Growing Up As A Tomboy (And Wearing ‘Boys’ Clothes)

Ever since I remember I have been a tomboy, especially when it comes to what I prefer to wear. Following the labelled gender of clothes is definitely not necessary.

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Growing up I was definitely a bit different to the other little girls; I hated the colour pink, I refused to wear a dress and I had a greater collection of action men than I had Barbie dolls. I was the classic Tomboy.

And I still am a tomboy now.

But as I breached childhood and started entering the worlds of adolescence and adulthood, I became self-conscious about the things that I liked. I started trying to conform a little more. I am a girl so society expects me to be more feminine.

A couple weeks back someone I know commented on my clothing choice; a green baseball cap, paired with a burgundy hoodie. She said something along the lines that I looked like a boy. I was not so much hurt, we share a jovial friendship. However, it did hit me that there are strong perceptions that certain clothing is intended for one gender and not another. This is kind of clothes-minded (I’m attempting to make a pun along the lines of ‘close-minded’, in case you missed it).

Being a tomboy, I completely disregard those ‘rules’.

What’s a tomboy?

Back in March, this exact conversation, about what a tomboy is, popped up when I was hanging out with some Europeans in Thailand. My German friends had a funny idea about what the definition of a tomboy was… and I attempted to explain what the English term means by using our Slovenian friend and myself as prime examples of girls who are definitely tomboys.

To me a tomboy is a girl who chooses to partake in activities, act like, or wear clothes that are traditionally accepted as ‘masculine’ (or reserved for boys and men).

This could be wearing boys/men’s clothes, playing football or working as a builder.

Whilst writing this, I am wondering whether there’s a term for guys who are deemed to be doing more ‘feminine’ things… is there one?

How did I come to be a ‘tomboy’?

I don’t believe that there was any choice in it. It was all natural… or au naturale, if you like (sorry, I like to slip in phrases in different languages when I can).

I liked what I liked and I disliked what I disliked. It just turned out that I was more into ‘boys’ things when I was a kid. And my parents were totally cool to cater to this. It saved them some money at the very least; I had a younger brother so my ‘boys’ clothes hand-me-downs were perfect for him.

I distinctly remember going shopping in an old shop called Mothercare. I saw a Pokemon t-shirt (I loved Pokemon as a kid) and I begged my Mum to buy it. It was in the boys section, but I didn’t care. There was no way that I was going to wear a Bratz top…

I remember one of my friends mentioning that her Mum had trouble buying a birthday present for me when I was 7/8 years old. She said that her Mum had asked her if, “Katie would like a Barbie or an Action Man?”

To be honest, I didn’t mind Barbies that much but I found Action Men to be a lot more interesting — they usually involved more adventure than changing their clothing. I remember one of my Action Men had his own skateboard so I could role him across the floor to go and rescue the trapped Barbie (see, I could use both in my little playtime).

My defining ‘tomboy’ act was most probably my interesting relationship with baseball caps. From the first memory that I can recall (maybe around 4 years old) until my first day of secondary school (at the age of 11 years) I wore a baseball cap all the time. That was a very tomboy-ish thing to do, especially because none of my hats were pink or ‘girly’. The closest I got to a girly hat was a blue and yellow Pooh bear hat.

As a kid I was completely fine with this. I occasionally felt uncomfortable about it (as I was aware that I was ‘different’), but for the most part I just had fun being a kid. I was also lucky to have a great little friendship group at primary school.

Unfortunately, you can’t live life in the carefree mirage of being a child.

Attempting to conform with societal ‘norms’

Starting secondary school was a pretty significant point in my life. On that very first day, I took off my baseball cap, that by this point was an extension of myself, and I didn’t wear a cap again for several years. I kinda feel like that was an entire metaphorical moment of me attempting to fit in and be more feminine. It all happened in one day and continued for several years afterward.

The thing I dreaded most was prom. I didn’t want the moment to come. I didn’t want to wear a dress. I didn’t want to look for a dress. I didn’t want the comments about me wearing a dress, or to be in any photos. Still to this day I struggle to look at myself in photos where I know I was highly uncomfortable with what I was wearing.

