I was recently asked by a brilliant mind if the term tomboy was politically correct. I will start by saying political correctness is overrated, in my opinion, but I was encouraged to research the history of the word tomboy and write about it and I LOVED the idea. The idea was not to determine the correctness of it, but to learn the history of a term we so often use and the most common word I use to describe my new clothing line, inspired by my daughter. I hope you enjoy learning about the history of the term, tomboy!
a girl who enjoys rough, noisy activities traditionally associated with boys.
After some quick research, I was very pleased with the history of the term tomboy and what it has evolved into. I also love the way some women have so eloquently incorporated the tomboy look into their everyday fashion. Their style doesn’t represent wearing boy’s or men’s clothing, but the way they effortlessly put together an outfit that represents their laid back and confident approach to life.
I will start by pointing out the history of the word tomboy, then I will share Vogue magazine’s history of tomboy fashion dating back to the early twenties and I will finish with my own description of a tomboy based upon what my five-year-old beauty has taught me.
The word tomboy dates to the late 1500s, when it was used to describe a bold-spirited or immodest woman. However, in nineteenth-century American culture, the usage of the word “tomboy” came to refer to a specific code of conduct that permitted young girls to exercise, wear “sensible clothing”, and to eat a “wholesome diet”. (I LOVE THIS) Because of the emphasis on a healthier lifestyle, tomboyism quickly grew in popularity during this time period as an alternative to the dominant feminine code of conduct that had limited women’s physical movement. Joseph Lee, a playground advocate, believed the tomboy phase crucial to physical development between the ages of eight and thirteen in 1915. Tomboyism remained popular through World War I and World War II in society, literature, and then film.
The urban dictionary offered a modern day definition of tomboy. Tomboy refers to a female whose behavior is free from the restriction of unwritten societal gender rules. She doesn’t think she is being boyish or girlish, she is being herself. (Just being herself…I LOVE THIS TOO)
VOGUE’S HISTORY OF TOMBOY FASHION
Fashionably speaking, the tomboy came of age in the Roaring Twenties, a time of great liberation for women in every way, including dress. The Jazz Age gave birth to the garçonne—a word referring both to the sporty, bob-haired look that women adopted, and a specific type of dress (described at the time by Vogue as being “good for the woman who wishes to look trim and boyish. It is as simple as its name implies, straight in line, one-piece, beltless.”) Coco Chanel—whose incredible success was due in large part to her sartorial borrowings from the men in her life.
Throughout the twentieth century, the tomboy resurfaced, though the concept shifted with the times, from the preppy-athletic New England Katharine Hepburn in the 1940s to the alligator-wrestling, free-spirited style of Lauren Hutton’s 70s shoots.
By 2010, the tomboy look had evolved into a uniform—lived-in T-shirt, skinny jean, fitted jacket, and boots—with such immediate city-cool appeal that Alexander Wang told Vogue that model off-duty “is a term I use for developing my aesthetic.”
Enter 2014, with the likes of Daria Werbowy and Aymeline Valade taking cues from decades and muses past and ushering in a slightly tailored take on the style, subbing a Chanel-cardigan jacket for a leather biker, say, or a crisp cotton button-down for a jersey tee. Mixing up those tenets elevates the look, while keeping it surprising and fresh, and of course, a little rebellious—tomboys, after all, just want to have fun.
I will finish with this; after two and a half years of observing my little girl confidently decide that her taste isn’t suited for pink and ruffles, I would like to create my own description of tomboy based upon what my daughter has taught me.
The tiny tomboy that we are designing our clothing line for represents a strong, confident and self-assured child who simply wears what best suits her personality and interests. For Allie, her interests include sports, adrenaline and adventure. Allie is fearless and strong, she is confident in who she is and what she likes. Allie is smart and funny and chooses to play in the dirt and ride her scooter as fast as she possibly can, over playing dress-up and princesses. As a mother, I was initially opposed to her wanting to wear boy clothes, but I quickly realized that little girl clothes in no way tailor to the taste of tomboys. They are all pink and purple with princesses and ruffles. There was no happy medium and the reason I made the decision to design my own line; to suit the personality of these strong little girls without having to shop in the boy’s section of her favorite clothing stores. I can’t wait to introduce you to the pieces we are working so diligently on for the tiny tomboys in our lives. 🙂