From androgynous models to ‘fused-gender’ clothes, the tomboy trend is turning into a movement – and a new one-stop online shop is dedicated to the style
It started, explains Emma McIlroy, the co-founder of a new tomboy-inspired online store and community, in the men’s department of a clothes shop. “I was staring at a graphic T-shirt with an awesome picture of Kate Moss on it, Jules [Parsley, her co-founder] was staring at a blazer and she said ‘Why don’t they make this stuff for us?'” says McIlroy on the phone from Portland in the US. “That stuck in our heads and it has been a three-year journey of testing the idea with consumers, testing it with brands to see if the product was available. But it started with a need, with us staring lovingly at some men’s products that wouldn’t fit us.”
Their site, Wildfang, launches on Friday and has already attracted a big response online, not least because the pre-launch site features a wonderful video starring, among others, the actor Kate Moennig and Hannah Blilie, the drummer from Gossip, along with a voiceover by Parsley’s 86-year-old grandmother.
McIlroy and Parsley are adamant it isn’t a fashion trend – their tagline is “This isn’t just a shop. It’s a movement” – but a continuation that builds on generations of tomboys. “Whether you were Patti Smith, Lauren Hutton, Audrey Hepburn, Coco Chanel, the tomboy has always been with us,” says McIlroy. “It’s much more than a style, there’s an attitude. Right now it’s a perfect time for us – we’ve seen androgyny and tomboy be a big story on the catwalks, we’ve seen Pinterest explode with tomboy content and Tumblr explode with tomboy blogs.”
Amber Butchart, a fashion historian, agrees. “There is a movement at the moment around fashion playing with the idea of gender – the gender boundaries are becoming more fluid. You have people like Andrej Pejic modelling both menswear and womenswear, and Casey Legler [a woman who has signed as a male model].”
Photograph: Lindsey Byrnes/Wildfang
In the last few years, a more androgynous aesthetic has infiltrated the catwalks (Stella McCartney’s work is the obvious example) and filtered down to the high street, and it shows no sign of slowing. At the Dries Van Noten show in Paris last month, for example, the show was explained as “fused gender: Fred and Ginger in one outfit”.
Could tomboy have the power to become a genuine culture, as opposed to a passing trend? “Subcultures are something generally associated with the post-war period up through the 90s,” says Butchart. “A lot of people don’t really think subcultures can exist any more – it’s more the rise of niche markets and the internet has been pivotal in that, so there’s more of a pick’n’mix attitude towards creating your own look, more a focus on individuality than on a group look. So it’s quite unusual to find something situating itself as a movement now. Stylistically, I don’t think it will be shortlived. A lot of these pieces have been circulating for a few years, and won’t be going anywhere fast.”
Wildfang co-founders Emma McIlroy and Jules Parsley. Photograph: Megan Holmes/Wildfang
I’ve always felt there was a giddy, liberating spirit attached to tomboy style – it reminds me of the muddy dungarees of my childhood and those days, as an adult, when I choose to wear brogues over heels and feel I could run and run. And perhaps it is clunkingly obvious that it’s a refreshing antidote to the hypersexualised images of women we tend to be served up. Taralyn Thuot, Wildfang’s creative director, adds: “But I also feel very strongly that we want [the tomboy] to feel sexy, but we want her to feel sexy because she’s being herself and not being a representation of what she thinks men want her to be.”