Tomboy Style Vs. Butch Style

Anonymous asked: What is tomboy style, and how is it similar to and different from butch style?

Since this question is so personal, I asked my trusted queer fashionistas to give their thoughts on the subject, long or short. - Sonny


(from: The Unfeminine Female)

Bing says: That is a very interesting question. The two would appear similar to outsiders based on their menswear appearance, but they differ quite significantly! 

From my experiences with the tomboy style, the aesthetic is based on the relaxed fit, comfort, and mobility of casual mens clothing lines. In my area of study we discuss the differences in socialization of children based on gender: boys are raised to be rough & active, girls meant to be dainty & precious. These characteristics are reflected in the clothing styles provided for the gendered individual (girls clothing is often fragile and should be take care of whereas boys clothing is sturdy and durable). With this in mind, it makes sense that the sporty, active tomboys would also seek clothing that can keep up with their rough play

However, I’ve noticed that “butch style” tends to grasp the masculinity and tougher side of menswear. The “butch style” often includes sturdy leather shoes and/or belts mixed with the various “butch hair cuts” which create a more masculine look; whereas it is not unusual for long haired individuals to dress in a more “tomboy” style. The “butch style” varies from person to person based on interpretation of self but is overall more masculine and what one might say “tougher” than the tomboy style.  

Both styles utilize menswear to add masculinity to an individual’s look. However, the amount of masculinity varies by clothing choices & individual identities. 


(from: The Unfeminine Female)

Rae says: To me, butch style is when I wear a chambray shirt, jeans, boots, a ballcap. And tomboy style is when my girlfriend borrows that outfit from me on a Sunday.


(From: Butches Leaning on Things)

Blake says: *Needless to say, the distinction is a difficult one to make. Style is such a personal statement and I’m not going to attempt to define it for someone else. What is below is simply my opinion. Based off of nothing except what is in my head at the present moment.*

I’ve always thought of tomboy style as a continuation of that phase that was supposed to end before high school; the refusal to conform to the looming beauty standards that are thrust on young girls. If you were a tomboy after a certain age — in my case high school — then you were considered to be butch. We are hesitant to label a young girl as butch. Instead, we use tomboy. Both tomboy style and butch style are subversions of gendered expectations. If I had to make a distinction, to me, tomboy style has a tinge more femininity than butch style. Tomboy style is more menswear inspired whereas butch style is just menswear. For example, Wildfang markets tomboy style whereas Marimacho and Fourteen market butch fashion.

dandy butch


Sean says: The way I understand both tomboy and butch are tied up in whiteness and gendered expectations emanating from the white supremacist cis-gender heteropatriarchy. The way I understand dominant definitions of tomboi/y style are highly influenced by race; for me, “tomboy style” should be renamed “skinny white FAAB tumblr queer masculine of center fashion” AKA the cuties of tumblr AKA everyone who gets reblogged AKA not me. However, butch/stud style are less race-specific, at least in the way I understand the fashion specificities. Stud, in some communities, is a term that is used for black masculine lesbians and masculine lesbians of color. Butch, as I understand the term, originally described a masculine woman, and now describes a whole range of gender expressions, typically masculine of center.

I grew up being called a “tomboy” which was cute until I was 12. When straight cis-dudes call me “butch” it’s pejorative; when a queer says I’m “butch” I blush and immediately look like a small child. I would never call myself a tomboy or describe my style as tomboy; however, I love describing myself as butch. 

Tomboy and butch are all about age and style. Tomboy style is all about playfulness. Being a tomboy is all about running around like a kid, getting dirty, and playing hard. It’s young, fresh, and carefree. Tomboy is loud and outgoing; it’s hoodies and ball caps, loose vests and crooked ties, sneakers and suit jackets. Tomboy is unapologetically itself. It’s like a hot summer day with Converse high tops, denim cut offs, and a hat shoved into its back pocket. Tomboi/ys can’t beat anyone up, though they like to think they can.

Butch is mature and reserved; we’re grown and sexy, ya know? It’s not the center of attention; it’s leaned against the wall, slowly sipping a beer, watching everything. Butch is straight up, no-games masculinity (but, of course, my butch identity is very much tied up in feminist masculinity). Butch is serious; it’s a perfectly tailored grey suit, with a monogrammed tie clip and polished shoes. Butch is dark washed jeans with room, boots, and black v-necks, and wallet chains. Butches will make you breakfast the next morning and bring you flowers to work. 

The differences between butch and tomboy are, to me, noticeable and significant, but only because I’m obsessed with masculinity & gender non-conformity more broadly.