updated 5 Feb 2011, 10:42
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Fri, Dec 24, 2010
The New Paper
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Powering up with menswear
by Germaine Lim

MAN up.

That's what some foreign female celebrities seem to be doing as they ditch feminine frocks in favour of men's suits on the red carpet.

Actresses such as Leighton Meester, Olivia Wilde, Anna Lynne McCord, Jessica Alba and Winona Ryder, and supermodels including Kate Moss and Agyness Deyn have been showing off their edgier side since last month.

Meester and Moss, for example, have gone the whole hog, teaming their suits with skinny ties.

Local TV actresses Rui En, Jeanette Aw and Jacelyn Tay have also opted for variations of this androgynous look.

But they are a minority among Singapore women who prefer safe sartorial choices.

Celebrity stylist Karen Ng told The New Paper: "Unfortunately, we're not adventurous. This look is ubiquitous in Europe and London.

"It's difficult to convince local women to wear even jackets because they think it makes them look like old-fashioned office women.

"I tell my clients to throw on a blazer over floral frocks or even baby-doll dresses to make their look a bit more edgy. But they tell me that jackets are for the office and too masculine for their more womanly style. That's not true."

After all, we're not talking about the heavily padded suits of the 80s, Style magazine editor May Yip said.

She added: "It's about softer and more functional looks that modern women can throw on and look effortlessly professional.

"This look will work great for any independent career gal... You don't have to rack your brains figuring out how to mix and match separates in the morning.

It's a whole lot easier running around in trousers than mini-dresses!"

Known as the Le Smoking look, it was created in 1966 by renowned French couturier Yves Saint Laurent.

Both Ms Ng and Ms Yip said they have worn this look themselves and love it.

Ms Yip added: "I'm not a fan of ultra-feminine clothes covered in ruffles and other embellishments.

The clean, no-nonsense aesthetics of menswear has always appealed to me."

Local designer JR Chan, who suited up Aw, said that this masculine silhouette allows women "the comfort of men's clothing with the style of womenswear".

Ms Chan is the chief designer of Cloak‡, the menswear collection of local label Hide&Seek.

The key to rocking this look is confidence.

Or as local fashion stylist Dolphin Yeo puts it, personality is the most important accessory.

Ms Chan explained: "Power dressing demands a fearless attitude, which you'll never convincingly achieve if you don't like what you see in the mirror in the morning.

"As long as you feel comfortable in your own skin, gender and sexuality, it doesn't matter if you decide to pick your pieces from a man's wardrobe instead of a woman's."

That is why British supermodel Deyn's gender-bender look is a favourite with Ms Yip and Ms Chan.

She has the right attitude and haircut to carry off the very masculine outfit with chutzpah, Ms Yip said.

Ms Chan added: "I love Agyness Deyn's versatility.

She has definitely pulled this look off well with the way she changes her hair, style and styling from time to time.

"I like that she doesn't allow androgynous wear to look like a uniform on her."

And it doesn't matter if you don't have a model-like figure like Deynor Moss.

In fact, Asian women's slight figure and delicate features "juxtapose the masculinity of a suit perfectly", Ms Yip said.

Body type

So know your body type.

Otherwise, you may end up like Gossip Girl star Meester and Black Swan actress Ryder, whose suits were ill-fitting.

Ms Yip said of Meester's Thom Browne outfit: "The jacket could have been a lot more fitted at the waist and the trousers had a bit too much flap. It looks like she borrowed the suit from her kid brother because it just doesn't flatter her figure."

As for Ryder being togged in Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci, Ms Ng said she looked frumpy with a jacket that looks "too big" on her.

"The whole look overwhelms her and has no character.

She's too covered up and needs to show some skin."

Those with an hourglass figure should wear fitted blazers that are nipped at the waist over a shirt with the top few buttons left open, local fashion experts advised.

While those with boyish figures will look best in a mannish suit, Ms Chan cautioned against an ill-crafted suit which "kills that last bit of curve one has".

Hair should also be sleek, Ms Ng said, adding: "It's all about details. Anybody can wear androgynous style.

Go for single-breasted jackets if you're a bit chubby and want to lengthen your body."

It also pays to keep accessories to a minimum.

If you want to catch eyeballs, wear statement pieces such as a tie or bow tie, Mr Ng said.

A pair of killer heels also balances the look, Ms Yip said.

But this attire isn't always suitable for all occasions.

Meester got it wrong - again - when she got suited up for the Gotham Independent Film Awards in New York, where actresses like Anne Hathaway and Natalie Portman wore cocktail dresses.

Ms Ng said: "Her look is fun and edgy. But this is too casual for an awards show... (It's more suited for) fun occasions like a fashion event."

But don't expect fashion's latest fad to be an instant hit with the masses as it is with the experts.

Finding a suit that fits well usually means alteration or tailoring, which can be costly, postgraduate student Celine Tay said.

The 27-year-old added: "Singapore is also too warm to be wearing a jacket outdoors."

Sales manager John Yeo, 33, said: "It's a refreshing change from the usual sea of dresses. Everyone should shake up their wardrobe once in a while and play dress-up.

"That said, such an outfit is a novelty and fashion statement. So it can be an overkill and lose its appeal if worn too often."


This article was first published in The New Paper.

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