Evolution of Butch Fashion


While the 1920s was definitely not the start of butch or androgynous fashion, 100 years ago seemed like a good starting point.
Our foremothers of this time period rebelled against societal norms by wearing clothes that were considered “off limits” to women, such as slacks and ties. OH MY! What rebels! ?
As you can see from the photo, these trailblazers posed in their elegant three-piece suits, complete with top hats and lapel accessories.
Cuteness aside, these brave women risked incarceration and potential violence to toss feminine “appropriateness” by the wayside.


[caption id="attachment_304065" align="alignleft" width="188"] Photo by: Marianne Breslauer[/caption]

During the 1930s, we see the birth of the Stem. For those of you less acquainted with the term, Stem refers to individuals who do not fit the typical masculine or feminine stereotypes. They fall somewhere on the spectrum.
Women still wore masculine apparel, such as slacks, blazers, ties, etc.; however, they had a more tailored look. Button-downs and polos were more fitted and revealing of the female form, and slacks, while loose around the legs, were fitted around the hips. Male dress shoes were swapped for women’s heels, albeit short ones, and layering makes its appearance during this decade.
The most noticeable change of the decade for butch women, is the hair. Elegant tomboy of the era, Annemarie Schwarzenbach, popularized the soft parted style so many baby butches enjoy today.


[caption id="attachment_304066" align="alignright" width="259"] The Collection of Marion B. ‘Joe’ Carstairs (1900-1993)[/caption]
While doing research on butch fashion, I came across Marion “Joe” Carstairs, racer, oil heiress and fashionable lesbian. Oh yeah, did I mention she owned her own island as well?! In the 1940s no less! I wish I had my own island.
Outfits like the ones shown in her photos were common for butches in her time period – blazers with ties, long skirts, slacks, or suits. Short hair is still fairly common, although it doesn’t look quite like the soft parted style of Annemarie Schwarzenbach of the 1930s. Shorts and flat shoes started making an appearance in this decade as women started being “allowed” to show more skin.
Butch women used clothing to challenge ideas about independence, strength and authority during this time, as they were usually qualities only attributed to men. Their masculine expression, while usually associated with lower- and working-class individuals, gave them a sense of power and freedom.


[caption id="attachment_304067" align="alignleft" width="199"] Ethyl Waters OutHistory.org[/caption]

The 1950s saw more changes, not only in the fashion, but between races. What applied to white butch women, didn’t apply to black butch women, in large part due to segregation and rampant racism throughout the United States. It is also during this time that black butches began referring to themselves as studs in an effort to distinguish their unique cultural identity.
For example, on a night out – or a night in – you would find a stud dressed to the nines in a three-piece suit and male dress shoes. There was less gender division due to lack of access to safe bars, clubs, and places for studs to socialize. For black lesbians at the time, racism was a significant deterrent from attending public places; therefore, many parties or events were held in private homes and information was spread by word of mouth.
On the other hand, white butches adopted more of a “working man’s” look in the 1950s. Their style was more casual, including men’s t-shirts, jeans and sweaters. Access to safe spaces were, of course, far easier for white butches, and there was a strict “butch-femme” dynamic during this time.


The 60s are widely known for their social justice movements, including the Civil Rights, Women’s Liberation, Gay Rights, Anti-Vietnam War and Environmental movements, which continued into the 1970s.

What may be less widely known, is that during this time, butch fashion transformed from an act of rebellion into a form of self-expression. It was also during this time that designer Yves St Laurent unveiled his menswear line for women, including none other than his Smoking Tuxedo Jacket, which is a butch’s equivalent to the LBD (little black dress).
“For women, the tuxedo is an indispensable outfit, which they feel comfortable with, so they can be who they are,” he said.  “This is style, not fashion. Fads come and go, style is forever.”
During this time, and with the rise of feminism, we see a rejection of femininity in fashion. Butches began to blend in with trousers, flat shoes, and for the first time in decades, no makeup being the new trend. The look for butches became increasingly “anti-fashion.”


After the 1970s, butch fashion seemed to coincide with the trends of the time. For example, the 80s was a very androgynous decade. Men and women wore tights, crop tops, long hair, etc. On the other end of the fashion spectrum, there were shoulder pads for women, giving them a more masculine look, and dressing like a “tomboy” wasn’t seen in a negative light.
The 90s boasts a grunge look that some of us still cling to today. Who doesn’t love a butch in flannel?? Am I right? SWOON! We can skip the early 2000s, and fingers crossed it never comes back to haunt us.
The most significant fashion update are clothing brands, like HauteButch, who create masculine looks tailored to fit women’s bodies. This has been a gap in the industry quite literally since the beginning of fashion.
We don’t want to look like men. We never have. Designers, like Karen, understand this. She understands women desire the freedom men have with their clothing. They are free to move, play, dress for comfort as opposed to being sexualized and considered second-class citizens. Having brands like ours gives us freedom and power, which we not only crave, but deserve.