ART 302: Reading #7

Fashion, Desire, and Anxiety by Rebecca Arnold

Four: Gender and Subversion

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“Of course, if women could subvert so-called masculine traits by adapting and adopting masculine fashions, then it was also possible for men to procure feminine styles for themselves, and, as the century progressed, the cries of ‘gender confusion’ by media and academic commentators became increasingly loud. Once the traditional moulds were broken they could not be patched back together, and the masquerade of fashion enabled those alienated from such stereotypes to dress up and invent their own gender identity.”

“In America the conflicting pressures on women during the period were represented in popular culture as well as a rash of pseudo-medical analyses of women’s psychology. Psychologists perceived women as having more power and status than ever before, yet they were still in the thrall of fashion and beauty.  The glamorously deadly neuroses of the heroines of films like Leave Her to Heaven of 1945 and The Lady of Shanghai in 1948, echoed this paradox, since they showed women to be beautiful and desirable and yet ultimately unstable and dangerous. Women were pushed to groomed and seductive, yet punished for narcissism, and their irrationality was an enduring theme that was examined in various forms in the forties and fifties.”

“This defying of constructed definitions by wearing simple basics was a favorite theme, picked up on by brands at all levels of fashion, from Calvin Klein, to Gap and Muji. It combined the inverted status value of the ‘classic’ that had grown in appeal during the 1980s, as an alternative to the myriad options fashion offered, with the desire to avoid restricting definitions that was a feature of contemporary youth culture.”


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