Gender in Clothing

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1. Introduction

In the globalized world of today many cultures are merged and we have to get used to different customs and thus different clothing. Fashion is bigger than ever and the fashion-interest is spreading rapidly among young people in the world today. It is important to dress “right” and to express yourself through your clothing. Clothes can even hinder meetings between people that might have understood each other perfectly cause of all stereotypes our clothes create. Through globalization many different ways to dress are introduced that can be hard to combine with our western tradition of dressing or the other way around. How can it be so hard to treat everyone equally regardless of dress? A piece of clothing that has been debated and is very significant is the veil. Many people in west argue that it interferes with our basic human principles about human rights and equality. Swedish media reports repeatedly about Muslim women being harassed in public and the question whether to allow the veil at school or not has been highly debated in several European countries. Last years occurrences have shown that it is complicated for East and West to meet.

In this essay I am going to answer questions concerning mainly clothing but consider some aspects of fashion as well. Which functions does clothing have? Is there something like gender in clothing? To demonstrate and narrow this interesting field of study I am going to use the well-debated veil as an example. How do the functions of the veil construct the female identity? Does it also construct male identity? Which cultural other problems are connected to the veil?

The essay is mainly about gender structures but cause of the nature of the veil debate, nation, class and race are going to be dealt with as well. Because of the limited space, I have in my essay restricted my theories to those which I thought were relevant for my field of study. Obviously there are plenty of perspectives that do not occur or have been discussed in my text.

2. Clothing and its functions

Fashion is considered to be a female and less serious interest such as many other “typical” female interests. Nowadays, fashion is slowly turning into a male interest as well even though many designers and men within other fashion-related professions were traditionally thought to be gay. Malcolm Barnard writes in his book “Fashion as Communication” that “/…/ in many everyday figures of speech fashion, clothing and textiles are associated with triviality and deceit”. He goes on with a statement made by a British Minister that “/…/ childen should study proper subjects like Classics/…/ while less able children should study design”. That studies about fashion and clothing are shallow and meaningless is just a myth and a lot can be expressed though the way we dress.

2.1 Function of fashion

Fashion can among others be used to express a political stand, an emotion or different class positions. It can be argued that fashion can only exist within classes or class-societies since fashion is a way to make the own class stand out and differentiate. Fashion is dependent upon class society and fashionable clothing has been and is still being used in capitalistic societies to express class differences or differences within classes. For fashion to exist there must be a class society within which an upward-moving between and within the classes is both possible and desirable. Barnard means that Marx argues that a society that simple that it does not fulfil these criteria has hitherto never existed. These patterns are most distinct in capitalist societies where the wish to distinguish oneself from lower classes is strongly represented. Since women did not have much power during the 19th century, clothing was one way to express class differences and social roles in comparison to other women. Veblen (through Barnard) means that historically “/…/the dress of women goes even further...
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