Fashion and Flexibility-The Conquest of Cool
During the 1960’s the “Peacock Revolution” sparked a change in men’s fashion with bold new styles, alterations in tailoring and fabrics in different colors. Before the sixties, uniformity in men’s clothing was predominant with attire being “subdued, dark and static” (185). However, a shift began to occur during this time period where men had the desire to dress more casual than formal. Many reasons have been attributed to this shift such as the popularity of rock bands like The Beatles and Rolling Stones who were greatly influencing the male fashion scene. Others attribute the Revolution to various designers (ie. Pierre Cardin) and then others believe that the start began with the publication of GQ Magazine in 1957, when the changing male fashion was aimed at consumers as something both attainable and desirable and men were now trained into consumption.
The Beatles wore suits that were tapered to their bodies and tailored different than those of the 50’s.
One of the first Issues of GQ Magazine, published the Summer of 1957
New “flamboyant garments” such as the Nehru Jacket, Edwardian styled suits and adornment began to become fashion staples for men’s attire by the late 60’s. The change in wardrobe began with the youth but quickly spread to elders who also jumped on the Peacock bandwagon. A field which was once considered immutable quickly became concerned with “flux over stasis” (187). The American “sack” (a standard three button suit with white shirt and tie) and grey flannel uniform saw a steady decline in sales throughout the decade. The “Mod” style quickly replaced the idea of the stagnant “sack” during the mid 60’s which was “the birth of the counter-culture, the first visible evidence in America that the young were drifting away from the solutions of their fathers” (190). Although the Mod popularity wore off within a year, the desire for change in men’s clothing continued. Many men’s fashion lines and factories had to keep up with the changing fashion if they wanted to stay in business. As the decade ended, and the 70’s began, male fashion’s became even more dramatic and bold; flowing scarves, vest, psychedelics, caftans, long collar points, tighter fits, larger ties and knickers all became hallmarks of what was considered fashionable (192) . Many of these trends went out as quickly as they came in, however it was obvious that the institution of male fashion would continue to change and the Revolution allowed men to become individualist and express themselves thorough style.
Sean Connery famously wore the Nehru Jacket when he played James Bond in Dr. No in 1962.
This ushered in the era of obsolescence wherein retailers were buying limited quantities of styles, knowing that in a few weeks or months they would be outdated and consumers would want to purchase the newest trends. Many factories could not keep up with this demand, however some, such as the Rubin Brothers were on the forefront and made a living off of the selling small quantities and changing styles rapidly. The techniques of obsolescence aided in the continuous growth of men’s fashion throughout the end of the 20th century and guarantee that male consumer’s would continue buying.
Imitation and Gender Insubordination by Judith Butler
“I found myself telling my friends beforehand that I was off to Yale to be a lesbian, which of course didn’t mean that I wasn’t one before, but that somehow then, as I spoke in that context, I was one in some more thorough and totalizing way, at least for the time being”
In this reading, the ideals of gender performativity and what is means “to be” gay or lesbian are both evaluated and challenged. Butler argues that when placing yourself or others into a role or identity category, you are creating social constructs that are part of “regulatory regimes” (308). To “be” something, means that you are placing yourself into a role, whether you feel you represent the values associated with that role or not. By speaking at Yale and in writing the article, Butler assumes the position of a “lesbian” woman and her identity becomes a public discourse. She notes that this type of discourse can either be powerful or a hindrance because she is asserting her position as being an “other”. When categorizing oneself as an “I” (I am lesbian, I am gay”) you are becoming a signifier of an identity category. For example, when one “comes out” are they free? And if they are free, what are they free from? Does this intrinsically change who they are or who others believe them to be? “What remains permanently concealed by the very linguistic act that offers up the promise of a transparent revelation of sexuality?” (309). Many state that coming out leads to power, however Butler indicates that actually it can produce a new closet, as a new set of rules or expectations of the “I”.
Butler describes sexuality as a social construct, one which is represented by performative acts of gender. “Being” a lesbian is something that is inside you but only through certain acts is one assumed to be represented as a lesbian. “To argue that there might be a specificity to lesbian sexuality has seemed a necessary counterpoint to the claim that lesbian sexuality is just heterosexuality once removed, or that it is derived, or that it does not exist” (310). Lesbian sexuality is actually considered a copy of sexuality that has no original pinpoint. Sexuality in itself cannot be defined. Heterosexuality and homosexuality are then one in the same, instead of one being a radical copy of the other. Another problem with lesbian visibility is that there virtually is none. This in itself is an oppression because while being gay has many public representations, lesbianism in a political context does not really exist. This leaves lesbians out of many discourses and reaffirms that they are simply a “copy” of compulsory heterosexuality. If a lesbian wants to establish her sexuality, she must constantly reaffirm her sexual identity. It is more of a performance than being gay or being heterosexual (which are also performances in their own right) however a lesbian must be butch or femme if they want to claim an identity. This is why Butler calls gender roles performative identities.
Ellen Degenerous and Portia DeRossi both possess typical “butch” and “femme” traits of a lesbian couple which are established through performative identities.
