Introduction In the western culture, fashion has affected and reflected the distinctions between the social and economical status of men and women throughout the years. From the 19th century on, gender, social understanding of femininity and masculinity, became clearer and more precise. They were identifiable through fashion and clothing and were an important aspect in distinguishing roles of men and women. However, changes in fashion will blur as much as emphasise the differences between gender, evolving in parallel borrowing from one another.
Thus, as the constant changes in fashion, the level of differences between men and women varied very so often. Fashion was influencing and defining gender role and gender lifestyle was influencing fashion. Masculine men and feminine women The first signs of gender distinctions appeared at the start of the 19th century following the French Revolution. In addition to separating social classes, fashion now established a clear division between male and female clothing. Men were no longer powdered or perfumed and they got rid of ornaments and wigs, now signifies of femininity.
Their clothing was characterized by a restricted use of material, tailored construction, simplified set of surface, uniformity, net and spotless garments, perfect hats and limited color (29 January). According to the trickle-down effect, fashion trends were still created by the upper-classes and were followed by others down the scale (05 February). Then, according to Georg Simmel, two types of males emerged from the middle-class. Dandies were followers of the leisure class and never went against a particular fashion dress code while bohemian were rejecting fashion (05 February).
Men of the upper-class are characterized as a Flaneur by Walter Benjamin: “Empathy is the nature of the intoxication to which the flaneur abandons himself […]” (05 February). The upper-class still needed to follow three rules in order to stay on top and keep the middle-class from rising; the expensive fabric, the lack of movement inflicted by the garment and the novelty of the ensemble (05 February). They conformed to a conspicuous lifestyle with their absence of labour and function in the society, but still in a more subtle way than women in terms of dress (29 January).
Indeed, women became a physical display representing the husband’s wealth through fashion, assuring their social rank in the leisure class; the new aristocrats. Important gatherings such as the Grand Prix de Paris were a place where “one went to the races, as to the theater, partly to look over the women and their apparel” (Hebert, 24). They would wear multiple colors, dresses with pouf skirts, light fabrics, beading and flower ornaments, parasols and other accessories. Women were placed in the forefront with fashion and devoid of any role or power. […] the adornment of both the female person and her environment was an expression of women’s inferior economic power and her social status as a man’s chattel” (Veblen, 91). Unattached and unmarried women were also expected to dressed respectfully and fashionably for the dignity of her family and for future husbands. Lower-level women such as actresses and prostitutes, who were mingling with the upper-class, wore more revealing clothes but still in fashion. Women were thought of as irrational and sensible creatures who adhered to fashion by weakness, to have a sense of belonging.
During the 19th century and early 20th century, there is a clear distinction between man and woman fashion. It is reflected in their clothes and in their social status and role in the society. Gender was easily identifiable with the shape formed by the garment. While men wear clean cut, sober and solid suits, holding all the power, the women dress in soft, elaborate and colourful dresses, trophies to the men. ? Fashion upside-down With the start of the World War I, women were now helping out and filling more masculine jobs. Roles were no longer clearly defined according to hysical characteristics. “Because while war work forced women to life in new social and physical environments, they had to adapt their clothing to unfamiliar activities and spaces” (Matthews David, 101). New technology and new combat techniques meant also a change in menswear. Soldiers had to wear uniforms that hid their masculine forms to allow movement. They replaced their flat and boxy hats with a more feminine and round one with leaves and flowers to hide in the trenches. “A definite outline, a traditionally masculine attribute, proved a deadly handicap in battle” (Matthews David, 97).
Upper-class men were traditionally supposed to show their status through clothing. The advent of the war blurred distinctions between classes as both had to participate in the war effort. Men were no longer useless and ineffective in the society, with meant a necessary change in fashion. Restrictions in luxury fabrics, such as silk, fur and ornaments, forced a transformation of men’s masculine and luxurious attire. All men were now wearing jersey fabric clothing, darker earth colours and softer silhouettes. In the early 20th century, there was a eminent need for change in fashion.
While men were adopting feminine fashion to survive during the war, women started borrowing the simplified and linear masculine silhouette. “The flip side of this feminization of the sniper was the much more generalized masculinization of women’s civilian and uniform dress during the war” (Matthews David, 101). They started wearing suits with sober colours to adapt to their more active lifestyle in the warfare. The latter was the start of a changing role in society for women. Before this change, women had no power on fashion or society.
They were now needed for labour and they showed to be very efficient. This allowed women to make decisions and have a definite role society. By adopting the masculine look, they gained power. They were no longer considered as an accessory to men. The exchanges of particular characteristics of gender made the distinctions and the differences more blurry. The World War I was a turning point in fashion for both men and women. Shortages of materials transformed clothing; new fabrics emerged, new silhouettes using less fabrics, less ornaments, leaner cuts, suits for women and softer clothes for men. Women were now looking more or less like men with the square suits and linear dresses, requisitioning their roles as women as though the clothes itself hold the power. While men were still the dominant figure, women were revising their position in the public and private sphere. ? Conclusion To conclude, gender is a social perception of masculinity and femininity. Through the 19th and 20th century, both men and women were affected by fashion; gender leading the distinctions.
Sexes were defined by gender in the 19th century with the specific trends of clothing for each. Men were wearing clean and linear cuts, showing their boxy figures, while women wore elaborate and frivolous clothes highlighting their silhouette. Roles were also clearly different according to gender. Men held all the power and women served of accessories, displaying the husband’s wealth. The World War I acted as a turning point for men and women. Both were transforming their fashion because of their active lifestyle by adopting each others gender characteristics of fashion.
Men softened their figures while women started wearing masculine suits. Gender differences became were blurred and roles redefined; women gained power and all men got functional for the society. Hence, the level of distinction between gender is in constant change. Fashion influences gender roles and gender lifestyle influences fashion. The latter blurs, blends as well as emphasis the social perceptions of what a men and a women is and looks like. Gender continues to affect and reflect distinctions between sexes, both constantly borrowing and exchanging from one another.