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How to wear the new androgyny

A funny thing happened to me at the men’s shows back in June. A lightbulb moment. Hang on, I thought, as another male model motored down the runway in a choice pair of shorts, forget about men for a second… what would those shorts look like on me?

It was a style epiphany. Usually more comfortable in the pink, frills and flounces of Girl’s World, menswear looked good to me. I loved the sunny gardening chic at Carven and Burberry, classical prints at Dolce Gabbana and Jonathan Saunders, and the vibrant pieces at Givenchy. My femme faves like Lanvin, Alaïa and Valentino were out in the cold.

Katherine Hepburn relaxes between scenes of the making of a new Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film. 1947.
Katharine Hepburn in 1940. Photograph: Popperfoto

I’m not the only one who can see the appeal of wearing menswear. Though Katharine Hepburn and Patti Smith are moodboard staples for this look, Rihanna and Rita Ora have both been sporting pieces from Givenchy’s men’s collection recently. A new wave of boyish girl models are also appearing at the men’s shows and in men’s fashion magazines. Dutch model Saskia De Brauw is the rightful successor of Stella Tennant, while a suit-clad Tamy Glauser’s crew cut and cheekbones have graced the pages of Numero Homme. And Drake Burnette, the New York model brave enough to work with Larry Clark on a film, brings her tough girl stare to Topshop’s A/W campaign.

But if you’re not a beautiful androgynous model or internationally recognisable celebrity, how to wear menswear without feeling too mannish? Brand consultant Yasmin Sewell believes it’s key to keep “something feminine visible. If it’s a man’s shirt, you need an exposed decolletage, or wear trousers cuffed to show an ankle and heels.” Playing with contrast is part of the fun. “It helps that I have a short, curly bob which is a really girly hair cut,” says Sewell. “When I had a crop, I didn’t wear clothes like this.”

While she sometimes shops in the men’s department – and regularly borrows her husband’s clothes – Sewell prefers womenswear that’s cut to looks like menswear. Relaxed shapes appeared in womenswear everywhere for autumn, from Stella McCartney – her pinstripe pieces borrowed from the banker, never mind the boyfriend – to Rag Bone, who went for a boyish vibe. There’s also a new facet to tomboy chic: men’s staples adapted for women – like New York sportswear label Filles et Papa and men’s shirts by brands like E Tautz, Thomas Pink and Mr Start. “I think for every exquisite fashion dream or couture craziness, there will always be girls that wish to literally dress comme des garçons,” says Emma Elwick-Bates, the style editor of British Vogue, who shares Christopher Kane knitwear with her husband. “I love the brands springing up to cater to that.”

A model presents a creation by British designer McCartney as part of her Fall-Winter 2013/2014
Stella McCartney ‘s A/W 13 women’s ready-to-wear collection. Photograph: Benoit Tessier/Reuters

The trend is already heading for the next level: more designers are now investigating the idea of unisex. Although London designer JW Anderson has separate mens and womenswear lines, he has frequently said he views his work as unisex. His focus is subverting womenswear for men. In his last shows, he put male models in bustiers for the men’s collection and sent boys out in tiaras in his show for Versace’s Versus line. Other designers are investigating the idea too. At Saint Laurent, Hedi Slimane has introduced a unisex line. Richard Nicoll has collaborated with artist Linder Sterling to make SH/e – a unisex line. Nicoll sees more women taking up this look. “I always think things that are genderless are a bit cooler too. It’s sexier because it’s not overt,” he says. “My clothes are for women but there’s always something masculine in there.”

SH/e is still “at the theory stage”, but the future of dressing is interestingly ambivalent at the moment – about gender, that is, not about style. For now, I’m still lusting after those men’s shorts I saw back in June. fl

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