Gender categories are blurring; increasingly, the world is waking up and people no longer have to conform to what is ‘the norm,’ and that is a good thing! No need to try to fit in a box that is not your shape or size.
Recently I was looking for some new RTW jeans that were not skinny. Freedom of movement is everything! So the very nice sales lady gave me their ‘least skinny’ model of girl jeans… You guessed it — skin tight! I was about to walk out, but the lady stopped me and said: ‘Hold on, I’ll get you a pair from the men’s section’. So I guess I am now a girl wearing boy jeans, and I couldn’t be happier. We shouldn’t have to conform to what is sold in ‘our’ section — or perhaps there shouldn’t even be sections!
In this post the focus will be on unisex or menswear patterns that can be made for women as well, but let’s just say it wasn’t easy to find patterns that were labeled unisex… However, at the end of this post I will share with you an unbelievable resource for making any pattern fit you properly!
The biggest challenge I see for using men’s patterns on a female body is the fit. The female and male body, or the blocks traditionally drafted for them, can be very differently proportioned. Of course, the traditional hourglass figure assumed by many women’s wear size charts won’t fit lots of different women’s bodies, so menswear proportion and shaping can actually be a better fit for some, like for me with my jeans-buying adventure! This becomes especially difficult for trousers.
Let’s take a look at the differences for sizing charts for men and women. I took the sizing chart from La Maison Victor, a Belgian sewing magazine.
The first thing that screams for attention is the size range. For women there are 14 sizes, while men (have to) get by with 7 sizes.
But let’s take a closer look at what this would mean for my size, based on bust measurement:
As you can see, these sizing charts (like most I’ve seen) assume a more flared or curved shape for women and a more rectangular shape for men. Check out the difference in the ratios! They also assume men are taller, so most pieces are longer for men than for women.
If you go searching for unisex patterns, you are most likely to come across a wide array of sleep- and loungewear. PJ pants are pretty universal and I guess robes are also pretty undefined/non-fitted, so we won’t waste our time on those, as they’re easy enough to find!
But there are some patterns out there that are unisex that aren’t PJ pants, robes or costumes…
Getting pants designed for men to fit a woman (at least, one shaped something like the accepted block pattern companies draft for!) seems to be the biggest challenge because the ratio waist/hips is just not the same. Women tend to have wider hips, for biological reasons. The solution to this issue would be to make men’s patterns that are looser in the hips or that can be gathered in at the waist.
Some examples would be:
A great place to start (that’s perhaps less daunting than trousers) is with some t-shirts, shirts and sweatshirts/hoodies.
A men’s T-shirt or sweatshirt, if chosen the proper size, will work on the female form as well. I think focusing on the bust measurement is the way to go here; the T-shirt will be looser around the waist than traditionally fitted women’s wear. It will also be bigger in the shoulders and sleeves.
Button-down shirts require more tailoring, but the result can be striking. You could certainly use a women’s pattern in a traditionally “menswear” shirting fabric, but you can absolutely start from a men’s pattern and adjust to fit.
A great men’s shirt pattern is Vogue 8889. It’s my go-to shirt pattern for my husband. It actually has side panels so it’s perfect for resolving some fitting issues. Think of what princess seams allow in terms of fit adjustments — these can function in much the same way, just shifted over, closer to the side seams.
I think duffle coats, peacoats and raincoats are a great choice for unisex patterns. I especially love the peacoat look, both for men and women.
The Albion by Colette Patterns has been made for men and women alike and looks great on many body types.
As for peacoats, I think the shorter versions are the better choice for curvier shapes, to avoid any gaping around the hips; if the fall of the jacket is disrupted at the hip, a longer length can emphasize that it’s not hanging as intended.
Another amazing resource is freesewing.org. This is basically a free, open-source platform that makes patterns according to your body measurements, with no standard measurement ratios to worry about. I talked to Joost, the brain behind the whole operation, and he told me that, since every pattern is made according to your measurements, all patterns can be made for both sexes, including the trousers, the boxer shorts (there is a flat front option), and the corset!
All patterns are male- or female-inspired in style, and the male patterns don’t take into account the size of your breasts (so here the rule basically is, the larger your breasts, the less accurate your pattern will be, the smaller your breasts, the better the result will resemble the original idea of the pattern). So this is a great starting point for gender-neutral sewing! I made pants for my husband and they fit him beautifully, so this really works!
I love all the patterns, but a few of my favourite are (in no specific order):
You can basically make your whole wardrobe based on their patterns!
I hope this list for menswear patterns for women can serve as inspiration for gender-neutral sewing, and at least give a sense of how and where to start the search for adequate patterns.
If anyone has any other suggestions, please feel free to leave them in the comments! I’m well aware that my post is very incomplete because there is always more to find, no matter which rabbit-hole you start down.
Note: Sewcialists is a hyper-inclusive editorial site. We recognize that “Menswear” as we use it in our theme month is a very loaded term, and we use any gendered reference in these discussions to denote the most broadly accepted “traditional” categories only, without wishing to prescribe or proscribe what any person can wear. We recognize all gender identities and the choice to dress how one pleases.