From Coco Chanel to the playwright Françoise Sagan, French women have long stood out in history for androgynous fashion that questioned gender norms. That’s what Navaz Batliwala outlines in her book, The New Garçonne: How to be a Modern Gentlewoman, which explores the codes of being a modern day garçonne or garçon manqué (tomboy). Inspired by 1920s Gallic flapper girls and their short hair and drop-waist dresses, this French reappropriation of menswear moves away from a heteronormative division of roles.
The book arguably coincides with a deep revival of the trend in the country and the concept of old Parisian sexiness is being challenged by a new style, one which is less feminine and less gender-dependent, and which is taking over for several different reasons. “The standardised, sexy Parisienne has always served an important function for the country – it is a commodity that luxury brands want to associate themselves with, a part of the French landscape,” said Julie Levoyer, a high-end beauty consultant. If fashion is sometimes a mirror of a broader social context, it’s hard not to see a connection to the rise of conservative policies across the country, including recent violent sexist backlash over the Burkini issue following a ban requested by right-wing municipalities (since overruled by the government). “Part of women’s liberation will be breaking out of that stereotype” says Levoyer. At a time where some Françaises are forbidden to cover up, the Garçonne supports the view that all women should have to right to free themselves from objectifying male gazes.
It also chimes with what is happening on the political landscape. As the presidential race is accelerating and Sarkozy is making a comeback, France’s Gentlewomen, both stylish and engaging, are making headlines. Marie Marot, a French designer known for her androgynous clothing, model Clara 3000, who recently featured on the cover of i-D magazine and Maud Escudie, muse and model to Vetements’ Demna Gvasalia, all share a deliberately non-sexualised appearance, downplaying their adherence to highly-binarised Parisian fashion. Marot thinks tomboy fashion provides a new space for self-expression: “The mistake people make is to think of [androgyny] as an imitation of masculinity. It’s precisely the opposite: it is about redefining a sense of elegance and seduction that you are in control of.”
Female polticians have also become accidental doyennes of the trend. Najat Vallaud Belkacem, France’s minister of education, has a signature style short hair and no-fuss androgynous clothes. Belkacem became a powerful image under the presidency of François Hollande including Christine Taubira, former minister of justice, who legalised gay marriage.
This is in stark contrast with previous president Nicolas Sarkozy’s cabinet including Rachida Dati, former justice minister, and Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, former assistant secretary general of Sarkozy’s party, the UMP: these women are all powerful, all successful, all known for their love of luxury clothing. Is solidarity against sexism morphing into style at the approach of the elections? The future and the results of the impending elections will show.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010