This month, Cicilia Brognoli looks into the evolution of gendered dressing through history.

The way we dress is dictated by a set of well-established cultural and social norms, apparently indisputable. This is true for most people, who tend to conform with what the crowd does, accepting the fact that for example, skirts are for women, and ties are for men.

However, many designers are increasingly making fashion genderless, to create pieces that are unisex and appreciated by both genders. The way we dress is like a business card we carry with us every day: the garments, colours, and styles we choose generally depend on our mood and how we want to show ourselves to others.
Many times we may think that we have chosen a look that is too bold or does not conform to what social and cultural norms established. Yet these conventions, which at times seem set in stone, have undergone enormous changes throughout history.

A champion of style and opulence was certainly King Louis XIV, nicknamed the’Sun King’ for having presented himself at court wearing a completely golden outfit, as well as being the fulcrum of life in Versailles and all of France. In fact, during the Baroque, a typical male outfit consisted of a long coat with a waistcoat and breeches worn over long socks up to above the knee.
An abundance of embroidery covered the entire outfit, but in the case of Louis XIV, great attention was given to shoes. Heeled slip-on shoes were worn by both men and women. It was common for men to wear shoes that look very feminine nowadays. In general, the beauty routine of the nobles was unisex: powders, voluminous and often curly hair were a must.

The women’s fashion of the nineteenth century instead saw a revival of the classic silhouettes, belonging to the Greco-Roman fashion. In France during the first empire, and in Great Britain during the regency, wealthier women liked to wear much less pompous clothes than in previous years. The long and voluminous gowns were, for a short time, replaced by soft dresses that marked the natural shape of the body. These dresses had a deep neckline and a seam under the breasts, thus freeing the waist from any constriction. The favourite colour was white, and the dress had a few simple decorative lines embroidered often in gold.

The way we dress is dictated by a set of well-established cultural and social norms, apparently indisputable. This is true for most people, who tend to conform with what the crowd does, accepting the fact that for example, skirts are for women, and ties are for men.
This month, Cicilia Brognoli looks into the evolution of gendered dressing through history.
The light-heartedness and greater exposure of the body through empire style dresses in Great Britain was supplanted by the austere Victorian Era style. Women returned to long gowns down to the feet and with long sleeves. Gloves and hats were essential accessories, and therefore the only uncovered part of the body was the face. Meanwhile, men’s fashion from the 17th century to the Victorian age moved closer to the silhouettes still favoured by men today. Long pants, shirt, and waistcoat were often a light colour, contrasting with the long brown, black, or dark blue coat.
Another unforgettable style of English fashion is dandyism. This is a real lifestyle, as the pursuit of aestheticism is not just about clothing since it involves any dandy’s daily activities. The eccentric Beau Brummell is remembered as the first dandy in history and one of the most remarkable members of the British Regency. Brummell spent up to five hours a day dressing, daily polishing his boots with Champagne. It may seem somewhat bizarre that, however, his outfit consisted of always similar clothes and the same colours. High black leather boots, high-waisted beige pants, white shirt, a long two-tailed midnight blue coat and finally his beloved tie. This was the highlight of the outfit, and it was not like the contemporary tie, but it looked more like a foulard Brummell loved to tie differently, creating a real foulard craze.

The meticulous choice of clothing preparation and the impeccable and time-consuming dandy dressing table was an inspiration even in the 1920s. The Roaring Twenties saw the boom in the use of make-up, sequins and all kinds of splendour for both genders. Among the most famous literary characters of the 1920s is Jay Gatsby, by many associated with the film
counterpart Leonardo Dicaprio in ‘The Great Gatsby’. Precisely in this film, you can admire the sumptuous evening outfits of that decade, a parade of exquisite womenswear outfits adorned by sequins, feathers and small fluttering fringes. On the opposite side, for the evening wear men opted for sober, yet elegant, black suits with a white shirt and bow tie. However, gentlemen tended to flaunt stylish outfits enjoying light colours and especially pastel tones.

Leaving aside the glitz coming from the United States, a huge revolution in fashion came from France, where Coco Chanel was the first woman wearing trousers. Not without criticism, Chanel slowly got the attention of her clients, inspiring them to change their view about trousers as a taboo for women.

Jumping to the 1960s, the British designer Mary Quant invented the mini skirt, thus creating one of the most loved garments ever. Also in this decade, theHippie counterculture began to come to life, which continued until the ‘70s.
The Hippie style was colourful, bold, exotic-inspired and almost genderless. Men and women wore the same patterns depicted on long gipsy-style skirts, baggy pants, long shirts, and dresses. The Hippie style perfectly represents the desire of freedom, carefreeness, and anti-consumerism. Many Hippies love to create their very unique hand-made accessories. Women showed their candour, abandoning make-up and sometimes adorning their natural hairstyle with just a flower crown.
In the 1980s, however, the hair became fluffy and showy, as well as the clothes. This was the supermodel era, where an athletic physique and flawless make-up were key.
Despite this, in working hours, the style was sober and almost minimal, contrasting the fashion of free time, characterised by bright sporty outfits. Men and women loved fluorescent colours for tracksuits, tights, and leotards to show off during gymnastic moments like aerobics, the craze of the decade.
Gender-specific fashion has undergone huge changes over the decades, best representing what society and cultural norms and expectations demanded. Overt ime, these restrictions have become less and less severe, making people free to express their personality, always dividing between men’s and women’s fashion. The gender division could be identified as the last restriction that is still applied to clothing today. However, due to Covid19, some fashion houses have decided to abandon the official Fashion Week calendar by preparing for collections never seen before. Some brands, including Gucci, have decided to create genderless collections to free their brand identity from gender conventions. It is not only luxury brands that express interest in genderless fashion, in fact, but there are also other excellent brands that are less expensive, and totally genderless. Among these stand out British brands such as Riley Studio, Too good,One DNA, and Lane Forty five that offer excellent genderless and environmentally-friendly outfits. The news in the fashion world about gendered and gender less fashion seems to be coming almost daily, and is very interesting. So, dear fashion friends, keep an eye on your favourite brands.

You can read more of Cicilia’s work

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