Growing up, I was the little kid equivalent of “Barefoot and Pregnant.” I wore what can only be described as prairie dresses—the kind that sort of make you look like you’re in a cult. I was able to do this because I was homeschooled and my mom let me express myself however I wanted.
At that time, Laura Ingalls was my fashion icon and I, strangely enough, found pants too restrictive for running around and playing with plastic frogs and lizards, which were my toys of choice.
However, when I got older, I discovered I had a deep fascination with clothing and traded in my prairie dresses for more fashionable attire. I was particularly mesmerized by the style of Marlene Dietrich, an early Hollywood actress who incorporated menswear into her look.
As a teen, there was one photo in particular that I was obsessed with. It featured Marlene in a white tailored suit, leaning against a staircase rail, a stunning embodiment of androgynous je ne sais quoi.
While I have very few menswear pieces in my everyday wardrobe, I have always been intrigued by the possibilities they offer. Womenswear is often cut to reveal the body while menswear silhouettes are often cut to create imposing figures (re: structured shoulders, streamlined shapes). So, when I thought about which fashion dares I might enjoy, wearing my husband’s clothes was first on the list.
Here is how it went.
My husband, Mark, is not stylish. He’s like a hipster in everything but intent. He reads philosophy books, drinks craft beers, wears oversized glasses, and watches Wes Anderson films but without any awareness that he is engaging in the hipster lifestyle.
So while his life resume might portray a man of interest and import, he doesn’t dress like it at all. His wardrobe consists of hand-me-downs and practical Christmas presents from family. In fact, when I surveyed his haphazard collection of T-shirts, old jeans, and mismatched socks, I was nervous because there was no way I could conceivably wear any of them. Or so I thought.
The Rules: I decided I could style his clothes however I wanted but they had to be the only garments. I wanted to wear them in a way that was still within my tastes.
Look #1: Man Sweats
If Eva Mendes had anything to say about it, this fashion dare might have killed my marriage. I put on Mark’s Nirvana sweatshirt (which he has owned since high school) and his sweatpants. This is basically his “day off” uniform. And I have to say. It was comfy. Really, really, really comfy. Overall, I think my clothes feel good but this was another level.
I could have had a small child hidden inside that sweatshirt and no one would know. In my typical clothing, I’m aware of my posture and how I hold my body. In Mark’s sweats, I didn’t care at all. When I went to the checkout of Target, the cashier glanced at me and said,
“Day off, huh?”
Another guy, as I was leaving, said,
Forgetting I was wearing a Nirvana sweatshirt, I nervously waved at him from a safe distance.
Look #2: Collared White Shirt
I wore Mark’s classic white collared shirt as a dress with black tights, a belt, and heels. It turned out better than I expected. Men’s collars are very structured to support a tie and I loved how exaggerated it was. The shoulders and cuffs were also stiffer than typical womenswear, creating dramatic lines. I went off to a coffee shop and ran into a friend.
“Cute dress,” she said. “It looks really chic.”
“Thanks,” I said. “It’s actually Mark’s shirt.”
“Of course it is,” she replied. “You’re too cool.”
I took the compliment though I probably didn’t deserve it. After all, I wouldn’t have worn the outfit on my own accord. But as I was browsing through the Sartorialist’s website, I noticed tons of stunning European women rocking blazers and men’s shirts as dresses. I went from feeling a little odd to insanely stylish.
Look #3: Jeans and Undershirt
This outfit made me feel like an extra for Trailer Park Boys. I put on Mark’s jeans and undershirt with a pair of bootie heels. The undershirt was definitely not cut to accommodate breasts so I added a crop top underneath and tied it back with a hair tie to improve the fit, particularly since the pants were so baggy.
In order to negate the dowdiness factor, I cuffed the pant legs. I think, as a general rule, menswear is most effective when it’s cut at the ankles and wrists, so that it feels oversized yet proportional. I never wear baggy jeans but they were amazing! They added an androgynous appeal to the outfit. I couldn’t get enough of the pants. I wore them all day, loving their fit and look.
In the end, I got a new perspective on silhouettes I would never wear (baggy pants, structured shirts) and an understanding of how men’s clothing is cut to empower while womenswear (crop tops)…not as much.
Mark, though, was happy when it ended because, to put it in his own words,
“You made all my clothes smell like perfume.”
Here are some great places for chic menswear/androgynous pieces: