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Booth Moore, Los Angeles Times (MCT), Published May 04 2012

‘Tomboy style’ goes beyond fashion for blogger

LOS ANGELES – For years, L.A.-based author Lizzie Garrett Mettler thought “tomboy” was a dirty word.

“I was a definite tomboy when I was a kid,” she says. “It was a nightmare for my parents to get me into a dress for a stretch of years.”

As she became a teenager and young adult, she pushed that side of herself away. That changed when she started reading street fashion blogs like the Sartorialist and A Cup of Jo, and saw comments from readers who couldn’t get enough of Alexa Chung and Lou Doillon’s “tomboy style.”

Maybe, Mettler thought, there was something to her lifelong fascination with Belgian loafers, tattered Lacoste polos and Barbour jackets.

Indeed, in recent years, men’s wear-inspired fashion for women has gone mainstream. It’s seen at J. Crew, where you can find a “schoolboy blazer”; on the streets, where the Breton sailor stripe shirt trend won’t go away; and on the runways, in Scott Sternberg’s neo-preppy Boy by Band of Outsiders collection and in the 1970s-inspired trouser and oversized button-down shirt looks by Phoebe Philo at Celine.

“Something clicked in my head,” Mettler says. “So I started a blog to answer my own question about what makes a tomboy stylish.”

That blog, tomboystyle.blogspot.com, launched in May 2010, inspired the book “Tomboy Style: Beyond the Boundaries of Fashion,” which was published this month by Rizzoli. The book is a visual history, documenting 80 years of women who blur the gender lines.

In her research, Mettler realized she discovered her own tomboy style while at boarding school, trading clothes with her frilly best friend Kingsley Woolworth.

“A tomboy is a girl,” Mettler explains. “Tomboy style is about a woman who channels her tomboy childhood, and mixes masculine and feminine elements in her wardrobe. It’s not just wearing men’s clothes.”

And it’s not just wardrobe; it’s substance too.

Mettler had a particular interest in how tomboy style pertains to the past, “to women who pushed the boundaries,” she says. These women include Katharine Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich and Jane Birkin, as well as those we’re not so used to seeing in the style pages, such as Amelia Earhart.

“I was looking at everything from 1980s movies like ‘Some Kind of Wonderful,’ in which the drummer Watts is a huge tomboy, to photos of women skiing from the 1950s. I noticed a broad range of women, but a neat thread that bound them together was a rebellious, adventurous confidence,” Mettler says.

She consulted out-of-print fashion books and the Life magazine archives. “There are the obvious icons you’d expect, but there’s also Ginger Rogers,” she says.

Mettler organized the book into seven tomboy style archetypes. The “rebels” are rocker chicks Deborah Harry, Courtney Love and Patti Smith tThe “sophisticates” include Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, Diane Keaton, Janelle Monae and tomboy godmother Coco Chanel.

A 1940 photo of Osa Johnson dressed in safari gear, riding a zebra in Africa, exemplifies the “adventuress” archetype. The “jocks” push their bodies, along with the bounds of society. In the “prep” category, there’s Monaco’s Princess Caroline, having a smoke outside her family’s French villa in 1982, .

Attitudes about tomboys have certainly changed over the years, Mettler says. And tomboy style doesn’t seem to be going away.

To that end, she plans to continue her blog, spotlighting tomboy style icons such as Francoise Sagan.