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History of Gender in Fashion

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 1956 words Published: 11th Jul 2018

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Role of designers need not be gender biased or biology biased. A detailed scrutiny into gender and sex shows one is biological and other societal. For instance, females, biologically are designed to give birth. Once they have given birth and performed the mammalian function, they can take up a role of hunter or a warrior. The terms ‘hunter’ and ‘nester’ refer to ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’. ‘Masculine’ describes an approach that is abstract in nature, usually focused on a splendid thought, the way of a hunter. Contrary to this, feminine approach is considered to be orchestrating detailed decisions contributing to wider set of objectives, the way of a nester. Regardless of sex, fashion designers can be categorized into 3 groups- Hunter, Nester and nester- hunter designer. Hunter designers are those who have focused approach on one thing but to do that very efficiently. Designers in nester group have broad minded approach. They aspire to take steps in sequence contributing to a decision keeping in mind long term objectives.

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Fashion was not always a gendered occurrence. Until eighteenth century, both men and women decked themselves with elaborate dresses. Costume historians have elaborated that gender distinction in dress was not that prominent until nineteenth century. Men and women in elite class often emulated abundant show of rich velvets, fine silks, lace, decorative footwear, wigs, head embellishments and scented powders. Men in pink suits, gold and silver jewelry and embroidered shirts were considered very masculine, regardless of choice of color or ornaments worn. The more intricate the dress, the higher used to be the status of the wearer in the society. Fashion was not only a women’s affair then. It became feminized since nineteenth century when gender representation became stronger than societal class.

With the turn of century, not only fashion became more feminized, but male identity went through a distinct change with modernization. Early theorists related fashion to the social status of women. The affluent displayed their wealth by ornamenting their wives and daughters exuding an air of sophistication. The women also spent endless efforts and hours to be ‘ladies’. At the end of eighteenth century bourgeois male went through ‘the great masculine renunciation’, as a result of which men gave up wearing all the bright colors and jewelry leaving it to the women’s domain.

In post industrial societies, men were guided by occupational spheres. Their business and casual attire were starkly different. Also age segmentation has played a very prominent role in defining men’s style. Amongst women, age segmentation is only for those who want to believe in it. Although the designer fashion tends to extend beyond the boundaries of masculinity, the gender fashion still exists between male and female fashion. To that extent, fashion may be assumed to be cultural, affecting consumers’ perception and experience of design.The impact of gender is very evident in the visual appearances in consumers’ mind. For instance, ‘pink for the girl and blue for the boy’ goes the cliché defining gender by color coding. In the designer world, industrial design is thought as ‘male’ and textile design as ‘female’. Even design is rendered into gender stereotypes like feminine lace, dolls for girls, masculine leather, etc.

As industriliazation took place, social stratas on clothing transformed in eterms of occupation. The social ‘chasm’ between lower class, middle and upper class was huge during the industrial era. Clothes were almost unavailable for the poor but were in abundance for the rich- for whom changes in fashions were created. Members of other social classes were just expected to emulate the rich if they wished to appear fashionable. By late nineteenth century clothes had become cheaper and accessible to lower classes of society. Middle and upper class women spent substantial amount of their incomes on fashionable clothes. Men’s social clothing became more and more simplified. Infact the concept of uniforms and dress codes gained importance to showcase the ranks in the bureaucratic organizations. In the twentieth century, clothes seem to have lost their economic relevance but not their symbolic relevance. This is because clothes are available in all price ranges to suit all pockets. Those with limited resources can still emulate fashion by creating personal styles which are expression of their identities rather than imitating styles of the affluent.

Appearance of fashion indicated sudden appearance of a new social bond and a social temporality with time, fashion trends have changed. It has been dominated by cult, uniqueness, inspiration from local and foreign models. Fashion instituted the social power of minute signs which has an astonishing mechanism of social distinction of those who dress in an innovative way. It also draws inspiration from ancestral heritage and social norms.

