Licentiate Column 10/05/12: Tomboys Forever

Tomboys are vastly, miserably underrated. In a world where more credence is put on celebrities in bikinis and the best way to conceal the decidedly unfeminine flaws of body hair and non-fruity smells, the woman who goes au naturel, has sun-bleached hair, (a smattering of which lives nowhere near her head) or is more into Fred Perry than florals gets the raw deal.

Reading ‘Tomboy Style: Beyond the Boundaries of Fashion’, a new book by LA Times scribe Lizzie Garrett Mettler, I was reminded of just how important and influential the tomboy really is.

Eschewing traditional notions of femininity doesn’t necessarily make you less of a woman. Everyone has a bit of tomboy in them (men included). When I asked friends on Facebook, their favourite (stylish) boyish ladies included Diane Keaton, Gwen Stefani, Katherine Hepburn, Helle Nice, Chloe Sevigny and Tilda Swinton. To that end, I’d add a young Jodie Foster, Alexa Chung, Angelina Jolie and Kristy from the Babysitters Club.. A very diverse bunch of women.

So, in honour of the tomboy, I’ve compiled a list of my favourites, real and fictional.

1. Dr Dana Scully. As the cynical half of the Mulder/Scully pairing in The X-Files, Scully is always dressed in fairly severe tailoring with a simple pageboy haircut. After a few episodes, I got so used to seeing Scully in a trouser suit that I was actually a little disappointed whenever she appeared wearing a pencil skirt. They can’t be good for running around abandoned warehouses with guns. Although Scully for some reason gets kidnapped at least three times a year and has to be rescued by Mulder, she always has to save Mulder from certain death and pick up the pieces in the series finale – but not in a housewife-ish way.

2. Beryl Markham. Author, racehorse trainer, aviatrix, Beryl Markham is perhaps the most obscure of the female flying aces of the 1930’s, most likely because she didn’t die a premature death by plane. As a peripheral member of the notorious Kenyan Happy Valley set, Markham was divorced three times and caused many scandals. She was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west, a feat made more remarkable by the fact that her map flew out of the cockpit window almost immediately after taking off. She spent most of her life in trousers and spent the majority of her childhood living in a mud hut. Ernest Hemingway thought that she was ‘a high-grade bitch’, which, for me, is a ringing endorsement.

3. Patti Smith. It says a lot when you’re in a relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe and he’s the girliest one. Unlike the tomboys listed above, I don’t think that I have ever seen a picture of Patti Smith wearing a dress. The very fabric of my reality would rip if I ever did. Smith is the epitome of the stylish tomboy, forever artfully ruffled, stylishly-clad, a woman and an androgyne. As an artist, a writer and a musician, Patti Smith is one of the few women of substance to actively, almost enthusiastically age. She doesn’t wear make-up or style her hair, but she remains beautiful because she is always genuinely, authentically herself – part of that is being a tomboy.

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