Put on some repellent

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Oct 25, 2013

In the last few years, a new style of dressing has surfaced on the fashion radar which is a mix of style statement as well as feminist clarion call.

The look is anything that would be deemed unsexy or unappealing to men. This would include the extensive use of harem pants, boyfriend jeans, overalls, shoulder pads, full-length jumpsuits, oversized sweaters, clogs and jewellery that look like weapons.

The woman who crystallised this trend is American fashion blogger Leandra Medine in 2010, better known as the Man Repeller.

Her blog,, which documents her fashion experiments with these fashion items, struck a chord with like-minded women the world over and, according to an article in Time Magazine last year, has 1.5 million unique page views a month.

The blog features photographs of Ms Medine, 24, in edgy outfits, such as a suit paired with sneakers, and baggy jeans with an oversized blazer. It has also shown her in more eccentric get-ups, such as a blue tweed dress with feathers and a tie-dye T-shirt paired with a short sarong.

With the success of her blog, she has recently released a book, Man Repeller: Seeking Love. Finding Overalls.

It is a series of essays about Ms Medine's life lessons - school, the role clothes have played in her life, her blog's success and her wedding to financial executive Abie Cohen last year - told in the same tongue-in-cheek tone she uses for her blog.

Ms Medine is not the only one who does not seem to care about dressing to impress the opposite sex.

Androgynous British actress Tilda Swinton, 52, is often in pantsuits, instead of flowy gowns, on the red carpet.

Another Man Repeller is Ms Kate Lanphear, style director of The New York Times T Magazine, who makes the cut with her oversized sweatshirts, sharp blazers and skinny jeans.

Some men here are warming up to the idea of Man Repeller style.

Mr Jeremy Koh, 26, an advertising strategist, says: "I don't know if I want a girl dressed in Man Repeller elements from top to toe, as the style doesn't bring out her curves or anything feminine. But it does say a lot about her personality and style."

Urban spoke to five self-proclaimed Man Repellers here on why they favour the style and also took the look for a road test.

Man (mahn-ree-peller) noun

A woman who outfits herself in a sartorially offensive way that repels members of the opposite sex

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Oct 25, 2013

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When and why did you start dressing in the Man Repeller style?

When I was at the National University of Singapore studying business, we had to wear suits and formal styles. On non-presentation days, I wanted to dress down and wear more comfortable clothes.

I don't set out to raise eyebrows, but I do like that with this style, you can assert your individuality. It's comfortable but not cookie-cutter.

What Man Repeller items do you like to wear?

I love loose-fitting pants, baggy dresses and chunky platform shoes. I definitely don't want to look like a princess, even for my wedding next year. I'm going for something streamlined, so I still feel like myself.

I'd recommend brands such as Greyhound, Acne and Cos to get this look.

What does your significant other think about your style?

My fiance is perfectly fine with it and he recognises that it's my style. I think I've influenced him to be more experimental with fashion.

Do you dress like this all the time?

I can't wear certain things, such as batwing sleeves and fringed tops, when I work as I might drag down vases, for example. But even if I wear a toned-down dress, I'll pair it with a big jacket to stay true to my style.

Do you think this is a passing fad or one that is here to stay?

It will be here for awhile. It incorporates elements from a lot of other subsets of fashion - punk, grunge, tomboy - so you don't get bored.



When and why did you start dressing in the Man Repeller style?

It was a natural evolution of my style. I didn't even realise I fell into this Man Repeller category. It's easy and fun. I get to play with texture and fabrics in comfortable loose basics.

I have some friends who have been dressing this way forever. Leandra Medine made people more aware of this style, which is good.

What Man Repeller items do you like to wear?

I like easy basics and loose, menswear-inspired pants. Volume and layering work well for my figure. Anything too tight and I look really flat.

Zara has some great menswear-inspired pants and I like Muji and Uniqlo for loose basics.

What does your significant other think about your style?

My husband calls it my "can't be bothered" look. But he's fine with it.

Do you dress like this all the time?

Depending on the occasion - such as parties - I might dress in a more feminine and slightly more body-conscious style.

Do you think this is a passing fad or one that is here to stay?

I think this style is here to stay. People want to feel calm and confident, and I think this style makes a lot of people feel that way.



When and why did you start dressing in the Man Repeller style?

When I was in my teens, I realised that I had really broad shoulders, so I started wearing baggier things such as sweatshirts to hide them.

I like this style of dressing because it doesn't give off a fragile vibe and it really shows that a woman got up and just wore whatever she wanted.

What Man Repeller items do you like to wear?

I love oversized sweaters and jackets, which I wear with something tight fitting underneath.

Brands I like include Jeffrey Campbell for really chunky heels that look quite dangerous and Topshop.

What does your significant other think about your style?

He must really like it, because he's my first boyfriend. He's Singaporean and we've been together for the last 21/2 years.

Do you dress like this all the time?

Almost all the time, but not to weddings. I wouldn't want to be too bold and upstage the bride.

Do you think this is a passing fad or one that is here to stay?

I think it's here to stay. But some elements of it, such as prints on prints, may go out of fashion.



When and why did you start dressing in the Man Repeller style?

I've always dressed this way. When I was younger, I used to wear jeans and T-shirts. Now, I've swopped the jeans for baggy trousers and I throw on an oversized blazer.

I like this style because it proves a woman doesn't have to wear a gown to a formal occasion and can look equally attractive in a suit.

