As I finish the chapter on children's clothing, I'm sorting through my images and videos about adult fashions. Here's one you'll enjoy, from an early Soul Train episode. Notice the range of gender expression, on both men and women. A thought: did African American men have more or less leeway in this realm than white guys? My first impression is more, but also that I may be dazzled by the flashiness.
From the Perryville, Arkansas school dress code, 1972:
After checking in some stores and talking with parents concerning the girls' dress, we have decided to relax the code. We will allow jeans that are made for girls to be worn, providing:
If the jeans open in front, a tunic or square-tailed blouse must be worn to conceal the opening. If the jeans open on the side, then an ordinary blouse may be worn.
Oh, the horror of girls in fly-front jeans! (Sears, Fall 1972
I came across some interesting thoughts on unisex fashion in "Looking Good", published in 1976. The author, Clara Pierre, was writing from the perspective of an industry insider observing what she expected to be permanent changes in fashion. In chapter 10 "From bralessness to unisex", she explains the connection between sexual liberation and unisex clothing as a process of increasing comfort various aspects of sexual identity and expression:
"for whatever reason, we began to feel more comfortable first with sex pure and simple, then with homosexuality and now with androgyny"
That was then and this is now, as they say. Clearly, some people thought that the culture wars over sex was over, even as it was just beginning. So, I wonder: what happened?
Our of curiosity, I just checked to see what the Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion had to say about unisex clothing in the 1970s. The index pointed me to an article about Rudi Gernreich and this:
Attempts to develop unisex clothing in the 1970s had about as much success as the bloomer did in the 1850s. Even though women had adopted pants, they did not want to dress the same as men. Sexual distinctions remained even when a woman borrowed her husband’s shirt. It was not supposed to look the same on the woman. So it seems that the tradition of distinguishing the sexes through their clothing remains intact today.
Does this remind anyone else of the description of Earth in Douglas Adams' classic Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- "mostly harmless"? What about the resistance to women in pants? When I moved to DC in 1976, there were still restaurants where a pant-suited woman was unwelcome. (No matter how expensive the suit!) And yes, we still distinguish between the sexes through clothing, but not the same way we did in 1850 or 1950 or 1980.Now I am even more eager to get this next project underway!