These days, girls will be tomboys
Man style ... Autumn-winter collection by Bassike plays to boyish sensibilities.
Tomboys, almost by definition, are always getting into scrapes.
Still, Sydney fashion designer Kym Ellery, who wears jeans and T-shirts to work virtually every day and whose eponymous label champions androgynous-style separates such as man-style vests and trench coats, didn't see this particular one coming.
Sitting in her Chippendale studio last year, Ellery received a postal smackdown from the people who handle the trust for the late New York Yankees baseball player Joe DiMaggio.
From the Ellery autumn collection.
''We cited him as inspiration for our spring collection,'' Ellery says, ''and we had a letter from Joe DiMaggio's trust threatening that we weren't allowed to reference him.''
The collection includes an oversized short-sleeved chambray shirt that wouldn't be out of place on a baseball pitch.
The trust folk didn't say whether they objected specifically to DiMaggio, the one-time husband of Marilyn Monroe who was famous for his rigid ideas about gender, being linked to women's clothing. But they might have to get used to it. Because tomboy fashion - much of it influenced by sport - has become the new ''it'' trend.
''It's everywhere and it keeps getting more and more widespread,''says the Los Angelean author of the blog Tomboy Style, Lizzie Garrett. The overseas spring-summer 2012 shows included looks such as a floral biker's jacket with matching helmet (Alexander Wang), '80s-style high-top running shoes (Isabel Marant), slouchy suit pants (Phoebe Philo) and a silk suit based on men's pyjamas (Stella McCartney).
''I think the style is really down to earth and really accessible - and it's really sort of just about being yourself and dressing to be mobile or be able to sort of confront whatever adventure, whatever obstacles your day brings, and not just be confined,'' Garrett says. ''I think a lot of people are exhaling in that regard.''
She's not wrong. Home-grown supermodel Miranda Kerr, usually photographed in goddess-style gowns, has been getting around in those Isabel Marant high-tops. And everyone from fashion icons to movie stars - including model and designer Erin Wasson and actor Jaime King - have lately been spouting off about their love for baggy jeans and oversized T-shirts, much in the way they used to parade their status handbags. (''Most of the time I end up dressing like a boy,'' King told The New York Times in January.)
It's a far cry from a decade ago when Mary Lou Ryan, co-designer of Sydney brand Bassike - which ushered a women's tuxedo jacket and denim overall dress into shops in February and March - ''definitely stood out'' at the races in Melbourne for wearing a knee-length denim skirt and ripped T-shirt amid gaggles of girls in dresses and heels. ''It just wasn't very done,'' Ryan says.
So what's with the current sartorial homage to not only famous man-style dressers from the past such as Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn but also to ordinary girls' own tree-climbing seven-year-old selves?
Ellery attributes the trend to a greater acceptance of blurred gender identity. ''It's almost like that is the hot [thing], that genders are [in flux] now,'' she says. ''Now, the lines are so blurred and people are really expressing themselves and everyone's really open to it. Our generation's probably the first generation that's 100 per cent accepted [it]. It's not taboo any more.''
She cites numerous fashion examples: the growing number of models including Alice Dellal and Agyness Deyn who are ''shaving their heads and wearing boyfriend jeans'', and the recent success of androgynous male Australian model Andrej Pejic, an elfin blond who has not only walked the runway in bridalwear for Jean-Paul Gaultier but who, in December, starred in a print campaign for Dutch fashion chain Hema wearing a ''mega push-up'' bra.
The fashion trend dovetails with a growing interest in exploring gender in the wider world of culture.
French director Celine Sciamma's film Tomboy, about an 11-year-old girl who masquerades as a boy, is due out in Australia next month, as is Tomboy Style, the spinoff book from Garrett's website. Society's changing perception of tomboys is the subject of a recent study by Kerry Robinson and Cristyn Davies, an associate professor of education at the University of Western Sydney and a PhD student at the University of Sydney respectively.
One of the findings in Tomboys and Sissy Girls: Exploring Girls' Power, Agency and Female Relationships in Childhood through the Memories of Women was that girls who were pressured as children to engage in traditionally girly activities and to wear only ''feminine'' clothing experienced a vicarious and liberating sense of ''freedom'' when they socialised with tomboys.
None of this is a surprise to Garrett, who has always said her blog is about far more than fashion, specifically the championing of women who have ''confidence, a sense of adventure and [who are] rebellious in some ways''.
Which brings us back to Ellery. Among her latest tomboy-chic designs is a black-and-white leather ''varsity'' jacket.
Was her decision to create yet another baseball-themed item a metaphorical middle finger to DiMaggio's people? ''I suppose he can't claim he owns a bomber jacket,'' she says with a laugh.