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Fashion communicates. Fashion defines. It is an everyday theatrical catwalk of displaying different individuals, a clear expression of an identity. Simply studying all the dresses in our wardrobe can create our autobiography in life. Fashion as a symbolic system, allows scholars around the world to explore its expression of sexuality. Mentioned by Valerie Steele (1996, pp.30), human sexuality is never just a matter of doing what comes naturally. It has always been a psychological construction where both fantasy and fashion play important roles. Moreover, adornments that fall on human skin can arouse sexual desires. With such close relation, all fashion clothing hold potential to allow human to feel erotically charged. Hence, it is impossible to deny that fashion was able to stimulate eroticism dominantly via the five main senses - sight, touch, smell, hearing and taste (Freud, 1953). As such, in this essay, investigation will be conducted with evidence from the past of erotic fashion and predict its leading future.
Fetishism is an international phenomenon, from private to catwalk. Erotic fashion belongs to a world filled with amusement. It almost seems bizarre when a pair of shoes can sexually excite someone. Through discoveries of unwrapping, the underlying meanings can surprise. Although such provocative fashion only appears on a distinct group of minorities, it has been already translated on the catwalk runways for decades. It gives individuals a character to play in, like costumes. Steele (1996) revealed that fetishism is able to show how "the sexual instinct and sexual object are merely soldered together." As one of the most controversial garments in the history of fashion, the corset perceived eroticism and gradually broke out to gain mass appeal. With erotic fashion's elevation in the industry, the question boils down to the upcoming possible changes.
Besides exploring the fashion history, it is vital to first understand the key intentions of women who adorned in such fashion. Although it is very difficult to conclude the reliability of the source materials, it will become clearer with support analysis from academic point of views and hard copies of pictorial evidence. As women's positions in the society have undergone substantial changes, their roles have been altered since nineteenth century. When it boils down to the process of liberation, women have been changing their physical expression by adorning fashion, by it an expression of it or in total disapproval. Reviewing the works of Thesander (1997, pp.13), her avocation between women's liberating social status and their physical bodies was the close connection created. On the maintenance as 'aesthetically attractive objects', such personal struggle can be easily brought down by social-influential powers. Having to fit themselves into the prevailing standards of such physical attributes, female bodies usually result in modifications physically for attraction purposes. With regard to that, women of twenty first century may no longer feel the same way. Social changes may change as women receive more liberation and power in the future. As such, smart working suits may seem more appealing to women, as compared to erotic fashion. It is almost impossible to tell in advance how many women who choose erotic fashion to emancipate their social status.
In Nancy Etcoff's Survival of the Prettiest (2000), she mentioned how genetically programmed heterosexual males are attracted to women of specific physical attributes. It seems like large breasts and a slim waist above rounded hips fulfill the criteria's of the physical characteristics. Such features usually belong to females of childbearing age and are not yet pregnant. In conjunction to the research, Valerie Steele (1996) has previously provided supportive findings within the animal kingdom. Away from responsibilities of childbearing or lactation, male mammals can ensure the survival of their species by mating with as many fertile females as possible. Over the generations, genes had been passed down of the importance of the biological attractiveness of opposite sex, young females with maximum reproductive capacity. Consequently, visual oriented patterns of sexual arousal will display within human males because of the continuous alert of searching mating chances. A corset, for example, which accentuates female bodies into the preferred shape, will cause a powerful psychological attraction unto males. It is therefore difficult for corsets to be ruled out in the future of erotic fashion.
When explorations are carried out on the appeal for women of clothes that men treat as fetishes, we have to understand women view erotic fashion differently from men. From clinical studies of male fantasies, fetishism involves special stimuli to achieve sexual arousal. To each has its own, corsets; sexy lingerie and high heels are classic examples. However, in extreme cases, the fetish can takes place of a sexual partner. In the research of Steele's (1996, pp.12), it seems noticeably that references of pornography contain involvement of clothing fetishism with transvestism and/or sadomasochism, beyond heterosexual relatonships. This indicates how fetishism frequently overlaps with different sexual variants. The line dividing what is being aroused and what causes the arousal is ambiguous.
Tight lacing allows fetishism to become a form of exaggeration of what is fashionably acceptable. Different levels of fetishism develop when specific characteristics are incorporated into common clothing like corset, jackets, or shoes. However, it is apparent not to be drawn into the confusion of fetishistic tight lacing to ordinary fashionable corsetry. Academic writers like to suggest that eating disorders can brings a small waist, just like a corset too. However, erotic fashion does not only revolves around physical sexuality, it can perpetuate power and perception. As a cultural discourse, it can easily constructs sexuality, as it can be derived from anything that evokes erotic sensibilities or visual stimulation. For particular sexual fantasies, for example, uniforms and leather material can allow discipline to emancipate power and perception. When disciplinary actions develop in sexual fantasies, women can become the staged characters in reality. This explains the inevitability of foreplay before sexual intercourse.
