We know that sex and gender identity has been in affiliation with the clothes one would wear. Decking yourself in heels and short skirts with bright makeup or any makeup for that matter, you’re a female. Dress in trousers or a suit with formal shoes and you’re a male.
But it wasn’t always like this. And it won’t always be like this.
Nudity and The First Clothing:
Sex, unlike gender identity, is determined by genitals. Gender identity, on the other hand, is a fluid concept that differs for each and very specific to their needs. These days, we can barely distinguish of gender identity, sex or clothing between people.
However, the older days often showed just about the same. Men and women often dressed the same way, up until the 18th century. Some of the earliest civilizations show women and men in cave paintings wearing about the same form of clothing. Yet, social identity could be distinguishable.
Nudity was a very natural concept in most ancient civilizations including those of Egypt, Greece and Indus-valley. In fact, breasts were seen as normal until the influence of Christianity and Islam in most parts of the world.
Till the end of the Roman Era is around 400AD, a rectangular piece of cloth was the most used source of clothing. This was usually in a drape or stitch like a tunic with two holes made for the arms.
The most gender-specific clothing then was the length of the dress. In Egyptian and Greco-Roman societies, men and women would wear tunics however the women’s tunics would reach till the ankles while a mans would reach till knees. This was mostly because men would work, and would be horse riders or travellers, thus making it more comfortable.
Sadly, by the time the length of men’s tunic inched up to resemble a skirt, European clothing already made it inappropriate for women to reveal a lot of skin, including their legs.
Until the 18th century, both men and women would wear rich ornaments, lace, rich velvets, wigs and decorative shoes. It was so equal, that men would often wear corsets which are now more feminine. King Louis XIV wore hose and high heels to direct attention to his calves and would often wear high wigs to increase his height.
With the Industrial Revolution around the corner, men were made to work harder. Soon enough, they were competing in the area of politics and business. The need to look practical and serious paved way for the ‘suit up’ of men. Their counterparts would reflect their lover’s social status in the way they dressed and made appearances. Women’s clothing was extremely elaborate, but men slowly began transforming to well-tailored garments with silks and velvets becoming the most popular.
By the 19th century, full-length clothes or ornamental textiles hampered the notion of masculinity while womenswear became more decorative and restrained than ever before. Those differences in the dress came to symbolize the supposed differences in the genders: Men, like a suit, were serious and practical; women, like a flouncy dress, were frivolous and superficial.
The late 19th century saw a revolution with women going against the boundaries made by society. With the onset of World War, women geared up to become the new males of society. They rid their flamboyant outfits for more simpler clothes like harem trousers, loose silhouette dresses and soft baggy trousers. They went on to chop their hair off, going for a shorter look to defy gender specific aesthetics.
Women started wearing suits tailored to fit them with high necks and collared shirts, heels were introduced to men’s formals shoes. But the clothes were still distinguishable, making clear demarkations between male and female.
The Coming of Age:
As time progressed, with homosexuality and cross-dressing still illegal in most countries, gay-friendly bars would witness men and women interdressing, women clad in tight leather pants and t-shirts with big jackets to change their body frames. Men were seen in tighter clothes, wearing skirts or bold prints, implying their sexual orientation.
Well, that’s only until the hippies started the biggest trend in the world – unisex clothes. Kurt Cobain and David Bowie were some of the more popular examples of the trend, often choosing to wear ladies blouses while performing at concerts.
The 21st century brought up important topics like sex, feminism and sexualities. The LGBTQ+ revolution, following the Stonewall Inn riots, allowed for a massive cultural change in fashion. Masculinity is not seen as just male and femininity is not seen as just female. Our society has become increasingly more aware of gender and the spectrum. Every individual is born with elements from both male and female. And we’re glad that fashion has been one of the first to realize this.
Now, in the current time and age, we can barely tell the difference between the gender/ sexual identity of a person. People are given free will to choose how to decorate themselves and are not judged for their choices. Now, fashion speaks for who you choose to be, fitting your need and your personality more than ever.