The gamine style
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A few posts ago I wrote about how it’s possible to have multiple styles, and mentioned I’d noticed a “new” style becoming more apparent in my own manner of dress. It’s a style you don’t hear much about, and yet I feel that it’s becoming increasingly popular nowadays. I expect it will really explode once The Great Gatsby premieres, as the 20′s was really the beginning of this thing. The style to which I’m referring? Gamine, sometimes called garçonne or ingénue. The word itself comes from the French word gamin, which means urchin/waif/playful or naughty child – which gives us some excellent clues as to the style itself.
So, what is this gamine style, really? Well, while researching this post I stumbled across a forum discussion on the topic, where someone described it as “a female Peter Pan”. It’s such a brilliant explanation I knew I’d simply have to quote her on it. In general, the gamine style tends to be quite simple, elegant, delicate and stylish, often with masculine elements, and always slightly playful and with a hint of casualness. It is never strict, frilly, extremely dramatic or too girly, as the ideal is closer to a young boy than a young girl.
If you need a closer understanding of the gamine style, Audrey Hepburn is the perfect place to start. In most of her films her looks are feminine, but simple, as was her off-screen personal style. Blogger Rebecca from The Clothes Horse is another excellent example, especially after she got that amazing pixie cut. As for contemporary actresses, look to Michelle Williams, Audrey Tautou, Emma Watson and (sometimes) Natalie Portman.
Fit and cut
Traditionally the “ideal” body for the gamine style is rather slim and with a small bust, but I think it’s perfectly possible to dress in this style with any body shape. This is 2013, after all! The fit of the garments is still vital, though. It’s important that the clothes are neither too tight nor too loose, and clothes with a tailored or structured look are most common. Anything too flowy or frilly will usually look more romantic or bohemian. Silhouettes from the 50′s and 60′s tend to work well, so look for high-waisted trousers (even better if they’re slightly cropped), dresses with a fitted waist and short cardigans. Necklines are never so low they become vulgar, though they don’t need to be so high they’re unflattering for a larger bust either.
Fabrics, colours and details
As garments in this style usually have a clean, simple line, it’s best if the fabrics help achieve this. You’ll rarely see a true gamine in a floor-length pleated chiffon dress, for instance. Wools, cottons, silk and rayon/modal are all excellent, but I would avoid anything looking too artificial, such as a satin dress that’s very obviously made out of cheap, shiny polyester. Because the gamine style is rather simple, the quality of each item becomes extra important.
There aren’t any particular colours that you must avoid in this style – the focus is ultimately on you, not the clothes, so pick whatever suits you the best (that is, the ones that go with your skin tone). Still, more neutral colours such as black, navy, white, grey and beige will always work well for this look. Just make sure to add something unexpected, like an unusual nail polish or a nicely textured bag, so we don’t venture into the strictly classic look. The gamine always has a sense of playfulness about her. Elements from menswear are always welcome, such as brogues or loafer-like shoes, structured bags or a coat shape usually worn by men. Just make sure the general impression isn’t overloaded, because simplicity is key.
When it comes to patterns, stick to just one (or two, at the most) in an outfit. Smaller prints are better than large, attention-seeking ones, and a traditional breton stripe will always look more at home than sweet florals or loud geometric shapes.
As with everything in this style, keeping things simple is essential. Bags look more gamine if they have clean lines and a slightly masculine look, than if they’re slouchy and with lots of detailing. The same goes for jewelry – anything with lots of rhinestones, chains, pendants, fringes… lots of anything, really, works against the gamine style. Flat shoes are perfect, though, so there’s no need to wear heels (which is excellent news for darlings like Maja, who wrote wonderfully about it here). Also, I’d strongly advice against over-accessorizing if you want to dress like a gamine. If in doubt, remember that well-worn phrase: “less is more”.
Hair, makeup and grooming
The ultimate gamine hairstyle is the pixie cut (which explains why I’m suddenly much more drawn to this style nowadays, huh?). I think it has to do with how such short hair is both a little bit like a boy, but at the same time so utterly feminine. If that’s not quite your thing, don’t fret, though. Bobs can be excellent, especially of the blunt variety, no matter if it barely reaches your earlobes or goes all the way down to the collarbones. As for long hair, keeping it simple and elegant is key. No matter the hair style, though, healthy hair will always look more gamine. I also think the hair should look easy and relaxed, not as though you just spent two hours styling it.
Makeup follows the same guidelines as hair and clothes. Hints to the 50′s and 60′s are lovely, like a bright lip or lots of lashes (top and bottom) – though usually not at the same time. Again, it’s supposed to feel easy and playful, not like you spent three hours in front of the mirror. Instead, I’d focus on basic grooming (I wrote about how to be polished here).
What ultimately defines the gamine style is something like simplicity + playfulness + elegance + a relaxed attitude. Because there aren’t many specifics that create this style, it can easily be “overwhelmed” by other, more easily defined styles. If we add too many elements from the 50′s, for instance, it can very easily look more pinup than gamine. This especially tends to happen if the hair and/or makeup is too complicated. If you’re missing the playful and creative details, it’ll look more straightforward classic than gamine. A lot of smokey eye makeup, or too many accessories, or a lack of grooming will give a much more casual impression, because it lacks the elegance that’s essential for a gamine. Too many frills/lace trims/floral patterns will look too romantic.
Not that there is anything wrong with mixing styles, darlings. I just think it can be useful to know which elements are true gamine, and which ones might hinder you if you’re aiming for that pure gamine look.
A final tip
I won’t tell you that to be a gamine you need to read such-and-such books, or choose a bicycle over the subway, or always be polite and nice to everyone. Tips like that aren’t really useful, because they’ll only make you feel like a failure if you don’t follow them to a tee. What I can say, though, is that if you look at pictures of gamines, you’ll usually see them smiling a lot. Even when they’re featured in fashion editorials (usually in combination with an interview), they’ll be allowed to smile brightly, which isn’t exactly common in that setting. In fact, ever since I cut off (almost) all my hair, I’ve found myself smiling more, even to strangers, and you know what? It feels wonderful! I’m sure Audrey would approve.