Butler discusses Drag as being a perfect example of gender roles all being copies “gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original” (313). If all identities (heterosexual or homosexual) are copies than what is the original source? To this, Butler says she believes there is no clear answer because the origin of sexuality is untraceable. Gender itself is not a performance but it has performative qualities that one feels they must ascribe to and produce in order to “be” or declare themselves as “I”.
Role Models – Newton
In “Role Models,” Newton, a drag anthropologist, explores the nuances of both drag performance and the style of camp. First focusing on drag performers, she delineates the difference between “street impersonators,” who model themselves after movie stars in order to inhabit a female form, and “night club performers who happen to use impersonation as a medium” for performance (97-8). Stage impersonators use drag as a “mask that allows them to perform” and aim to have the profession “upgraded” or “made more legitimate and professional (98). Stage performers look down upon street impersonators, who dress as women everyday, and those who choose to take hormones, because they are seen as completely giving up their masculinity, which must be maintained to participate in drag.
At the core of drag performance there is a suppression of the “inner self” in order for the “outer” social and performative self to flourish (100). Oppositions can take place within the sartorial system (both visible and non-visible), for example, by wearing jockey shorts under a drag outfit, which affirms that drag is in fact a performance. Additionally, opposition can also play out only within the “visible sartorial system”, by mixing “sex-role referents,” like wearing lipstick with traditionally masculine dress (101). Performers often highlight the contradiction between their physical appearance and reality, by actions such as taking off their wig or flashing a breast.
Jerry, who poses as the female Josephine throughout the film Some Like it Hot, appears without his wig at the end of the film, acknowledging the contradiction between his appearance and his physical sex.
“Drag and camp are the most representative and widely used symbols of homosexuality in the English speaking world,” even though the majority of the homosexual community doesn’t participate (100). Homosexuality consists of two types of “sex-role deviation,” wrong sexual object choice and wrong sex-role presentation of self (104). All homosexuals are guilty of the former, desiring the “wrong” sexual object, that of the same sex, however, this can be hidden and suppressed. However, wrong sex-role presentation, whether it manifests itself sartorially or in terms of actions, is not easily hidden and contributes to stigma’s associated with homosexuality.
The practice of drag, as a subculture of homosexuality, represents two contradictory statements. First, that the polarized “sex role system,” is the norm and therefore homosexuality is “unnatural” (103). However, Drag also asserts that if those of one sex can produce the sex roles of the opposite sex then sex roles must be learned and not innate. Newton asserts that those performing in Drag are categorized as homosexual, because to be homosexual is to behave “in a specifically inappropriate way” (103). However, in class we defined homosexuality as being strictly related to preference for a certain type of sexual partner, and under this definition drag cannot be categorized as a homosexual practice.
Newton goes on to introduce the concept of camp, which isn’t a quantifiable thing, but instead, “signifies a relationship between things, people, and activities or qualities and homosexuality” (105). Camp aims to achieve a higher synthesis of the incongruities between sex and gender that drag performance makes apparent. Camp taste is synonymous with homosexual taste; however, it is highly variable and constantly evolving. Camp is fickle and will never become mainstream, because homosexual otherness is too central to its very existence.
Josh Hartnett poses for VMan in a tuxedo and red lipstick in 2006. This image was published at the height of his career when he was known for being a teen heart throb and the model of masculinity, making the image somewhat campy.
The overarching themes of “incongruity, theatricality and humor,” are set in conversation with the homosexual condition (106). Incongruities are “often created by adornment or stylization of a well-defined thing or symbol (106). For example, a football player in uniform, but also wearing false eyelashes and red high heels would be campy. Camp and drag both focus “on the outward appearance of role” implying that sex roles and roles in general are societally constructed and superficial (109). Additionally, Camp uses humor to ease the pressure created by the “incongruous position” many homosexuals hold within society. It provides a necessary release and therefore when laughter isn’t achieved incongruity is present without humor and the performer looks like a pitiful outsider.
“The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory” – Frye
Even after being exposed for beating Rihanna Chris Brown has stellar record sales.
Frye supposes that woman-hating, which supports male supremacy, is so common in our culture that we become blind to its existence. When men are perceived as being like women they become “objects of rape and derision” (136). Gay men as a social group are commonly stereotyped as being woman-like due to the effeminate nature of some gay men and their association with drag culture. However, Frye asserts that drag performers actually use drag as a means to assert their superiority over women, because they are unable to prove their superiority through sexual intercourse with women. Frye cites gay men’s cheerful jokes which “denigrate and vilify women, women’s bodies, [and] women’s genitals” as evidence of their hatred (139). Therefore, although many gay men are the victims of women-hating themselves they are not political allies of women, but instead, using drag to establish their own superiority. Frye does concede that some drag performance mocks “the whole institution of gender,” instead of mocking women, and therefore is more revolutionary and feminist in nature.
With his blonde hair and large scepter Ru Paul pokes fun at the socially constructed nature of gender norms in order to challenge their unquestioned presence in our society.