Politics aside, fashion is meant to move common people in ways that plain rhetoric simply cannot. From the insides of our pocket squares down to the Oxfords we sport on Casual Fridays in the office, we dress our very best to proclaim the tacit thoughts deemed unthinkable to speak the unspeakable, especially within spaces that prevent such racy dialogue. And when we put gender ambiguity and fashion in the same room, most spectators never think to divorce the two because they are almost always associated with one another, sort of like Basquiat and Warhol in 1986 – the world has begun to acknowledge, and gradually accept, their indivisible nature.
Androgyny, the dictionary term used to describe this gender ambiguity in fashion, has taken the world by storm in the past few decades and changing the conversation about how we think about menswear. Wildfang, a term equivalent to the American phrase “tomboy” in German culture, is a fashion company that designs and tailors its menswear with avant-garde execution. Legendary for being progressive, off-beat and venturesome, Wildfang transforms underrated styles into modes of utility and aesthetic. Providing their customers with a cutting edge perspective on men’s fashion – particularly from a feminist vantage point – these daring designers take their vision with personal regard by rejecting and reworking the hetero-normative mold crusted around the traditional notions of “the gentleman”.
In the same vein, Original Tomboy expands this aesthetic with a unique twist by incorporating elements of Kentucky heritage and blending the two with deep-seated knowledge of women’s fashion. Alicia Hardesty, former Project Runway contestant, owner and designer of Original Tomboy, is a self-proclaimed “full-time tomboy” who stays true to her “Blue Grass” roots in creating a distinctive style that champions a mix of “vintage charm and a modern aesthetic.” Hardesty works to provide modes of expression for the “tomboy of the modern world” and also to rework traditional notions of “dressing like a girl” for all wearers of her designs.
What makes these creative minds stand bold against other designers of menswear is the way they use clothing to complicate notions of gender in fashion by juxtaposing non traditional styles in order to breathe life into new trends. This in turn allots freedom to those who fashion themselves after this aesthetic with a lifestyle filled with unlimited range of choice, both literally and figuratively. Both Original Tomboy and Wildfang clearly illustrate these very sentiments through its collections of honest and innovative fashion in the way it claims to flip “gentlemen’s wear” on its head.
On the eve of New York Fashion Week, the team at Gents had the opportunity to converse with some of the best menswear designers in the country. Hailing from Louisville and Portland, Original Tomboy and Wildfang are a sharp-witted bunch of women, redefining how we – the customer, wearers of fashion, loyalist of the suit and tie – understand, perceive, and sport menswear. While considered to be an androgynous fashion company, WF says that they are “all about tomboy.” Their core following are women who are “confident, independent, driven to be her best, but still knows how to have fun.” In the same breath, OT maintain the tomboy style as their core aesthetic, of which is made to redefine how unisex clothing both looks and feels. As we sat down with CEO Emma Mcilroy and owner Alicia Hardesty, we covered a wide array of topics associated with the politics of fashion ranging from androgyny, gendered stylizing, masculinity, and queer culture in Portland. Take a look at our interview below.
Gents: What is androgyny?
WildFang: I’m not totally sure how to define it. We don’t spend much time talking about androgyny. We are all about tomboy. For us tomboy is just as much about spirit as it is about style. Tomboy is an attitude and a way of life. Wildfang thinks about a tomboy as a woman who is confident, independent, driven to be her best, but still knows how to have fun. She is the chick who is paving her own way, and also the chick you want to go for a beer with.
Original Tomboy: Androgyny is the gender grey area between what we consider to be male and female. It is most understood through fashion & style. For me, it’s a little bit masculine, a little bit feminine; sometimes it leans in one direction or the other.
Gents: Does sexuality usually dictate how this definition is determined? How does this definition differ amongst men and women?
OT: Yes, sexuality usually dictates how androgyny is defined, but that’s not how it should be defined. The same goes with the term ‘tomboy’; androgyny and tomboy are often directly associated with gay/lesbian, but to me that’s a narrow-minded view. It’s easier to label androgyny that way to make it more understandable.
In my experience (from a fashion point of view), men see androgynous clothing and see how it relates to the masculine and think it’s cool. This isn’t the case universally; a lot of times, men ask if it’s “for men” before they decide they like it. Women tend to define it based on the masculine component as well, but define androgyny on more of a sliding scale.
Gents: Has Wildfang/Original Tomboy impacted the LGBTQ community in your respective cities? If so, what are some of the common attitudes – created or already existent – toward queer fashion in the city?
