In the underground gay bars of the 40s, 50s and 60s - being in a butch-butch relationship or a femme-femme relationship was seen as taboo. Even the lesbian community would say “gender role distinctions needed to be sharply drawn.”
Butch women may dress in a masculine way but on the inside we’re a range of different personalities. From romantic and sensitive to stoic and practical, butch women are just as diverse as non-butch women.
Additionally, butch lesbians also don’t really get a chance to shine in the limelight - especially since there’s more focus on giving others from the sexuality and gender spectrums a platform (rightly so!). But I thought I’d take a moment to celebrate the incredible style and fashion of butch women...
The more masculine side of menswear
In very general terms, butch style incorporates the more masculine side of menswear. Think sturdy and durable clothing such as outdoors wear, sportswear, smart suits and dapper ties. The butch fashion isn’t to be confused with ‘tomboy’ style - which is based on relaxed cuts and ‘inspired’ by menswear rather than actually being menswear. Butch fashion isn’t about passing as a man, it’s more a subversion of gender expectations.
Although you can adopt a butch style and have your hair at varying lengths, for many the preferred look is a shorter hairstyle. The cut itself varies greatly: 1950s quiffs, shaved head, crew cuts, mohicans and so on. The butch hairstyles usually take their inspiration from male celebrities ranging from Elvis to Tom Hardy. Of course, some butch women are inspired by other butch women’s hairstyles such as Carrie Black from Orange is the New Black and Queen Latifah’s cornrows in Set it Off.
Pic: Al Start, singer songwriter.
Just like feminine fashion, shoes can cover a broad range of styles. The difference is many butch women prefer to buy men’s shoes because the style suits them better and the fit tends to be wider (we don’t have time for squashed up toes!). Trainers, converse, flip flops, boat shoes and slip-ons are best suited for casual times, whereas smart shoes and boots are called for when it’s time to dress up.
Smart shoes come in all shapes and sizes. Here are just a few styles out there; Oxfords, brogues, Chelsea boots, loafers, Derby, Monkstraps, split toe bluchers, shortwing bluchers, spectators, medallion caps...butch women are truly spoiled for choice with smart shoes!
The clothes all depend on the scenario. While a tomboy style may include a blazer and shirt for work, the butch style gives you the power to go all out. This means tailored suits, ties, bow ties, smart shoes, cufflinks and dress shirts. Butch fashion when it comes to formal or office wear means bringing out the full works. It can also go the other way - butch women might choose to go full throttle hipster in the office with plaid shirts, braces and skinny jeans. It really does all depend on your personal take on ‘butch.’
For the more ‘everyday’ look butch style tends to veer towards a masculine cut and practical style. However, because there’s a more prominent range of zanier shirt patterns for cisgender straight men, butch fashion has also gone down the same route. We’re talking shirts with lobsters on them, plain shirts with tartan accents, flowered shirts and so much more.
What about when we’re lucky enough to have hot weather? What do butch women wear to keep cool and look cool? The possibilities are almost endless - muscle vests, racing vests, short sleeved smart-casual shirts, classic checked shirts, basic tees and so on. The best way to achieve a butch style is to look at the neckline - the most popular among butch style are crew neck and a shallow v neck.
Then we come to the trousers and jeans of butch style. It all depends on three things: comfort, fit and style. For example, you can still wear ‘women’s’ straight leg jeans and be butch. This is especially handy if it’s more comfortable for you physically. However, some butch women may choose to wear trousers, jeans and shorts designed for men simply because they feel the style and cut matches how they wish to express themselves.
Butch style and jewellery!? I hear you gasp!
Yeah, butch fashion can include some great pieces of jewellery. Stuff like cuff bracelets, leather bracelets, silver bracelets - well it’s mostly bracelets but some may choose to wear silver rings and thin chain necklaces.
If you prefer more of a hip-hop style then chunky chains could be great, along with sovereign rings. As a general rule, unless you’re purposely going for a more flashy look, gold is a no-no. Butch fashion tends to showcase silver, brushed steel and platinum jewellery.
Then there’s the issue of earrings - of course you can still embrace butch fashion and wear earrings, especially if your look is the piercings and tattoos get-up. Some butch women might choose to wear one earring - much like the way cisgendered heterosexual men would.
Hats seem to go in and out of the butch fashion world as regularly as the tide. Some hat styles aren’t in at the moment - fedoras, for example, are a bit too 00s indie boy at the moment but I’m sure they’ll make a huge comeback, whereas snapbacks are insanely popular right now. Believe it or not, 90s buckets hats are coming back in style...
Hats do come with a territory - it depends on what the weather is like and where you’re planning to wear the hat. Popular hats with butch women include flat caps, pork pie hats, beanies, trapper hats and ascot hats.
All in all, butch fashion is still a thing. It’s still a choice for LGBTQI+ folk everywhere and it’s a matter of tailoring the style to suit the way you feel inside. As you can see there are so many ways you can achieve the full butch style - there are just so many routes in which to get there. Take your pick!
Model @raerayriotmodel snapback their own.