappercasual patterned oxford and beautifully fitted jeans to Myles' white shirt and white cardigan to Kokumo's all black ensemble with great accessories. (Also, can we just talk about Geena's face? She is gorgeous.) From: facebook.com

I've also been getting really into Chicago-based designers:

Leaders1354 (LDRS: Lead Never Follow) is a Chicago-based street wear company. If you know, you know. If you don't, stay away. From: leaders1354.com

Leaders1354 (LDRS: Lead Never Follow) is a Chicago-based street wear company. If you know, you know. If you don't, stay away. From: leaders1354.com

Sheila Rashid is a Chicago-based independent designer. Sheila makes amazing streetwear, and is an active member in the Chicago queer scene. | From: konsmagazine.com

Sheila Rashid is a Chicago-based independent designer. Sheila makes amazing streetwear, and is an active member in the Chicago queer scene. | From: konsmagazine.com

Completely unrelated:

This week, I made a new friend: Teresa! I really love her style and her blog is full of the most beautiful photos. And, to be honest, her Qwear feature was one of my favorites: Style Profile: Teresa, Folsom, CA

This week, I made a new friend: Teresa! I really love her style and her blog is full of the most beautiful photos. And, to be honest, her Qwear feature was one of my favorites: Style Profile: Teresa, Folsom, CA

Qweary: Femme Graduation Attire

Anonymous asked: "I am going to be delivering a thesis defense as well as graduating from college in May. All my straight girlfriends are shopping for dresses for graduation. I myself am femme; however, 1) almost never wear dresses and 2) have a naturally athletic/not-curvy bod. I would like to look formal for my defense and for gradation while still appearing very femme. I was already thinking "play up accessories": towering heels, long earrings, hair down and curled. The idea to wear a suit crossed my mind but I have very broad shoulders and don't naturally have a curvy body so am thinking I will still lean on the masculine side if I go this route. This isn't INCREDIBLY formal but I would like to look nice and feminine while still giving off an air of authority (defending a thesis). I'd appreciate any guidance your could give."  

Shop Jumpsuits:

Congratulations, you lucky devil! You sound like one tough cookie, and my kind of femme you know exactly what you want, you just need help hunting it down. Here's the deal: You need a jumpsuit, and I say you're lucky because they are having quite the moment. My most stylish girlfriends, who were climbing the walls back in February, were on the hunt for theirs before you could spell out s-p-r-i-n-g. It takes the feminine traits you want in a dress with the DO NOT MESS seriousness of a proper suit, and the result is pure, grown-up sophistication. A jumpsuit creates one long and elegant line, and a nipped-in waist (shown in the examples above) will balance out the shoulder. Pop on a cropped blazer for coverage during your defense, then add those towering heels, long earrings and tousled waves you talked about for the big ceremony. It just might end up being your go-to piece for all the adventures that come after graduation!

Best of luck to you, 

Fit for a Femme 

P.S. Feel free to email me at fitforafemme@gmail.com if you have any other questions!