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Alternate History

Gender issues in dress (Caroline Era)

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One of the trends of the Caroline Era, whose roots can be seen in the preceding period, was the erosion of differences between the genders. This was expressed in fashion by a number of trends.

Early Caroline

For the first couple of years, although women were now expected to wear trousers some of the time, skirts and dresses were never worn by men. Women also tended to wear more colourful and varied clothes than men. The situation was generally that whereas women could in certain circumstances wear both women's and men's clothes, men could only wear clothes considered masculine. At this time, the concepts of transvestism and drag still made sense for men, but less so for women.

Plain White Movement

Main article: Plain White Movement

John Lennon helped popularise a trend from 1985 onward involving the wearing of unadorned white clothing devoid of much style and without fastenings. This was unisex in nature, and marked the beginning of the demise of skirts and dresses in informal contexts. Those particular kinds of women's wear became unpopular and were associated with conservatism and sexism in social attitudes, and by about 1987, were no longer available off the peg, though they continued as formal and matrimonial wear.

Space Race trend

Main article:Space Race Trend (Caroline Era)

Towards the end of the first decade of the Caroline Era, the Second Space Race led to two trends in fashion. One was the adoption of styles of clothing worn in space. The other was the use of fabrics which were developed or used widely in space. This trend built gradually at first, but because of the problem with keeping white and dyed fabrics separate, once it got above a certain level of popularity, it suddenly became extremely trendy. There was also the "race" aspect: the style of the clothes changed from simply being "the kind of things people wore in space" to things which had exaggerated forms of the same style. The main relevance to this article, however, is that these too were unisex.

In the meantime, the slightly older people who were accustomed to the plain white trend were reaching an age where they were considering long term relationships and settling into careers. As a result, in certain jobs and in wedding ceremonies, there was a tendency for dresses and skirts to lose further ground. This trend moved "upwards" in social status, and even in formal wear there was considerable erosion of gender distinctions.

The Space Race Trend was also responsible for the appearance of breast pads, a development somewhat similar to the earlier shoulder pad trend.

After the Space Race trend

Once Space Race itself had faded and changed, the idea of gender divisions in clothing had become quite quaint and old-fashioned seeming, and though there were abortive attempts by the fashion industry to introduce gendered trends, this not only became increasingly anachronistic but also quite perverse from a business perspective, as it effectively involved halving the potential market. Consequently, from about the middle of the second Caroline decade, the idea of gender divisions in clothing was effectively dead except in certain restricted contexts such as fetish wear, period costume, re-enactment or ceremonial garb among the likes of the nobility. This meant that a woman seen in a dress after about 1998 would be likely to be seen as inappropriately exhibitionist or ostentatious. The main public situation in which dresses were worn was in drag acts, which made women look particularly strange if they wore them.

There was a little resistance among men to the new fashions in some cases. Although the main trend had been for traditionally feminine clothes to become unfashionable and clothes with masculine overtones to become neutral, certain trends were only slowly adopted by men. For a while, men tended to eschew certain features, such as hosiery, bright colours and floral designs.

Current situation

Things have now settled down. In terms of the past, on the whole what is now seen as ordinary clothing for both women and men would have looked somewhat masculine, and it's more that women's clothing has disappeared than that men wear "women's" clothes. However, it is also true that some clothes would have looked rather feminine to the eyes of someone from the New Elizabethan Era.

A few gendered clothes remain for practical reasons, such as boxes for sport and bras, although the widespread use of breast pads does mean men frequently wear bras.

Some conservative religious organisations enforce gender-based dress codes, including Islam, Orthodox Judaism and conservative Churches. This gives dresses a paradoxical aura of being reflective of both conservatism and sexually deviancy.

Transvestism and Drag

Transvestism has shifted in significance because there is now little distinction between feminine and masculine clothing - they have been defined out of existence by the fashion industry and changes in social attitudes to dress. There is no sense of transgression in the practice and the presence of previously gendered clothing in the wardrobes of the other gender has led to desensitisation so that even fetishism is reduced by habituation. However, there is still a practice similar to transvestism, namely the preference for a smaller minority of individuals than before, of both genders, to wear skirts and dresses, often in privacy or special clubs or conventions. There is also an overlap with re-enactment costumes, so the style of clothing worn is often from a much earlier historical period. Even so, it can't really be termed "transvestism" because the clothes are no longer associated with the other gender and both women and men wear them.

Drag continues unabated because it mimics a stereotypical feminine image.

Body Stockings

Body stockings have a very masculine image because they are used by gang members to show off their muscles.

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