Welcome to the twelfth installment of Style Thief, where I steal the clothes off queer style icons’ backs. Metaphorically, that is. I’ll try figure out just exactly what makes queer style icons tick by breaking down their look into itty bitty bite size pieces. I get a lot of questions about how to look like different celebrities/characters, so I’m finally tackling the question “How the hell do I dress like that?”
Header by Rory Midhani
On of my favorite new editions to the TV lesbian world is Betty McRae from the Canadian period TV show Bomb Girls. Just in case you haven’t seen the show, Betty is a hot young lezzie working in a bomb factory in Canada during World War II.
What makes Betty so great, beside the fact that she’s smoking hot, is that she rocks this effortless vintage secret-lesbian style. You can’t really call it butch, but it’s certainly not quite femme either. Let’s just say that there’s a whole lot of lipstick and pants and oxfords involved and I’m crazy about it. Maybe in a different time Betty would have conformed to one of our more common lesbian fashion tropes, but during World War II that just wasn’t an option. Lucky us, because she’s got a great look going for her.
Betty’s classic day-to-day look is all about those high waisted green pants. True, Betty doesn’t always wear pants, she sometimes wears the same sort of casual work dresses that the other girls tend to go for. But when Betty wears trousers, she really shines brighter than the other girls. She just nails the look.
Much in the same way that 1940’s women’s dresses aimed for an hourglass figure, Betty’s pants and blouses strive for the same sort of look. The key is to find pants that come up to your natural waist and a button-up blouse that is slightly fitted in the waist and bust but not too tight. For a comfortable fit, your pants should be widest at the fullest part of your hips and butt. To really pull off Betty’s style, you might want pants that pleat in the front and back and narrow slightly towards the ankle. On the other hand, you might find wide-legged trousers without pleats more flattering.
When you go in to buy your high waisted no-nonsense trousers, make sure to specify to the sales clerk that you’re looking for “trousers.” Seriously, use the T-Word. If you say “pants” you’ll end up with skinny jeans and if you say “slacks” you’ll end up dressed like your mother. Trousers seems to be the key term in describing work pants that are chic, flattering and timeless.
Betty’s classic button-up blouses comes in an array of floral and geometric patterns in peaches, reds and greens. Though mostly feminine in pattern, Betty wears her blouses with a certain butchness that comes partially from her swagger and partially from her shoulders and collar. That’s right, it’s all in the cut. Betty splays her collar to the sides and keeps her shoulders broad a la Saturday Night Fever. Of course, there was no way to know this in 1940’s, but in a post-disco world strong shoulders and collar do elicit a certain John Travolta masculinity that is truly striking. These blouses shout, “Hold up. Someone hot just walked in and it’s me.”
It might be difficult to find such blouses these days; shoulder pads are long gone and vintage fabrics remain difficult to find, so I strongly encourage your to search your grandmother’s closet or your parents’ attics. You might just find a real gem in a box of blouses your mother almost burned when she decided they were “so out of style” in the 1980s.
If you strike out at home, check out a vintage store or the local Goodwill. These do not tend to be the most popular shirts around. Be warned, however, that there is at least some reason for this. Button-ups have come a long way in terms of fit and you might find that the classic vintage blouses are not as flattering as you might hope. For a more updated version of Betty’s look, try a peach or floral button-up in a cut that you prefer, perhaps with the collar worn normally.
It never hurts to have the right accessories and Betty’s are as badass and understated as she is. It might not seem like a big deal, but this is one of those moments where belt width really does matter. Too wide of a belt or too flashy a buckle gives the look a 1970’s superhero feel. On the other hand, too skinny a belt doesn’t properly support or balance out the fullness of her pants. You should aim for about an one inch belt with a minimalist buckle in a tan, peach or light pink shade of worn-in leather. Vintage belts tend not to fair the years well, but luckily shirt-tucking is having a resurgence and belts like these are having their moment.
Betty’s shoes are pure genius. While I feel like oxfords regularly come up (and up and up and up and up), Betty’s bring something new to the table. Yes, they’re oxfords, but they also have a solid heel. Not quite the femme high heel we’ve begin seeing on some women’s oxfords, but more of a cowboy boot style heel. Concerns about conforming to mainstream notions of beauty aside, I like wearing heels because I feel powerful in them. This is particularly true when I wear pants. I want to feel like my legs are long and strong (what can I say, I’m naturally 90% torso). Heels just make pants fall exactly right on me.
You can’t really complete the bomb girl look without the hair. While there are a dozen and one ways to get those 1940’s curls, what I really care about are their sweet bandana dos! It took me about 4 minutes playing with my favorite bandana to figure out how to pull my hair up like Betty’s. Basically I just put my hair in a bun and folded a bandana into a triangle, tying the corners up at the top of my head and tucking the tip of the triangle under them. Still, it’s easier to see in video form.
Betty’s look is all about simple understated pieces which have a striking effect when put together. Without a doubt, she aims for comfort and a hint of masculinity, but does so within the constructs of what her time period allowed for. The big take-away for us is that we can add small butch elements (oxfords, shoulder pads, loose pants) blended in with femme cuts and colors (peaches, florals, airy sleeves) to create a look that is altogether new and interesting.
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