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Significance of the Attire of Men and Women in the 18th Century Essay

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Significance of the Attire of Men and Women in the 18th Century

The attire of men and women in the eighteenth century cemented the roles they were supposed to play. The style of made dress belied his nature as somewhat more free from restrictions whereas the woman, bound by corsets and strict dress-codes found herself held back in clothing as in society. A sphere of influence, behavior and conduct was assigned to both sexes; each was valued for different qualities. These gender distinctions do not allow any overlap between the two sexes. (Marsden, 21) In light of this, society viewed cross-dressing (the practice of one gender dressing themselves in the attire of the other) as a threat to its own structure. For a woman to forsake the clothes and character of women for that of men sounded monstrous. Such a practice would create sexual ambiguity - a woman would assume the clothes of a man and thus the manner and actions of a man, yet her physical nature denied her that right. Cross-dressing creates monstrations - a woman ceases to be a woman after she has assumed male garb and can never hope to be a man.

An aversion to cross-dressing has its roots in the Bible: "The women shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment; for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God" (qtd. in Garber, 28). On August 13, 1597 Queen Elizabeth announced a sumptuary (dealing with attire) proclamation which defined the "separate categories for men's and women's apparel: each took the form of a long list of proscribed items of dress with an indication of who alone was permitted to wear them" (Garber, 26). This law sought to prohibit the rise in classes that was transpiring - ambitious ind...


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...both may wear the prototypical shirt and pants}, the gender distinctions become blur. Men feared the idea of women as sexually aggressive as men - or perhaps worse, women who pursued other women. mite simply, the idea of 'gender-swapping' caused fear and anger. Individuals designed the practice to work outside of the uniform social structure; such actions were seen as threats to the social structure. Thus, society acted strictly towards those who thought themselves 'above' social gender laws.

Works Cited

Garber, Marjorie. Vested Interests: Cross Dressing and Cultural Anxiety. New York: Routledge. 1992. 21-41, 211-215.

Marsden, Jean I. "Modesty Unshackled: Dorothy Jordan and the Dangers of Cross-Dressing." Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture vol. 22. Ed. by Patricia B. Craddock and Carla H. Hay. East Lansing, Michigan: Colleagues Press Inc. 1992. 21-36.


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