For years, L.A.-based author Lizzie Garrett Mettler thought "tomboy" was a dirty word.
"I was a definite tomboy when I was a kid," she says. "It was a nightmare for my parents to get me into a dress for a stretch of years."
As she became a teenager and young adult, she pushed that side of herself away. That changed when she started reading street fashion blogs like the Sartorialist and A Cup of Jo, and saw comments from readers who couldn't get enough of Alexa Chung and Lou Doillon's "tomboy style."
Maybe, Mettler thought, there was something to her lifelong fascination with Belgian loafers, tattered Lacoste polos and Barbour jackets.
Indeed, in recent years, men's wear-inspired fashion for women has gone mainstream. It's seen at J. Crew, where you can find a "schoolboy blazer"; on the streets, where the Breton sailor stripe shirt trend won't go away; and on the runways, in Scott Sternberg's neo-preppy Boy by Band of Outsiders collection and in the 1970s-inspired trouser and oversized button-down shirt looks by Phoebe Philo at Celine.
"Something clicked in my head," Mettler says. "So I started a blog to answer my own question about what makes a tomboy stylish."
That blog, tomboystyle.blogspot.com, launched in May 2010, inspired the book "Tomboy Style: Beyond the Boundaries of Fashion," which was published this month by Rizzoli. The book is a visual history, documenting 80 years of women who blur the gender lines.
In her research, Mettler realized she discovered her own tomboy style while at boarding school, trading clothes with her frilly best friend Kingsley Woolworth, who favored bubble-gum pink bed linens and diamond stud earrings. By borrowing some of Kingsley's things and mixing them with her old favorites, many of them borrowed from her older brother, Mettler found her own style vocabulary, epitomized by a shirtdress cinched with a men's ribbon belt.
"A tomboy is a girl," Mettler explains. "Tomboy style is about a woman who channels her tomboy childhood, and mixes masculine and feminine elements in her wardrobe. It's not just wearing men's clothes."
And it's not just wardrobe; it's substance too.
Mettler had a particular interest in how tomboy style pertains to the past, "to women who pushed the boundaries," she says. These women include Katharine Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich and Jane Birkin, as well as those we're not so used to seeing in the style pages, such as Amelia Earhart, pictured after a deep-sea dive off the coast of Block Island in 1929, and presidential progeny Susan Ford, barefoot in shorts and a T-shirt in 1976, washing her car in the driveway of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.