Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Fashion & Power & Gender

Christian Louboutin

“Men were deemed rational and educatable; women were irrational, sentimental, and uneducatable. Dress became an expression of these two different modes of gender-specific behavior. Men began to wear more dour clothing. They gave up makeup and highly ornamented clothing and heels. Those accoutrements became signifiers of femininity—especially the high heel, since it’s an irrational form of footwear…it became associated with femininity, and then was eventually linked to female desirability. -Elizabeth Semmelhack, Sex Power & High Heels

As we look at fashion and power we can first consider identity expression. Identity includes biological factors such as gender, size and ethnicity as well as more subjective social factors such as culture and subculture.

Gender is biological sexual identity that develops through social reinforcement and expression. That expression can assert gender identity and be used to attract and seduce in sexuality.

As we think of fashion, power and gender we can think of Western and possibly global traditions and assumptions. Powerful men, as in the top CEO's of Telsa motors and Expedia below, dress conservatively in suits, or now more acceptably in casual wear. Powerful women, may also be top CEO's but we can also consider the Miss World pageant below which affirms feminine looks of gowns and body revealing swim suits.

Fashion plays with power and gender identity codes, mixing them and pushing the limits of expectations.

The readings for this week explain that women have made considerable progress breaking out of conventions such as the corset below which was given up to allow women to do sport and work.

The introduction of trousers for women coordinates with both their presence in the work place and larger social changes such as the right to vote. Below Katherine Hepburn popularized the look.

By contrast men have been tied to the suit. Little changes have been made in the images below from 1890 through 1960. This is in part due to the constancy of power, reinforcing the hegemony and also the democratic assimilation of it.

In the 1980's the designer suit increased in popularity. Below American Gigilo with suits by Armani featured prominently in the film.

The suit seemed to decline with rise of Palo Alto casual dot commers. The effort by the ad industry was to make the suit desirable again in the 90's to 2000's. Below the strategy of using women to sell the suit.

Female representation in fashion media is what Crane calls a "conflicted hegemony." This means that different ideologies of women are represented sometimes in the same photos. A domestic femininity and a sexual one are equally desirable to men.

Above and below Mario Testino for V magazine

Below Vogue Italia at left by Miles Aldridge and right the 3D issue

In her "Notes on Camp" Sontag explains the homosexual interest in taste. She locates the origin in the dandy and flaneur and figures like Oscar Wilde and Beau Brummel below. The 19th century homosexual was an arbiter of taste. In popular culture this has become more varied in taste expressions.

Dressing with extravagance or drag is one way of exploring the limits of taste and expectations.

Camp can be seen in the photos of David La Chapelle who plays with power and gender codes and good taste. Below his photo of designer Alexander McQueen.

Camp is associated with performance and the area in which fashion is more imaginary play. This frees the wearer of serious implications and allows a revision of gender codes and their extremes as in Lady Gaga.

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