The relationship between gender studies and fashion is a very long and well-documented saga. We know from history that fashion has been mostly associated with women and considered frivolous and vain – a belief many people actually have to this day. During the 19th century, however, in a time when gender roles were at their peak and society insisted that people be narrowed down to stereotypical characters, a man by the name of Beau Brummel decided to challenge the norm and to introduce the world of fashion to the men of Western Europe. Mr. Brummel was the first dandy. He launched a movement that captured the souls of many men throughout Europe and that revolutionized the world of fashion. Even if the dandies of the era were disregarded by society, as they did not fit the cultural norm, they were the first ones to actually break the gender gap in the world of fashion. The first step was achieved: men and women were both allowed to be interested in fashion.
The next step in blurring the lines between men and women was done by a group of courageous women who believed that men and women alike are entitled to the same things in life. It was the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century when the women’s movement started to take off. Many women who pushed the boundaries during this time were in fact arrested for their actions, but they taught us a valuable lesson, which is that using your body as a tool to convey a message can be a political and cultural statement. It wasn’t long before women started wearing pants and short hair. And, even though there were many movers, shakers and forward thinkers throughout the first part of the 20th century, it was only during the 1960s when men started challenging the rules of gender roles once again. This time, men chose to grow their hair long and to wear bright colors. The 1960s and 70s were a time when fashion was more a tool to make political statements used by the so-called “Youth Quake” than a mean of self-expression. The values of the different subcultures of the time transpired through their looks: these people wanted to achieve equality between men and women and a new way of experiencing the human existence.
During the 1980s, 90s and 2000s, the expansion of subcultures led to a reshuffle of the relationship between gender roles and fashion. Today, we have a new discourse on what fashion is, on what men and women should look like and how they should present themselves. We claim that both men and women are held to the same standards when it comes to their appearance.
Recently, a news story from an Australian TV show made headlines around the world, as it was disclosed that the male anchor of the show had worn the exact same suit for a year, during every TV appearance he had made. Karl Stefanovic, one of the hosts of the “Today” show wore the same suit, only changing his tie and shirts for more than year to make a statement about sexism and the different standards to which men and women are held. He claims to have done this in support of his female co-host, Lisa Wilkinson, who was many times judged for the clothes she wore and for the way she appeared on camera. Interestingly enough, nobody actually paid much attention to the fact that Mr. Stefanovic wore the same jacket for a year.
This piece of news got a lot of people around the world thinking whether men and women are still held to different standards when it comes to fashion. One can hold that a suit is not as flashy as a women’s shirt and might go unnoticed more easily, but then again, this is not a very strong argument. As a matter of fact, what we need to ask ourselves is who is holding whom to a different standard? During the anchors’ dialogue on the show on which it was revealed that Mr. Stefanovic had worn the same suit for a year, his Mrs. Wilkinson claimed that the biggest part of e-mails judging her looks during the past year had come from women.
Can this mean that men and women are equal when it comes to fashion, in the sense that their relationship with fashion is mostly one that circles within the realm of the same gender? This makes us wonder whether men and women see fashion in different ways and whether the clothes someone wears have different significances for different genders. Do men care about the overall look and impression one leaves rather than about the clothes themselves?
Is there really sexism in the world of fashion or do men and women simply approach fashion differently? Are men and women expected to approach fashion differently, and therefore they are not subjected to the same standards? Is this to mean that today we are seeing a more subtle, but deeper form of sexism?
These are definitely questions we should ask ourselves as they can make us have a better understanding of the world we live in, and trying to give answers to these questions can impact us because, as Oprah Winfrey would say, “When you know better, you do better.”
Trying to make sense of the whole situation, the two TV hosts took a moment to ponder:
“So what does that mean?” Stefanovic asked.
“I don’t know,” Wilkinson said. “I could write a thesis on it if you really asked me to.”
What do you think it means? Watch the video below and make your own decisions:
Fraquoh and Franchomme
P.S. What do you think? Are men held to a different standard when it comes to fashion than women? Share your thoughts in the comments below! For more articles on style, fashion tips and cultural insights, you can subscribe to Attire Club via e-mail or follow us on Facebook or Twitter!