Today is International Women’s Day, and so we are pleased to present a post penned by a young woman with a taste for trad clothing.
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What makes a woman trad? It’s a tricky question, especially these days. A certain self-possession, an appreciation for the mutually beneficial relationship between form and function, and the ability to effortlessly wear a grandparent’s sweater that’s older than one’s actual parents are qualities we share with our male counterparts. Quality and classic silhouettes are as tried and true virtues for womenswear as they are for men’s, as is an ineffable, sometimes innate, comprehension of style. The interchangeability of such clothing has held true since Lisa Birnbach called us out in The Official Preppy Handbook on exactly which of our boyfriends’ clothes we were borrowing with absolutely zero intention of returning.
And yet, the styling has changed somewhat. Like wearing what was originally men’s clothing, borrowing from Mother, or in my case Mumsey, is not as prevalent as it once was and is not done all at once. Raising her eyebrows a bit with some daring choices keeps us from feeling frumpy, but we only feel truly self-conscious if when walking out the door, she asks, “Are you going to iron that?” In my own experience, that scathing comment has been unsheathed most often when I’m heading out in chinos or an OCBD, especially while wearing both at the same time. The Dad cap doesn’t help, either.
Nelson Aldrich touched upon the concept of gender neutrality of “preppie” physicality in 1979 decades before the hashtag was even conceived. That can only go so far for petite women like myself, and luckily the market has caught up enough since then for critter pants to make it into the women’s section. The increasingly ridiculous trends that flood our department have sent me to the boy’s, where the products are still made to last and are far less likely to have cutouts, exposed zippers, or extraneous frills. The relative simplicity of menswear has always drawn me for casual and professional wear, especially after graduating from a uniformed high school. The cardigans I’ve retained, the kilts and knee socks, never again.
Androgyny is best achieved by women of a certain height, which I was told early on that I was unlikely to reach. In order to keep myself from looking like a twelve-year-old boy, some form must be emphasized while still leaving plenty to the imagination. High-waisted wool trousers cinch the waist and are perfectly complemented by a tried and true cashmere turtleneck. An oversized shirt or wool sweater pairs well with hip-accentuating pencil skirts. Jackets and blazers don’t only enhance one’s shape, but they provide at least three oh-so-precious pockets. Loafers and Oxfords, however, are non-negotiable in my line of work. A dash of lipstick, a manicure, and the right jewelry hint at femininity, as does wearing any of the garments listed above in pink.
Of course, this is not the norm for all trad women, and certainly not my everyday attire. Once the weather warms, I revel in sundresses and sleeveless silk tops. I pray at the altar of the A-line skirt, and I’ve navigated the most uneven cobblestone streets in heels that did more than furrow Mumsey’s brow. What brings me back to what’s best described as the gamine style is the wealth of choice that women have enjoyed far before Life magazine made copy out of our Brooks Brothers raids. It’s still a tough world for ladies out there, we might as well make ourselves comfortable and look great doing it. That being said, does anyone know where I can find a formal shirt in 12/26? I’m attending a wedding in October and need it to wear with my blue velvet tuxedo. — ZB