Sex and Unisex: Fashion, Feminism, and the Sexual Revolution

Sex and Unisex: Fashion, Feminism, and the Sexual Revolution

Sex and Unisex: Fashion, Feminism, and the Sexual Revolution

Sex and Unisex: Fashion, Feminism, and the Sexual Revolution

Synopsis

Notorious as much for its fashion as for its music, the 1960s and 1970s produced provocative fashion trends that reflected the rising wave of gender politics and the sexual revolution. In an era when gender stereotypes were questioned and dismantled, and when the feminist and gay rights movements were gaining momentum and a voice, the fashion industry responded in kind. Designers from Paris to Hollywood imagined a future of equality and androgyny. The unisex movement affected all ages, with adult fashions trickling down to school-aged children and clothing for infants. Between 1965 and 1975, girls and women began wearing pants to school; boys enjoyed a brief "peacock revolution," sporting bold colors and patterns; and legal battles were fought over hair style and length. However, with the advent of Diane Von Furstenberg's wrap dress and the launch of Victoria's Secret, by the mid-1980s, unisex styles were nearly completely abandoned. Jo B. Paoletti traces the trajectory of unisex fashion against the backdrop of the popular issues of the day--from contraception access to girls' participation in sports. Combing mass-market catalogs, newspaper and magazine articles, cartoons, and trade publications for signs of the fashion debates, Paoletti provides a multigenerational study of the "white space" between (or beyond) masculine and feminine.

Excerpt

Who knew that the 2012 presidential campaign would turn into a 1960s flashback? For many of us, the moment of awakening was when Republican candidate Rick Santorum seemingly stepped out of a time machine and proclaimed his opposition not just to abortion rights but to birth control as well. The controversy began when columnist Charles Blow rediscovered Santorum’s 2008 speech to the Oxford Center for Religion and Public Life in Washington, including this comment the senator made during the question-and-answer period:

You’re a liberal or a conservative in America if you think the ’60s were a
good thing or not. If the ’60s was a good thing, you’re left. If you think
it was a bad thing, you’re right. And the confusing thing for a lot of
people that gets a lot of Americans is, when they think of the ’60s, they
don’t think of just the sexual revolution. But somehow or other—and
they’ve been very, very, clever at doing this—they’ve been able to link,
I think absolutely incorrectly, the sexual revolution with civil rights.

With all due respect to Senator Santorum, I do see connections between the sexual revolution and the civil rights movement, and his comments suggest that he does too, even if he believes they have been linked erroneously. In fact I venture to say that many of the issues in today’s culture wars—gay and transgender rights, gender equality, reproductive choice—center on the disputed territory of sexual norms and are argued in terms of civil rights and government authority to dictate morality. As a means of expressing sexual and gender identity, the fashions of the time revealed the cultural shifts set in motion by the women’s liberation movement and the sexual revolution. The countermovements and controversies over these changes are likewise visible, particularly in the scores of legal cases involving long hair on men: cases that explicitly enlisted the language of civil rights.

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