LA native, freelance journalist and author of the blog TomboyStyle, Lizzie Garrett Mettler has given us a breathtaking visual history of the tomboy throughout the twentieth century in her book Tomboy Style: Beyond the Boundaries of Fashion, which is available in stores today (Tuesday, 3 April).
Mettler explores the meaning of "tomboy" by chronicling the past 80 years of fashion, observing that the term not only encompasses a fashion sensibility but the spirit of the woman who embodies this sense. To be a tomboy, for Mettler, is to "blend a rugged sensibility with classic, understated elegance."
The book is divided into seven sections, which demarcate, according to Mettler, seven types of tomboy: the Rebel, the Sophisticate, the Jock, the Prep, the Adventuress, the Girl Next Door, and the Naturalist.
(Susan Ford - 1976 / copyright Gerald R. Ford Presidental Library)
Images of Amelia Earhardt, Janelle Monae, Tilda Swinton, a young Kristy McNichol and a young Jodie Foster—not to mention numerous photos of finely styled women on motorbikes, throwing javelins, and carrying surfboards—adorn the book. If "tomboy style," to quote Mettler, represents the woman who "den[ies] the staples of classic feminine style, [and carves out her] own definition of what it means to dress like a woman," it is clear that tomboy style speaks quite pointedly to the lesbian sensibility.
There is not a absolute correlation between gender and sexuality, even though studies have shown that explicit gender deviancy (from the "norm" of a particular culture, nota bene) conveys the strong potential of sexual deviancy (likewise, from the "heterosexual norm," whatever that means). In other (and in somewhat solipsistic) words, tomboys grow up to be lesbians. But we should be clear that gender deviancy does not always mean that a lesbian lies within (the difference which we usually read as our gaydar having gone awry or "being off"), and, while there are plenty of lesbians who grace Mettler's book, her focus is refreshingly not on a reductive orienting of style to sexuality, but a broadening of a conception of the tomboy in terms of aesthetics.
As someone who grew up a tomboy and who will always identify in some way as one, and as someone who is fascinated by the culture of fashion, I have taken great pleasure in Tomboy Style. I strongly recommend checking it out for yourself.
Tomboy Style: Beyond the Boundaries of Fashion
By Lizzie Garrett Mettler
New York: Rizzoli, April 2012