Directly translated from French, the term garconne refers to a woman who has a masculine appearance and leads an emancipated life. Originating in the early twentieth century, a garconne mainly refers to the look of a woman, but the phrase also pinpoints a time in the world when young women rebelled against convention, accepted social behaviours and sexual norms, by doing things such as working outside of the home, smoking, drinking, driving and even just wearing too much make up.
Said to have been spearheaded by Coco Chanel in Paris in the 1920s, the garconne look blurs the lines between the masculine and the feminine in style and material. The core ideas behind garconne fashion are clothes which are simple, clean and without excess, which would include tailored pieces worn with trousers, and a move away from the conservative with shorter skirt lengths and lower necklines. In terms of materials used garconne fashion took ideas from men’s work clothes, utilising fabrics which were practical and durable.
Aside from the look of the garconne, the term went on to symbolise women’s struggles and quest for change at the time. During WWI women took on the jobs of the men who had left to fight, providing women with autonomy and their own income. After the death and destruction of the war, there was a sentiment of life being short and needing to live it to the fullest, so when the men returned to their jobs after WWI women’s new found sense of independence was not going to be given up easily. Being a garconne by wearing more masculine clothes and leading an independent life became a way for women to express their quest for social, political and economic equality.
A garconne was seen as outlandish and a threat to the status quo, for wearing and doing things taken for granted by the modern woman. As we continue to be inspired by the garconne style and romanticise these boundary pushing women as heroes it’s important to remember the criticism they faced and the struggles they went through at the time.
By Francesca Butler