In Praise of the Hommegirl

In Praise of the Hommegirl

Or why a woman should dress more like a man

Othilia Simon in “Woman on Top”, photographed by Cass Bird and styled by Elissa Santisi.
Volume 1 - Who's that Girl
Volume 1 - Who's that Girl

Impossible as it may be to fathom from the perspective of today, as late as the 1960s, it was not easy for a woman to find a decent pair of trousers. Perhaps because the thinking of the time was that decent women simply didn’t wear trousers. Resourceful and style-savvy ladies seeking alternatives to the dresses, skirts, and blouses that social mores prescribed to them, pillaged the menswear department, where the expertly tailored clothes were designed to exude authority. As Tom Ford has astutely observed, a suit is armor.

There were well-known historical precedents for this sort of cross- dressing, of course. In the early 15th century, Joan of Arc, a woman in need of sartorial armor if there ever were one, adopted the uniform of a soldier to protect herself from the company of men. But while not all women who wore pants were burned at the stake for doing so, those who dared exude independence, even if only sartorially, posed an undeniable threat to the status quo.

Eventually, forward-thinking fashion designers took up the crusade. Yves Saint Laurent was among the first to offer women a proper pantsuit. “I wanted women to have the same basic wardrobe as a man,” he explained. “Blazer, trousers and suit. They’re so functional. I believed women wanted this and was right.” Nevertheless, in 1968, when Nan Kempner showed up at La Cote Basque in New York wearing a first generation Saint Laurent Le Smoking, she was stopped at the door for being inappropriately attired. Kempner famously removed her trousers and walked through the restaurant to her table wearing only the jacket. Somehow a barely crotch grazing “tunic” was acceptable where a pantsuit was not. Go figure.

But why shouldn’t a woman dress more like a man? That question remains as valid today as it was in 1431. Even a confirmed avant- gardist like Rei Kawakubo, whose cerebral designs are often miles away from anything we might remotely recognize as a jacket and a pair of pants, concedes that “the basics of clothing lie in men’s fashion.” That she decided to call the fashion label she established in Tokyo in 1973 Comme des Garçons is not incidental.

And this is where the HommeGirl Comes in.

A loose collective of disparate fashion die-hards have latched on to this idea during what seems to be a moment of turmoil. Fashion is on the verge of becoming just another form of entertainment, one more thing to distract us from the realities of daily life. We are dressing to have our pictures taken— something we all learned from the Red Carpet— only now, thanks to social media, we are both photographer and subject. And less our followers get bored, we are swiping through our closets with reckless abandon. If young people would rather rent their wardrobes than invest in them, maybe it’s because few designers these days are offering up anything that merits more than a one night stand. Where are the real clothes? And where are the women who know how to dress in a way we admire?

Wearing fashion, it can be argued, requires only money. Wearing clothes demands style. And, we’d like to point out, it also takes balls. When Katharine Hepburn, the patron saint of homme/girls, was informed that trousers were not permitted in the lobby of Claridge’s, where she was staying while on a press tour for The African Queen, she opted to use the hotel’s staff entrance instead. Hepburn was not about to give up her pants, and not for reasons you might expect. As she told her biographer, there was a phase in her childhood where she wished she was a boy because she assumed that boys had more fun.

The HommeGirl has it both ways.

There is a boy in every girl, an homme in every woman. Dressing like a man doesn’t disguise a woman’s femininity—it ignites it. “The more a woman hides and abandons her femininity, the more it emerges from the very heart of her existence,” Yohji Yamamoto has said. “A pair of brilliantly cut cotton trousers can be more beautiful than a gorgeous silk gown.”

We could not agree more.