That word you weren’t supposed to call a girl who dressed like a boy. A derogatory term meant to insult girls and women who cross dressed, who claimed the reason why they wore those clothes was because they enjoyed the feeling or the fashion. Well now this group of tomboys are coming back, reclaiming the name and turning it from a derogatory term to positive description of someone who could give a damn about the opinion of others and goes their own way. One such women is Emma McIlroy and her movement is called Wildfang.
“Tomboys have been with us for over a century,” McIlroy tells HHN. “Strong, bold women have been stealing from boys for years.”
Wildfang is a clothing brand based in Portland, Oregon that makes men’s clothes for women. From t-shirts to blazers, slacks to jeans, Wildfang allows tomboys to embrace the look and feel of male closet. McIlroy mentions that there are several things that are attractive to women about wearing clothes traditionally found on the opposite gender.
“[For] some it’s about function and comfort — there are certain things you just can’t do in a dress or a skirt. For other it’s about confidence and strength — the style makes [many women] feel bolder and freer.”
McIlroy has always been about creative independence. When she left a comfortable job at Nike to create her own clothing line, she was aware of the financial and personal risks she was taking. Yet it is this kind of independence that she feels is at the center of the Wildfang brand. McIlroy argues that this independence comes from the customer.
“She [the customer] fuels us in everything we do.”
Not only is it independence that rests inside her brand’s DNA, it is also a “raw, fierce, energy” that comes from the name Wildfang – which in german means “an animal that is brought inside”. McIlroy remarks she chose this name because “it sounds like halfway between a rock band and a kids book.”
Throughout my four years of private and public schooling, I can not begin to count the number of daily comments I hear in the halls, over social media, or outside of school where kids comment on the appearance or clothing choices of others. Often used as ammo, fashion is a common playground for the belittlement of others. It is this bullying and mistreatment of others that McIlroy finds to be the reason behind Wildfang’s success.
“Rethinking gender boundaries will hopefully reduce cases of bullying but also allow young people to achieve their full potential without being held back.”
One of Wildfang’s most popular clothing items is a black shirt that says “Wild Feminist” on it. Other pieces of clothing have feminist slogans or messages written on them including one which donates 10 percent of proceeds to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. In response to the latest presidential election, it is no surprise that more people have found a connection to the socially liberal messages that this brand shares.
“The election seemed to motivate women to take action and to want to support brands that share their values. [However,] a female president would have undoubtedly helped inspire many young women. But that day will come.”
Emma McIlroy on the youth:
“At the core of our mission is the ability to be yourself and express yourself freely. Society has these weird, rigid gender lines which don’t make sense and I think Gen Z are going to blow those apart. It’s insane for certain jobs to be ‘men’s jobs’ and it’s crazy that certain clothes are restricted to a specific gender. At Wildfang, we support young people growing up and being whoever the hell they want to be.”
Photo of Emma McIlroy wearing Wildfang gear