What Man Repeller items do you like to wear?

Baggy pants and big structured blazers. I don't like anything that is figure hugging.

Brands I like include Christian Louboutin for its spiked shoes that send a "don't mess with me" message and Zara for its wonderful selection of blazers.

What does your significant other think about your style?

My boyfriend, who is also a student, is very supportive when it comes to what I wear.

Do you dress like this all the time?

Yes, I do. I even do my hair in a Man Repeller way, which means no dainty looks like curls. My hairstylist taught me how to do my hair in a top knot bun or messy braids for an edgy look.

Do you think this is a passing fad or one that is here to stay?

There will always be people who dress this way, because at the end of the day, comfort is key.



When and why did you start dressing in the Man Repeller style?

I've always had a tomboy-inspired look because it works for my slightly androgynous body shape. I used to wear more accessories but it's a bit more pared down now.

What Man Repeller items do you like to wear?

I'm a big fan of pants and sneakers, which is the most comfortable combination. Shapeless dresses, loose bottoms, hats and menswear-inspired items are great too.

You can get the look with brands such as ck Calvin Klein, Celine and Zara.

What do your friends think about your style?

My male friends say I'm stylish, but I definitely get more praise from girls. I think women are more sensitive to this style.

Do you dress like this all the time?

I am pretty consistent in how I dress. Occasionally, I might wear heels, but even if I wear a cocktail dress, it will be cut straight, loose and minimalist.

Do you think this is a passing fad or one that is here to stay?

I think it is here to stay. I like it because I actually feel that tomboy-inspired clothing enhances a person's femininity.



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"I have rather traditional taste when it comes to attire; I prefer women who are less dressed up. Everything that they're wearing looks very warm for our climate. But I think people should just wear whatever they want, regardless of what anybody thinks."

Mr Sean Lee, 28, photographer

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“I don’t like this style honestly. It looks a little bit old-fashioned.”

Mr Eric Ng, 29, engineer

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“These ladies still look quite feminine to me. They exude a lot of attitude, which is an attractive thing in a woman.”

Mr Kelvin Cheong, 40, business owner

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“They look comfortable and confident and I find that appealing.”

Mr Varman Chandra Mohan, 29, owner of the Singapore Pub Crawl events

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“I don’t like the drop-crotch pants. You have to be very tall to look good in them. These women could have worn something simpler and still look good.”

Mr Muhammad Faiz Arifin, 25, student


Urban writers LESLIE KAY LIM and STACEY CHIA dress in Man Repeller style, in the name of journalism.

LESLIE KAY LIM: When the idea first came up that we should road-test the Man Repeller trend, my reaction was interest in the name of journalistic curiosity. Then apprehension set in.

While my colleague Stacey possesses a model-like build, I veer much more earthbound, in my short, curvy body. I stick to slightly feminine, streamlined clothing with pops of colour. Edgy is not part of my sartorial vocabulary.

Would I look ridiculous rocking harem pants, a boxy PVC top and more spiky jewellery than you could shake a fist at, I wondered?

When I arrived at the Frederick Lee fashion show last Saturday though, nobody batted an eyelid. In fact, ahead of me was an androgynous-looking man in a sequinned jacket and flowy wide-legged pants. Perhaps I did not look as outlandish by comparison?

Before the show started, I spoke to some PR executives who knew the non-Man Repeller me. One said he noticed my harem pants before he recognised my face. Another said the necklaces quickly caught his attention.

When I was waiting for the show to start, a fashion writer even introduced himself and we started chatting. Usually, I am the one to introduce myself first.

The outfit looked great, he assured me, pointing out that the heavier top with the looser bottom looked effortlessly combined.

I do not know how polite the people I spoke to were being but I suspect the outfit helped me fit in better in a fashion environment. And in this era of Gaga-level fashion antics, my ensemble may have even been perfectly tame.

In the future, I may try wearing my harem pants outside the comfort of my own home.

STACEY CHIAI’ve never had a man shout at me in a club. 

I approached one in his 30s at Mink, a club at Pan Pacific Hotel, and asked him what he thought of my outfit, but out of his mouth came a whole slew of expletives. Trust me, it was an embarrassing scene and a male friend had to step in.

Perhaps he was drunk or maybe I caught him at a bad time. Or maybe my outfit – a bright red suit with slightly oversized shoulder pads and polka dotted T-shirt – was really that Man Repelling? Would he have reacted the same way if I was in a more figure-hugging dress?

When I got the assignment to test out Man Repeller clothes, I expected to be ignored, not scolded.

His tirade got me a little conscious about my outfit, even though I started off the night pretty confident.

The outfit was different from my usual clubbing get-up of jeans, a sleeveless top and heels – nothing over-the-top. I’d never seen a woman dressed this way at a club and I certainly felt like I stood out next to the rest of the girls at Mink in their outfits that all ended way above their knees.

No guy came up to me. On a normal night, I usually get one or two drink offers. The other guys I approached to ask about my outfit were polite. One in his 20s said he would talk to me because I’m tall, avoiding the subject of my outfit altogether, perhaps because he didn’t want to hurt my feelings.

Another said that I looked like I had just finished work and he liked the office look. One said it was too dark to see what I was wearing.I may not have repelled men, but I certainly didn’t attract them either.

The club is probably the best place to dress in whatever Man Repeller way you want. As that one guy put it, it’s too dark to see anything in a club anyway.