When erogenous zones that are not laced, tied, stretched, pierced, or tattooed, these specific body parts can attract sexual stimulation. Concealed or exposed to a certain extent, such visual impacts can be intensified with sexual fantasies. In the influential study of Flugel, The Psychology of Clothes (1930), he observed that bare flesh is boring. Like an exhibition, veiling the showcase (erogenous zones) can sustain male curiosity. There is a level of sexual excitement about the thrill of exposure. In the West, clothes are regarded with such functionality, where they continue to draw attention despite being concealed. From the past, several examples have been illustrated. For centuries, underneath those heavy skirts that covered European women's legs were fanciful or embellished petticoats that caught attention to feet and ankles. This successful plan was able to allow Victorian men to become nervous upon seeing a well-turned ankle. After World War l, hemlines rose and eventually, legs lost their sexual appeal. Erogenous zones, like female legs, were then first exposed in decades. It then shifted elsewhere, to the back in the 1930s and to the breasts area in the 1950s.
In 1930s, a dress historian James Laver first discussed about the possibility of shifting erogenous zones. Using his concept, he was able to relate rapid changes in women's fashion. Influenced by Flugel, Laver argued that women are born exhibitionists who want to adorn fashion as their social subordination forces them to acquire male protection. Back in the past, women were not allowed to have better education nor jobs. Consequently, to receive the necessary financial or emotional security, women dress mainly to attract men. To ensure that their future will be invulnerable, they will allure by emphasize their erogenous zones through fashion. Since the female torso and the corset bear the similar shape, organic bodylines deem to be directing to the area analogous to the female genitals, which is considered as erogenous zone. It is not difficult to relate how such beliefs can led to changes within erotic fashion as it existed earlier than the theory. The constricted fashion continues to run along the curvy shape of women's body and it does not make sense if it fails to stay intact with the shape.
Male sexual curiosity is, however, highly unstable. They can get bored of the given erogenous zone and quickly to other feminine body parts, which caught their attention. Women would like following and adopting new fashion to catch up their taste of choice. Fashion come and goes and it may add to the reason for fast seasonal change in fashion runway. This can explain the gradual disappearance of corsets from women's daily wear in the early twentieth century. However, it still represents one of the most significant fetish objects today. It also shows that despite of the shifting erogenous zone, the breast area retain its potency. In the work of Entwistle's (2000), historical evidence has suggested that revolution of women's fashion continues to enjoy a long association of a physical ideal that represents the corset obsolete. Through the year, drastic transformations have occurred in the dress of corset. It first changed into girdles, bustier and brassieres; and eventually it got internalized into women's bodies. Suggestions of diet, exercise, and maybe medical improvements such as plastic surgery seem like the modern interpretation of obtaining a small desirable waistline.
However, such instability within male sexual curiosity can cause women's dress to be a constant state of change. Against the theory of women's dressing to highlight their erogenous zones, Roland Barthes argues that there are no such zones. In Where garment gapes, he clarified:
"Is not the most erotic portion of a body where the garment gapes? In perversion (which is the realm of textual pleasure) there are no "erogenous zones" (a foolish expression, besides); it is intermittence, as psychoanalysis has so rightly stated, which is erotic: the intermittence of skin flashing between two articles of clothing (trousers and sweater), between two edges (the open-necked shirt, the glove and the sleeve); it is this flash itself which seduces, or rather: the staging of an appearance-as-disappearance. "
(Fashion Theory, 2007, Ch.48, pp.601)
Erogenous zones are just specific body parts that can provide visual stimulation by just revealing. In Barthes' claim, he reasoned that erotic body parts are where the garment drapes. There should be coverage above the anticipating sexual organ. This will allow participants to bear the expectation of seeing the surprise underneath. A whole level of excitement will be injected upon such experiences. Supported by Kern (1975) and Perrot (1981), writers have suggested that enthusiasm for undergarments was due to sexual prudery towards the nude body. Suggestion upon the act of undressing movements seems like a hinder for sexual intimacy. However, such analogy can just be classified as an oversimplification. Another thesis came from Casanova to Freud, experts in sexual psychology. Steel (1999) has testified their studies unto the erotic attraction of concealment - "By delaying the sight of the naked body, clothing arouses sexual curiosity, holding in promise the thrill of exposure." This also brings about the true existence of erogenous zones, as it seems like the possibility of concealment is more applicable. The constant shift of erogenous zones is in flux with instable male sexual curiosity. It is difficult to let all heterosexual males to agree on the shift, at the same time.
Although it is difficult to draw a conclusion on the existence of erogenous zone despite academic studies of past evidence, it is still possible to come to terms on how certain level of concealment do arouses the level of eroticism. Erotic fashion was never about baring feminine body parts, but covering them in firm and fastened grip. Despite that, evolution of erotic fashion may also change with changing psychological mind for fashion. By the late twentieth century, translucent latex was being used, allowing the constricted body to be seen vaguely. Such changes in fashion can suggest more titillation and excitement injected. Steele (1985, pp. 42) claimed, 'by concealing the body, clothes excite sexual curiosity and create in the viewer the desire to remove them'. Nakedness will be expected, without any form of excitement. It appears uninteresting and does not create sexual arousal, while clothing adds a sense mystery to the level of imagination. Therefore, the body will be regarded as provocative and seductive.