The Trad Woman

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

14 Comments on "The Trad Woman"

  1. Trevor Jones | March 8, 2020 at 6:23 pm |

    The lady is this photo is a great example of rugged Ivy. Nice to have a female perspective on here, as well.

  2. A well written entry. Glad to hear a female voice on this blog. Hope to see more such content.

  3. MacMcConnell | March 9, 2020 at 9:33 am |

    Brooks Bothers sells boy’s Tux shirts for about $60. All one needs to know the equivalent boy’s sizing to a woman’s blouse sizing.

    Thanks for a woman’s perspective.

  4. Charlottesville | March 9, 2020 at 10:51 am |

    Thank you, ZB. It is great to hear from a trad woman. I applaud your taste. My wife looks lovely in dresses and heels, but I must say I think my favorite items in her wardrobe are probably the BB blazers, tweed jackets, cotton shirts, wool skirts, and cashmere cardigans or, on the more casual side, Shetland crew necks and a Barbour or LLB barn coat with a corduroy collar and camp mocs or gum shoes, worn with jeans or khakis. All timeless.

  5. When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong: my wife is 6 ft. tall, has an Ivy degree, and was a collegiate swimmer, and I’ve always teased that she’s worn a skirt or dress twice in the almost 20 yrs I’ve known her – our first date, and her wedding dress. I once made the mistake of suggesting that her general androgynous wardrobe choices made her look like an LPGA player, and not one of the hot ones from the 2000s, but from the 80s. That was a rough week for me.

  6. Thanks both to the author of the post, whose style I remember well from my own time on campus in the late 80’s -early 90’s, and to Paul for the absolutely funniest post I’ve seen in a while!

  7. Charlottesville | March 9, 2020 at 1:20 pm |

    Oh Paul. That is not quite as bad as a friend who answered his wife’s question, “How does this outfit make me look?” with “Bulbous,” but I bet the reaction was similar.

  8. Dated a girl in college in 1986 who wore khaki shirts, oxford and rugby shirts, pearls, straight bobbed very blonde hair, no make up, clear nail polish and Birkenstocks. (She had incredibly shapley hands and feet and was a conservative so I made allowances for her footwear). A couple of inches shorter than I (I’m 6’3″) Was a smoker at the time and she was my first of a very small handful of marijuana experiences. Ah the ’80s. Thanks for taking me back.


  9. MacMcConnell | March 9, 2020 at 2:37 pm |

    I knew a manager of Woodys at the Topeka shop in the mid 1970s. His wife was 6ft, he was 6-2. She wore Ralph Lauren men’s sports coats and chinos, she looked great.

    My ex was 5-2, wore a size 4. She got her suits from RL and Brooks, the rest was Pulitzer, Gitman, RL and a load of boys’ Polo.

  10. Khaki skirts

  11. whiskeydent | March 9, 2020 at 4:38 pm |

    I get slayed every time by this Texas variant:
    Dark brown feminine-cut suede vest
    White, feminine cut, simply constructed, and sharply ironed button-up blouse
    Well-cut tan whipcord pants with a slight flare at the hem
    Silver concho belt or similar
    Dark brown or black boots, perhaps more equestrian than cowboy
    Simple, silver Southwestern jewelry
    Ray-Ban aviators

  12. @ZB, thanks for this contribution. A question for you: are there any publications or blogs which you follow that primarily cover the topic of traditional, or preppy, women’s attire?

  13. Hello everyone, thank you for the positive feedback! Hope you’re all well out there.

    @MacMcConnell Good idea; looks like I’m an M/L in the Boys’ dress shirts at BB.

    @RWK They’re hard to come by, these days. ‘Classy Girls Wear Pearls’ by Sarah Vickers was the original for my generation, however her model has become far less homegrown and more about corporate sponsorship of late. All the power to her, of course. Muffy Aldrich’s ‘Salt Water New England’ sticks to reviews of domestic brands and the many other aspects of living in this region, which is really part and parcel of the traditional women’s attire around here.

  14. @sacksuit Please let me know if you come across one.

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