Fashion perhaps forms a major part in the construction of a social identity. It is an indication of how people in different eras showcased their positions and status boundaries. The most visible marks of social status and gender has been broadly showcased by Fashion. Fashion dictates the choices that people make in the form of culture, norms and appropriateness of the occasion. For instance, hats were a huge fashion statement and were worn to either showcase recognised or desired social status. Fashion clothing also revealed the occupation, social class and regional origin of a person. It distinguishes elite fashion from everyday fashion. There is very less in common amongst dressing style of a secretary a homemaker, a businessman and a law enforcement officer.

As a social phenomenon, it has been treated as futile because of huge association of outward appearance with women.

The face of fashion defines its phenomena. Female fashion emanates uniqueness and change. Men’s interest in fashion is dictated by their occupation generally but women’s interest depends upon their fascination with beauty.

Now the nature of fashion seems to have changed. From nineteenth century when fashion was more on well defined standard of societal appearance has now evolved into being more contemporary. It has become indistinct, multifaceted and highly fragmented. New styles have been evolved over the years.

Societies have changed dramatically in the past few decades. Social class has become less prominent in the contemporary society of today. Instead of class differentiation there is fragmentation of cultures within socities. 1960s was a special era in the sense where fashion emerged in lower status groups and adopted by the affluent. This fashion phenomena defied age and social barriers conveying pride to the trendsetter. In early 90s, designers triesd to be innovative by adding feminine elements to menswear.Also there seemed to be a female dominance over the culture. Fashion for women fits the definition of conflicted supremacy. Women have held contrasting position in different times ranging from marginally unconcealed to conservative to acceptable fashionable to feminine dominance and empowerment in 90s.

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Turrow believes lifestyles are now in ‘hypersegmentation’ which isolates each lifestyle in its own niche. People are more likely to frequent changes in their lifestyle now. The mulitplicity of changes that such lifestyle in a contemporary society presents the opportunity to an indidual to break away from tradition.Today’s individual constructs a send of identity from his past, present and future events, commitments and aspirations. The individual styles have also gone through frequent changes in line with their changing lifestyles. Personal orientation, income, education, family careers, social position influence a person’s taste in fashion. The younger generation today, usually with more affluent background have post modernist attitude towards identity. Attitude of younger women towards fashion is that of liberalization, power and personal panache. Men are now borrowing elements of costumes from women. Problems are faced when there is persistence to keep male gender above the female one. Today men spend lot of time and money on hair styling, appearance, fashionable clothing and skin products. These men are being coined as ‘ metrosexual’. A metrosexual man willingly displays his masculinity from his ability to consume, showcase his toned physique to assert his identity as an urban middle class man.Yet again, fashion is being used to exhibit gender identity.

Fashion’s most imminent characteristic is that it changes. With multiple demands on clothing and dressing, change is the only constant. ‘Cross-dressing’ has come up as a welcome antidote to confining concepts of society and gender. It offers alternative ways to visualize and dress up a gender and might end up freeing the consumers’ restrictive thoughts on gender dressing.


Realm of fashion in undergoing a radical change. Fashion contributes to newer definitions of social identities and newer attributes to personal preferences. Today because of globalization, fashion houses have to constantly innovate, think out of the box as consumers are no longer fashion victims. Gender studies in design have now challenged these contentious gender, sterotypes, cultural and societal outlook. Female designers earlier have been more prevalent in ceramics, textile designs and men more prominent in abstract art and advertising designs. These self, societal and cultural divisions are breaking down now. Men and women both have critical roles to play as consumers and producers of design. People select styles to suit their identity, lifestyle and societal norms.

Fashion is a choice not a compulsion. It is not a simple process to achieve equivalence between design and customer preference. Designers today are pushing gender based boundaries in fashion and almost pulverizing them. They are bringing to life their vision of what they consider fashion. Designers are now teaming up with people who have different perspectives to make an impact in all their designs. They take pride in and gain strength from the richness of a multicultural society and recognize it as a continuous growth . They work in an environment where they contribute their thoughts freely and create designs. These designs are sated with utmost creativity, uniqueness, abstractness and intricacy at the same time. This has become the definition of success.

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