A Tomboy's Guide to Not Be Mistaken for a Teenager

A Tomboy's Guide to Not Be Mistaken for a Teenager

A Tomboy's Guide to Not Be Mistaken for a Teenager

Erin Gray

Erin Gray (Pronoun: she/her) is a Portland, OR based writer with an affinity for working behind the scenes with companies that offer something unique to their market. When she’s not writing, she likes to roam around mossy hiking trails, wear leather hats, and build stuff. You can find her on instagram @rawhidelaces or email her by clicking on the little envelope below:

Question for all you androgynous/butch/masculine-of-center/non-binary folks:

Do you ever get mistaken for being younger than you are?

Yep, same here. You’re not alone.

This phenomenon is so common that there is even a game about it that you can play when people-watching at a distance.

You know the one: “Attractive Andro Queer or Teenage Boy?”

(Remember: if you can hear their voice, that’s cheating. Makes it too easy.)

Some people reading this are going to think “what’s wrong with looking young?” - and those people have a valid point.

But being mistaken for someone younger is a bit of a double edged sword.

There are benefits to it and some might argue that you’ll miss it when it stops happening.

Being routinely seen as someone who is less mature than you really are can also be a real source of discomfort and frustration for many people.

During Dapper Boi’s recent subscriber survey, this was one of the concerns that emerged as something lots of us share in one form or another.

“I don’t want to look like a kid dressed up in my dad’s clothes.”

“I’d like to stop being mistaken for a high-school student”

“I’d like to look grown-up, someone to be taken seriously.”

At the end of the day, we can’t control what people think or how they perceive us, nor does it matter nearly as much as being secure in yourself and who you are.

But if you’re looking for a way to make it more likely that you’ll be perceived as the adult that you are - and make your day a little easier in the process - there are a few things you can do.  

As tomboys, we tend not to rely on the usual visual signals (like growing a beard or wearing makeup) to appear unmistakably adult in the eyes of the world.

But luckily, clothing is it’s own signal.  

There are some distinct ways to use clothing to get the message across that you’re a full fledged, badass adult.

It really comes down to two things: what you wear and how you wear it.

What You Wear

First, it’s key to understand which clothing items contribute to the “teenager” effect.

There are some trademark casual items that contribute to making you look younger, so we’re going to talk about how to swap them out for items that are just as casual but don’t have the same effect.

Don’t worry: This isn’t about getting rid of your beloved hoodie or sneakers.

It’s about being aware of which items tend to age you backwards so that you can avoid wearing them all at the same time (which can otherwise seem like a natural choice).

The goal is to avoid combining more than one of these items in a single outfit, and to perhaps reach for another option on days that you want to project ultra-adultyness.

Here’s our “do not combine” list:

#1 - Hoodies: A comfy staple you can easily swap out for a sleeker bomber jacket, or for a more professional swag, throw on a blazer instead.

#2 - Sneakers: We’re talking fashion sneakers here, not the athletic sneakers you need for exercising. Swap them out for casual boots (our favorite go-to is the suede chelsea boot) or in warmer months, choose a low-profile slip-on loafer.

#3 - Graphic T-shirts: If you’ve got t-shirts with bold graphics (especially logos), swap them out for shirts with solid, neutral colors. Bonus points: swap them out for something slightly more structured, like a button-up or solid-color henley

#4 - Ball Caps (Rounded Bill or Snapback): Leave them off and let your hair do the talking. If you need some hair inspiration, check out Celeste’s hair tutorial.

#5 -  Beanies: In the cooler months where you need a hat, leave off the beanie and go with a flat driver’s cap. If it’s really freezing, go with a trapper hat. If you really want to stick with a beanie, choose one with a solid, neutral color (sensing a theme there?).

#6 - Backpacks: This is a tough one, because sometimes backpacks are the most practical bag you can carry - but that doesn’t change the fact that they have a distinctly youthful vibe. You can still swap out the standard school-yard Jansport backpack for a more sophisticated option made of heavy duty canvas, vinyl, or even leather. If you’re able to travel light, go for something lower profile like a drawstring backpack. Steer clear of backpacks with prints, bright colors, or prominent logos.

At the end of the day, sometimes you’ll need to carry a backpack and sometimes you’ll feel like wearing sneakers - no big deal.

On those days, just be aware of the effect those items can have on your overall look, and avoid combining them with other items on the list.

In other words, if you’re already gonna wear sneakers, leave your snapback at home that day.

Now that we’ve talked about what you’re wearing, let’s talk about how to wear it. 

Specifically, there is one central concept that comes into play - get it right and you can get away with almost anything.

How You Wear It (Hint: It’s All About Proportion.)

The role of proportion should never be underestimated when it comes to creating the look you want.

When the clothes you wear are out of proportion to your frame, all of the sudden your look appears unintentional - like you’re wearing someone else’s clothes.

That’s part of why wearing something too big gets associated with youth - everyone remembers wearing something they were “growing into”.

Wearing something too big also has the visual effect of simply making you look smaller.

The most classic and noticeable example of this is when someone wears a watch that is too big for their wrist:

Image Source: Badger and Blade

Proportion comes into play with everything you wear - whether it’s a blazer or shirt that is too large in the shoulders, or a tie that is way too long.

So how can you make proportion work for you?

The goal is to wear clothing and accessories that are the right size for your frame, so that everything looks intentional and put-together.

First, you’ll want to develop your own personal awareness of how clothing should fit you.

Luckily, there are some easy rules of thumb you can use to determine quickly if something fits or not...

You’ll find a simple way to tell if your shirt is too long in our 6 Easy Ways to be Dapper in Denim blog, and our inseam blog (Tailor Talk 2: All About Inseams) has a quick way to tell if your pant legs are too long.

Once you’ve got a handle on how clothes should fit you, you can either shop for clothing that fits right out of the gate (maybe even clothes that were made with you in mind *wink*) or you can get help from a tailor to tweak the fit when it’s close but no cigar.

If you’re buying clothing that almost fits and planning to have it altered, it’s important to understand what a tailor can and can’t fix. Luckily, we’ve got a blog for that too.

When it comes to accessories, don’t fall into the trap of buying something just because of how sexy it looks on it’s own - pay attention to how it looks on you.

As long as you can be discerning and avoid buying clothing and accessories that are out of proportion with your frame, you’ll never get stuck looking like you’re wearing someone else’s hand-me-downs.

Do you ever get mistaken for a teenager? 

Got a clothing item to add to our “do not combine” list? 

Let us know in the comments!

More Posts