Clothes, Classes & Gender Difference Throughout History

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Mutlu Tevfik Koçak
Sabanci University


Why women’s clothes have buttons on the left? Why men’s clothes aren’t so dressy as women’s?

Why male babies clothes are blue? In this paper is asserted that differences between two gender’s clothes are set by their living habits directly depending on their society’s historic period, patriarchal or matriarchal position, distribution of genders by jobs, value given by society to a specific gender. The difference between man and woman clothes is decreasing due to the rights, respect and working job positions obtained by woman.

Clothes, Classes & Gender Difference throughout History

If a woman goes to work with night attire, it is normal to think if she works at a night event like a party however would be unlikely to think if she is a diver or a crane operator. Having ability of visual reading and using deterministic approach, makes every clue, symbol or sign important as the subject itself. Every small detail has to be handled with care to understand a person’s job, social class, intent and even his or her purpose, if the subject is a person like Sherlock Holmes written by Arthur Conan Doyle based on a Scottish doctor who inspect patients 20 seconds and says their disease.

According to Marx, substructure relations defines superstructure relations. Here, Karl Marx refers substructure as means and relations of production, and everything else as superstructure.
All of the topics in a person and society’s life beauty, culture, art, philosophy, style of living, religion and clothing directly depend on the way of production. Also Maslow, on his “Hierarchy of Needs” says that, self actualization, esteem, love and belongingness needs are coming after safety and physiological needs. By this, only the person who fulfills his or her basic needs like eating, being safe, surviving, could think about needs like beauty, cultural or entertainment. Also it is obvious that, this hierarchical relations are depended not only by one side, but by each other. If someone has enormous amount of money but low health level, will not be happy as predicted.

Since the ancient times that humans are emerged and evolved, clothing is thought as a mean of survival with only its functional meaning. Instead of esthetic or allure, thermo protection was more important.

At same periods cave drawings, clothe diversities are emerged. Ancient human was hunter and gatherer. Hunting was made by male, and gathering by female. In that time, human clothes were not different as in medieval. Due to the limited choice of clothing material and methods, and quite equal social status of woman was preventing differentiation.

Also the society’s patriarchal or matriarchal status was very important to having different clothes. At the Ancient Egypt, woman’s social role was very important.

Woman was seen as the symbol of force and wisdom. Also, woman, was conflict solver when there was a problem at market.

It is obvious that gender difference of clothes are very blurred. The only difference of clothes, are between social classes. Slaves and workers were dressed with only functional needs.
They were only some little amount of colors, same as ancient Rome and Greece.
After the loss of woman’s social position, clothes started to differentiate. Due to increasing wars because of religion

or new economical relations, men become more powerful than before. Due to essential use of horse, being fast, using sword, removed skirt like long dresses from men clothing.
Roman Soldiers had skirts same as Scottish and Greek soldiers, but this skirts were removed with functional needs. This fact only could be seen at ceremony corteges of Greek and Scottish army. This removal and simplifying process also prepared the end of long hair, men make-up (not finished but until Industrial revolution). Women continued to have this ornaments.

The essentials of male clothing also have a military background. As the most powerful icon of masculinity, necktie emerged after loss of Ottoman against Austrian Empire. As a victory division, Croatian soldiers were visited French King at the year 1660, they were wearing tie like cravats, to protect their necks from sword hits.

King loved this ornament and founded Croatian divisions at his army. By time French men adopted neckties as essential ornament of men elegance. At years around 1970, peak of woman equality movement, some women become wear neckties at work, as the symbol of gender equality, however this give rise masculinization of woman argument. Another military adopted cloth is long coats with extra fabric at right shoulder. Today no one knows what is used for. This classical coat has also shoulder straps. Obviously was a military uniform at French army, also adopted by western society. Same thing exist at color preference of male.

At the 1800’s of Indian Occupation, British Army Uniform was white. The white colored soldiers were targeted and shot easily. Due to this more nature like colors are preferred for military uniform. This was another fact that affected color preference of male clothing style. Men become colorless than women.

Male become important and richer, resource of money and defined his rules at the society. Much of the societies become patriarchal. Women lost their social position at market, at open places, working jobs. The only functional meaning of woman was physical beauty and being mother of the child.

Women’s answer to this, only with survival intent, to highlight their physical esthetic and to make efforts to be attractive for powerful male nominees as a natural system of patriarchal society. One example of this fact at middle ages, with vulgar superstitions and dominance of religion ignorance, was believed that male babies were targeted of cruel spiritual forces and devil, only because of that male baby was important to continue family name, was dressed with sky color that was believed that was a holy color of god’s protection. (Due to god symbolized with sky.)

Girl babies had no colors. Only after industrial revolution, woman become to gain rights and respect, baby pink is invented for girl babies as the color of flowers and femininity. Another very important fact is about wedding dress.

At roman age, wedding dress was yellow, only diversity was veil if married woman participating at feast, had to wear veil on the face. Royal Family of Britain had the tradition of wearing silver colored wedding dresses. Queen Victoria denied to wear it and choose white wedding dress.

At Britain of age, white wedding dress become symbol of purity and virginity. Red belt is another sign even worse. High-heels, stocking are similar signs adopted only by women, to achieve eternal beauty for attraction and the only way of self-esteem and feminine power.
Working class of medieval and ancient time were without ornaments. Due to feudal system of society and difference of classes, social dresses are emerged.

Noble class, Priests and Royal class members had to wear discrete signs that shows their member class, by the law.

Most powerful symbol of this is the crown of the king. Starting by Renaissance, Enlightment era and French revolution, class difference again started to be blurred. Ordinary people become to work at factories.

Men lost their last ornaments like make-up, wigs, lace silk clothes at this era of working. With the crisis of capitalism, need of new workers and loss of pressure of the religion, women first became workers at factories, and after started to be seen at different types of jobs. Temporarily with the woman rights movement,

woman clothes shown this change with same rhythm. In example, Coco Chanel was the woman who first woman who wear trousers.

This need was emerged because of her invited of hunting parties. With long skirt she had no comfort, after she decided to create a hunting dress for herself with trousers. She worn this new dress’s black version and made revolution at western women’s life. Also blue jean as the gold mine worker’s essential cloth, become an object of wild youth of 1960’s. Women participating this movement, wearing blue jean, transformed this innovation to a habit.

An interesting sign of difference of gender clothes that women has buttons on the left. At the 17th century, buttons were made only from animal bones, and were too expensive. The only woman that can afford was noble class. And they were wearing using servants.

Just only for comforts of servants woman buttons are on the left. This fact shows the great connection between class, gender and clothing.

Consequentially, as the time women become more powerful and handles survival resources, their clothes had the new purpose of only their comfort and needs, instead of only targeting being attractive or being beautiful. Women of future, would be beautiful or attractive just only if she wants or needs it.



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