FASHION / FALL IN THE CITY : Womanly Art of Menswear : How to Spin-Doctor a N.Y. Look in L.A?


Think about Marlene Dietrich decked out in a man’s suit. She may have been wearing trousers and a jacket, but the hair, the makeup, the pose, the attitude were undeniably sexy. That image is a good touchstone for this fall’s menswear trend for women.

The look may have originated in New York, but Los Angeles women have their own take on dressing like a man. Bodywear is mixed with pin stripes, sheer blouses are worn under man-tailored jackets, and soft cardigan sweaters are worn belted, a softer approach to the man’s suit coat.

Fred Hayman has stocked his Rodeo Drive store with pin stripes, houndstooth and worsted wool women’s pantsuits as well as tuxedos, some with skirts or chiffon trousers “to make it a little more feminine and provocative,” he says. Underneath the suits he likes camisoles, bustiers--or nothing at all. “We don’t show suits with neckties. I’m not wild about that,” Hayman adds.


“The only thing I can say,” says Linda LoRe, president and chief executive officer of Giorgio Beverly Hills, “is that I hope women don’t go back to where we were at the end of the ‘70s when we tried to dress like men in those little black suits and bow ties.”

LoRe continues: “I’ll buy a crisp white man’s shirt. I’ll leave a few buttons open to make it soft, and I like a scarf tied around the waist as a belt on a man’s trouser.”

What are other L.A. women doing to personalize the menswear look? Says Ruth Bloom, owner of Ruth Bloom Gallery of Santa Monica: “I have a lot of Yohji Yamamoto very blocky jackets and cuffed pants that call for a tie and a big collared, exaggerated shirt. I wear 5-year-old ties that are larger-scaled with big prints, not stripes, so it’s fun and not aspiring to be a man’s look. I’m really mocking it.”

Shirley Kawabuchi, a graphic designer and a recent graduate of Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, says: “I love men’s suits. I have one of my father’s from the 1950s, and I haven’t done anything to it. I like them when they’re really huge.” She sometimes tops off the suit with oversize pearls or “minimal jewelry” like gold hoop earrings.

According to Jim Watterson, vice president of public relations for the May Co., “Women in L.A. are less regimented and more inventive, sort of taking the look one step beyond the mold.” May Co. stores are showing catsuits under men’s-style jackets, ruffled shirts with suits and garments in unusual colors such as coral.

Express has caught on to the “feminized menswear” look, too.

“We don’t see menswear for women as a parody of men’s clothing. It’s not meant to be drag,” says Philip Monaghan, executive vice president of marketing for the Express stores.

Express doesn’t sell men’s repp ties; instead the chain offers ties with baroque patterns, some with charms attached. Or ties draped with necklaces or soft cardigans as an alternative to jackets.

“Our L.A. customers tend to make more of a personal statement and not go by the book,” says Monaghan.

For anyone wondering where the fashion establishment stands on the question of how a woman should best dress like a man, here are a few pointed clues. Calvin Klein and his equestrienne wife, Kelly, posed like brother and sister in their matching suits and neckties in the recent pages of Elle magazine.

Ralph Lauren’s lavish magazine ads dramatize blond dream-goddess models buttoned to the neck in uniforms inspired by a male executive’s closet.

For Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld zeroed in on black leather, with World War II commandant trench coats cut to ankle length, worn over tweed jackets and tight leather jeans.

Giorgio Armani snipped an assortment of narrow, slouchy pants suits, not unlike those he’s already so well-known for.

And the spunky design duo Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana decorated man-tailored suits with mirrors, gold swirls and other accessories that indicate their menswear is not for men.

For a more relaxed look closer to Los Angeles style, Donna Karan mixed softly tailored pin stripe and glen plaid suits with bodysuits, slinky tops and big white organza shirts worn with a long chiffon scarf tied loosely at the neck, instead of a necktie.

“Everybody’s interpreting it in their own way,” notes New York designer Norma Kamali.

Her way includes an evening rendition, combining big-collared shirts, large droopy bow ties, fitted jackets and full trousers.

How else to feminize the menswear look? Dietrich knew instinctively that a woman’s hair and makeup are essential to successful cross dressing.

“When you dress very severely and slightly masculine you have to do the opposite with the hair,” says stylist-to-the-stars Jose Eber.

"(Hair) should have soft curls, big curls and be ‘40s oriented no matter what the length.”

“You really need to see the contradiction of a very female face rather than the short-haired, no-makeup look,” says Kamali.