I think that Shannon Beveridge sums up this feeling best:

“I wasn’t wearing the clothes that made me feel comfortable, I was wearing the clothes that made other people feel comfortable. And how does that make any sense? I’m the one who has to wear them”

There’s nothing wrong with trying new things but feeling the need to do something makes it less fun. Little comments can add up. And trying to fit in feels important during those teen years (and this can go on into your 20’s, when you finally start working out who you are).

Maybe I’m being a little dramatic. I was still a definite tomboy, just very toned down compared with how I would’ve liked to have been or how I would’ve liked to have dressed.

Lack of representation meant it was hard for me to feel comfortable being who I was and dressing how I wanted. Despite being a girl I was instinctively more enamoured to some products and clothing marketed towards ‘boys’.

What’s in a label?

I find this very interesting. Some girls prefer items in the mens’ section and vice versa, some boys like items in the womens’ section.

We give clothing a label of ‘male’ or ‘female’, ‘boy’ or ‘girl’. If you think about it these labels are just a method of helping us to dress.

If you’re a female, you go to the women’s section and you can pick from there. If you’re a male, you go to the men’s section. It’s instilled in us that we have a place and we go there.

But do you ever see clothing in the other section and think, that could look cool on you? But you don’t look at it because you feel it’s not meant for you... or you fear for what someone else will think if you pick it up and try it on.

Now, what would you think if you saw a woman shopping in the men’s section? You’d probably think that she was buying for a brother, her Dad, her partner. But you know what, she might be shopping for herself. She doesn’t need any help from the labels in her shopping. She’s doing what she wants. And this could totally be the other way round for a man shopping in the womens section.

Just think that someone has made a piece of clothing and has given their opinion that it should be for one gender or the other. Probably one person’s opinion has decided that. Maybe they decided this due to the fit, the cut or the colour. Or maybe it was originally designed with one gender in mind so they didn’t consider someone from another gender might wear it too. In reality, we are all different shapes and sizes, so these labels are just there to help us shop.

Maybe you know your own style and you don’t need the help of an objectively chosen gendered label. I salute you for that.

Labelling clothing as being for certain genders is a guide that most conform to, but you don’t have to.

There’s nothing wrong with unisex

The incredible online world means that there is so much more exposure and representation of humans who shop beyond the borders of gender-labelled clothing.

I watched a video by Shannon Beveridge (blogger/vlogger) about people’s reactions to her shopping in the men’s section. She talks candidly about making sure your comfortable with what you wear.

I have listened to the reality star, Jamie Laing, say that he wears women’s shirts because he likes the patterns (and he’s definitely a stylish guy).

For pioneers in mixing up clothing in an incredible fashion, check out Ashlyn Harris (a world cup winning American soccer player), who definitely falls under the umbrella of a tomboy, and Jonathan Van Ness (the incredibly lovable, gymnast, ice skater and stylist on Queer Eye), who wears a heel better than I ever could.

These amazing humans in the public eye are helping to break down the barriers and judgement that some clothes-minded people have. But they are also helping to inspire people (like myself) to stop feeling so self-conscious about what we wear.

I am very happy (and proud) to be growing up in this progressive world. I will continue to wear my baseball cap and oversized men’s hoodie because I feel awesome wearing them, and very comfortable too. If there’s a formal event then maybe I’ll slip on a playsuit, and just a dash of natural-looking make-up, because I’ve come to like that little feminine look (on occasion).

If I had to give my younger self advice, then I would say this:

Don’t let societal norms hold you back from being you. Do what makes you happy. Wear what makes you comfortable. Act how you want to act. All the power to you… ain’t no-one else gotta live your life but you.

Hope you enjoyed this piece. I love writing about, and exploring my view of, the world. I almost feel like I’m celebrating the quirks that make me me, and I hope you feel you can do the same!

Katie

If you want to keep up-to-date with my Medium posts then you can follow me on here or:

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I write about my curiosities and experiences. My background is in Biology (Oxford Uni) and scuba diving. Subscribe: creativelyadventurous.substack.com

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