Freeport, ME, March 17, 2021
Breaking Down Barriers: Borrowing from the Boys
WORDS AND PRODUCT PHOTOS BY EMILIE HAWTIN
Atha Inerson and Hazel Bean out fishing, undated
L.L.Bean guest editor and outdoor advocate Emilie Hawtin is known for her signature personal style: mixing vintage clothes with tailored menswear and globally sourced goods. She goes to great lengths to source interesting, timeless pieces, regularly scouring men’s departments and hitting the road to uncover rare gems. A seasoned style and travel writer, Hawtin is vocal about her passion for well-made clothes, and always makes a strong case for unearthing, tailoring, and styling well-worn menswear.
As part of Women’s History Month, Emilie provides a modern take on creating the outdoor wardrobe that makes you feel best. And while L.L.Bean introduced a women’s department in 1943, her strategies for adopting gear from the men’s department are a testament to the empowered feeling of personal choice.
Follow Emilie on Instagram at @ehawtin
Borrowed goods are always a thrill, especially if you finagle a long-term lease. Like most, I would happily watch over a friend’s empty country house or jump behind the wheel of their old car, even if (between us) I don’t exactly drive manual. But my fastest route to borrower’s high is always men’s clothes.
Whether it’s his button-down shirts, shawl-collar sweaters, old sport coats or fine felt hats, my boyfriend doesn’t have to look too far when he’s wondering what happened to his things. Why not just buy my own? Well, that route can be taken too, unless you’re partial to decades-old waxed cotton or a rare seasonal score, which I usually am.
Borrower’s high is simply learning about yourself through something originally designed for someone else, and there’s an innate appeal about that. We all need a departure from the usual sometimes, and an oversized fisherman’s sweater can be just the ticket.
Gender barriers have been broken for years by stylish women turning heads in men’s oxfords, trousers, hats and knits. They’re elegant and unfussy, inherently more interesting and a little rebellious: a woman who knows and dresses for herself. She also knows the power of her local tailor.
Photo by Chase Winfrey
Photo by Chase Winfrey
This kind of discovery can come from unexpected places at unexpected times in unexpected ways. You might stroll into the men’s department and find everything more appealing, but that’s more likely after having borrowed your dad’s old Norwegian sweater for a hike, then diving into his barn coats, hats, belts, parkas, polos and even some shorts. Maybe eBay conveniently listed your cords as unisex, or you think back to the chinos your little brother wore and realize that the boys’ department (size XL, depending on your frame) is not to be overlooked for a woman of any age.
There’s simply no way to prepare for this kind of discovery. Once you’ve stumbled into your affection for looser sleeves, unconstrained armholes, and a stylish fit that you can both layer under and exhale in, there’s little reason to turn back. You have the reins now. The options are focused, the fabrics well-tuned, the fit is made more attractive by you. There are new departments to shop from and closets to explore––his Chamois shirts and your tailored trousers now go hand-in-hand. This is an evolution of dressing for yourself.
The most important thing when shopping in the men’s, or boy’s, department is to dress for your body type and sensibility. Simplicity is key. Go with what feels intuitive and empowering. Play with proportions. Enjoy it. Steer clear of anything overly fitted (ahem, skinny jeans) when styling oversized pieces, and aim for that just-enough fitted look.
Men’s clothes aren’t always oversized, and they don’t have to be. That’s part of the fun. They can be fitted or tailored to be the kind of fit that feels more ideal. If you haven’t had men’s trousers tailored before, whether they’re cords, chinos, pleated (great) or otherwise, you’ll be very pleased when you do. Leave a little room in the leg, take in a little from the seat, skim the ankle bone, and you’ll have a new favorite. These might become your most versatile pair––confident with a loafer or boat shoes, rugged-cool with Blundstones, quietly grand with velvet slippers. Like dog years, men’s sizing translates to a different scale, but there are ways to navigate that. If you’re a size small in women’s, you probably are in men’s too. The difference will usually be just right. Accessories are to be embraced, and some of the best you’ll find.
And, like a good therapist, these clothes enhance your life by answering questions you might not have been asking, but are very glad you’ve sorted out. When your old sweaters sit folded, quietly waiting, loyal and hoping, you’ll know that borrowers' high has taken its full, wonderful, enlightening effect. You’ve found what you’ve been searching for this whole time. In fact, it found you.
Here are some of my favorite traditional menswear pieces to always have on-hand.
When you find a sweater like this at the bottom of a pile in a vintage or military goods shop, you know you’ve scored. But the itch-factor of WWII wool sets in fast. The Commando reinterprets the best original features into a sweater you’ll actually wear. Chic shoulder patches, a wide, bulk-free ribbed knit, a fitted body that’s ideal to layer under a blazer for city or over an oxford for adventure. Tuck it into wide-leg pants for an old-world sailor effect. The olive pairs well with beige trousers, a pair of loafers and a waxed cotton jacket.
The anorak that will convert non-anorak wearers. It’s a just-right shade of 80s outdoorsman with mustard drawstrings and brown leather that looks like an old boat shoe. It’s hardly oversized and a flattering length. Pair it with chinos for a day hike, wide-leg cords for a misty weekend by the sea, or your most trustworthy outdoor gear for a trek near Machu Picchu.
A classic for all time, the fisherman defines ‘borrowed’. When I toss it on, I feel everything: liberated, elegant, rugged, ready. You could wear it with tonal cords or twill for lasting impact, or denim for timeless appeal. In the city, I pair it with tailored wool trousers. Shrink it in the dryer a little if you want to size down. Layer it under a worn-in field coat, it’s natural habitat, or a loose wool overcoat––the subtle power move.
Men’s gloves are great to borrow when they’re fitted at the wrist, since they’re nicely roomy––and keep your fingers warmer. These mittens (yes, mittens!) are more sophisticated than most, with soft, matte pebbled leather. They’re actually two pairs (the inside is a tonal wool, the outside is buckskin) and would be equally suitable for chopping wood at home or skiing in Megéve. The canary yellow lifts any mood. I find myself wearing them around the city with a field coat, fisherman’s sweater and tailored cords.
An incognito sweater that you might overlook until you borrow it. Leather-covered buttons like these look even better on women, and so do shawl collars. This collar combines a crewneck and shawl, and when you toss it on, it feels ever-so-slightly oversized in a flattering way. The wool itself is soft and elegant, striking the right notes when paired with ankle-gracing chinos, denim or wide-leg wool pants.
The L.L.Bean Norwegian Sweater
If there’s one sweater to borrow or buy, this is certainly it! The Norwegian has such devoted fans that, after a decade of wearing it, you’ll probably receive some impressive offers should you venture into a vintage shop. But, hold onto it forever. It hasn’t changed since the early 1900s, and you no longer need net-calloused hands to pull it off–but that rugged saltwater feeling is exactly what drives its appeal.
I love the way a men’s waxed cotton coat looks on women. This one is a more interesting alternative to Anglo classics. It doesn’t run small, and that’s alright. Waxed cotton coats are meant to be oversized in any case, a weather-proof layer to toss on last. Paired with some Hunting Shoes, a Norwegian sweater or tonal Chamois shirt, it transports me to the countryside anywhere I am.