WF: We hope all the tomboys in the LGBTQA community in Portland love Wildfang! We hope they love our vibe and our style. Portland is a super liberal and positive place and there’s a ton of that wrapped up in the Wildfang brand. If this city was a chick, then you’d probably wanna grab beers with her then get tatts together and probably end up in a dive bar karaoke lounge.
OT: The brand hasn’t been in Louisville long, although the inspiration behind the brand is based on my childhood in Kentucky. I think, overall, the androgynous aspect of OT is lost in the Louisville market, but they like the clothes just as they are – with no labels. To me, that’s more important because it speaks to the essence of the line without the added label of androgyny. As far as the LGBTQ community is involved, they seem to be excited about the line, about me being in Louisville and for me representing the LGBTQ community like this, with something real and different to offer, and something they can relate to and wear proudly.
Gents: What are WF/OT top 3 favorite pieces from past and/or current collections?
WF: We are currently obsessing over the zanerobe pants and the pointer workwear on our site – they’re straight from the men’s department and they look great styled in our weekly looks. We also can’t get enough of the tomboy tee and tank – I mean what’s not to love?? Wear your tomboy with pride!!!
OT: The Bobcat vintage wash denim jumper; Roadie r.r. stripe denim shorts; and Huckleberry vintage wash raw edge denim jacket.
Gents: Who are your heavy influences and how have they played a role in WF “liberating menswear”?
WF: We have been influenced by tomboys past and present. We don’t see tomboy as a trend – this chick has always been with us and always will. We actually dedicated an entire lookbook to our tomboy icons recently – ladies like Marlene Dietrich, Patti Smith, Gwen Stefani and Tilda Swinton since we were kids. Those were the ladies we wanted to be. They’ve inspired us to create a brand that really stood for something, to have a voice when you really believe in something and to break the rules when we need to.
Gents: What celebrities do you feel have channeled the androgyny aesthetic most accurately in print media? How so?
WF: The two that spring to mind are Annie Lennox and Tilda Swinton. Both are heroes of ours. We recently had the pleasure of working with Casey Legler on our Show Us your Wildfang campaign. Casey has broke all kinds of molds for women in fashion and we stand behind her 100%.
OT: Tilda Swinton is my favorite in all media, as she truly represents androgyny gracefully. I also admire Kristen Stewart in Elle’s June Issue. Lastly, Andrej Pejic is famous for his print modeling for women’s wear.
Gents: What are some of the greatest challenges you face while designing menswear for women?
WF: Most challenges come down to the female’s form. Women tend to have differently shaped hips, chests, and shoulders to men and so it’s often tricky to take a men’s piece and just throw it on. We work super hard to find men’s items that women can wear, and style them to look truly badass.
OT: My background is in menswear and it comes the most natural to me. The biggest thing I run into is finding the right balance between men’s wear and women’s wear, in terms of style & marketing. My aesthetic is usually right down the middle, but it gets tricky when it comes to marketing. I find that women who generally wear men’s clothing like to stick to menswear; men get turned off from the brand when it says “menswear for women”, although they like my work. Recently, I’ve shied away from either term and have focused on the clothes without gender labels – that leaves room for more people to find their place within the brand.
Gents: What can men’s fashion learn from androgyny, particularly in the ways it allows for more open and inclusive dialogue about heteronormative notions on menswear?
WF: Menswear has seen a huge uptake in how fashion infused it is – more and more guys are prepared to take risks with their fashion. Zanerobe is a great example of that. Men’s and women’s fashion seem to be fueling each other right now and that’s crazy exciting. There’s more cross-pollination than ever before and I think people responsible for menswear need to be more prepared to take risks and explore.
OT: Androgyny manipulates men’s fashion in a way men’s wear is afraid to do. As men become more comfortable with fashion/style, we see more androgynous aspects within menswear. What’s interesting, lesbian fashion (where androgynous fashion is defined by sexuality) could stand to learn the same things; lesbians tend to gravitate to menswear, but in the heteronormative sense, defined by a straight male version. That’s why it’s important to separate androgyny from the bounds of sexuality. They’re not the same thing, and the less bound they are, the more menswear and women’s wear both, will be able to learn from androgyny.
Nancy Musinguzi is a freelance writer, photographer, spoken wordist, and political artist located in Long Island City, NY. A recent graduate from Rutgers University, she hopes to pursue an MFA in Directing and use film as a tool of social commentary and activism in the arts. She enjoys reading, writing provocative prose, watching movies, meeting new people, and seizing every opportunity to learn more about the world around her.