The Identity of “The Exquisite Slave”
The attire of men and women in the nineteenth century covered the roles they
were supposed to play. An individual's sex and the psychological concept of gender
identity were used to predict the wearing of stereotypic sex-related clothing. 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. The corset is probably the most controversial garment in the history of fashion. 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. For a woman to forsake the clothes and character of women for that of men sounded horrible. 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. Self fashioning 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 self fashioning has its roots in the Bible: "Which is Adam and which is Eve?” asks one child. “I don’t know,” answers the other, “but I could tell if they had their clothes on” (Roberts p.3). 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" (Marden p.27). This law sought to prohibit the rise in classes that was transpiring - ambitious individuals began to dress as finely as the upper class. Later on, this proclamation would be sighted in cases of dressing 'above' one's gender.
Society had accepted female self fashioning from Shakespeare's time as necessary. The...
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