In Women's Clothing, Borrowing From The Guys Is Big Business

The idea of women wearing men's fashions dates from the 1930s and 1940s and remains just as de rigueur today. It's about time men's labels cottoned on.

By Leah Bourne

Menswear for women is an enduring trend in fashion--perhaps best typified by Annie Hall, the androgynous bohemian (played by Diane Keaton in the movie by Woody Allen) whose look was very clearly borrowed from the men's section. That may have been in 1977, but the idea of women wearing men's fashions dates from long before and remains just as de rigueur today.

Stylish women have long shopped Savile Row for made-to-measure tailored shirts to pair with everything from Carolina Herrera ball gown skirts to ripped vintage Levi's. And the menswear trend has made it onto the runways as of late--Dolce & Gabbana played with the tailored tuxedo jacket on the fall 2010 runway as did Diane von Furstenberg.

In fact, some of the most storied and beloved women's brands in the world actually started as men's brands: Think Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani. We have Lauren, Armani and others to thank for the forgiving boyfriend jacket, the tailored menswear shirt and of course trouser pants.

Menswear For Women: Top 10 Designers

Then there are retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch who revolutionized selling outdoor wear like khaki pants and leather bomber jackets to the masses, for both women and men alike. One interesting fact: Abercrombie, which launched in 1892 with clothes for men, became the first retailer to sell men's and women's clothes side by side in New York City in 1910. Without brands like Abercrombie, which led the way to the Gap and American Eagle, who knows what women would be wearing on the weekend.

Cut to today and many of these traditionally testosterone-fueled brands are growing their women's offerings, while preserving their men's heritage. Designers have cottoned on to the fact that where women's clothes are concerned, borrowing from the boys means big business.

At Brooks Brothers, womenswear now accounts for more than 20% of sales according to the company. That's "much more than I expected," says Brooks Brothers' CEO Claudio Del Vecchio.

In the 1930s and 1940s, the company noticed that women were quietly shopping for themselves in the men's section. Brooks Brothers womenswear was launched in 1949. Even though the label now has a dedicated women's collection there are still women who are shopping in the men's section for themselves. One of the hottest items in Brook Brothers' stores for the last several years for women has been the boys navy classic two-tone prep blazer. "We're not in the 1940s anymore, but this sort of lifestyle still exists today." Apparently, old habits die hard.

Keep reading how women are borrowing from the guys.

See the list of the Top 10 Menswear For Women Designers:

BOY by Band of Outsiders
Scott Sternberg founded Band of Outsiders in 2003 with the intention of updating preppy basics for men; he has been credited with bringing back skinny ties and boat shoes. He has extended this same philosophy to his women's collection called BOY, which was launched in 2007 and counts Marisa Tomei and Kirsten Dunst as fans. There is also a lower-priced women's collection, Girl, in the works. The spring collection was inspired by '70s Malibu and the Beach Boys.

Brioni is a favorite suit maker for moguls and world leaders ranging from Donald Trump to Vladimir Putin. The brand, which was launched in 1945 in Rome, didn't introduce womenswear until the 1990s. It has been quietly growing a women's business ever since, even introducing solo-women's stores. For fall 2010 the label showed simple black suits perfect for executive women--likely the only group who can afford them at $5,000 on average.

Brooks Brothers
An institution since 1818; by the early 20th century Brooks Brothers had become one of the largest U.S. retailers of men's suits. And women were quietly shopping for themselves among the men's offerings, too. By the 1930s, the Polo Cut coat was worn by more students at Miss Porter's School for girls than any boys' prep school. The womenswear line launched in 1949, the same year Vogue featured a Brooks Brothers pink shirt and created a fashion fad. Womenswear now accounts for 20% of the brand's sales.

Keep reading the full list.

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