Tag Archives: gender

Party frock or military uniform?: Mick Jagger performing gender at Hyde Park, London, 5th July 1969.

On a summer’s afternoon in 1969, Mick Jagger bounds onto the stage set up in Hyde Park with characteristic explosive energy. He swaggers across the stage, donning a white dress designed by Michael Fish, paired with white flared trousers and clutching a battered book of poetry. Bowing and blowing kisses to adoring fans, he oozes an aura of masculine self-assurance as his balloon sleeves and gathered skirt waft around him.

Figure 1: Mick Jagger reading an excerpt from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s elegy Adonais in memory of Brian Jones, 5th July 1969, Robert Hunt Library/Shutterstock

Their first performance in two years, what the Rolling Stones had intended as a free concert to give back to the fans they had somewhat abandoned during this time, as well as to introduce their new band member, Mick Taylor, as Brian Jones’ replacement, ended up as a more sombre affair. Jones had been dismissed from the band in June that year due to his struggle with addiction, resulting in the multifaceted musician and originally integral element to The Stones becoming a liability not only to the band’s recording sessions and success, but also to himself. Brian Jones was found dead at the bottom of his swimming pool on 2nd July, three days before the concert.

Jagger attempts to calm the crowd with the fragile authority of a substitute teacher struggling to tame a classroom of hormone-fuelled teenagers. But, because he’s Mick Jagger, he (just about) pulls it off.

‘OOOOWWRRIGHT! Okay now listen! Will you just cool it for just a minute because I really would like to say something for Brian.’ He resorts to ‘OKAY ARE YOU GOING TO BE QUIET OR NOT?’, which seemingly settles the gathered spectators. Jagger proceeds to recite a few verses from Shelley’s poem Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats. The touching words of Shelley honouring a fellow artist struck down in his youth feel hauntingly relevant. Despite Jagger’s slightly wooden recital, it is a moving and fitting tribute. Hundreds of white butterflies were then shaken out of cardboard boxes, fluttering above the stage and crowd in dizzy liberation. Yet what is most memorable about this iconic performance is that dress. Not many men could wield the same degree of authority over a crowd of 250,000 to 500,000 people whilst wearing a dress that was compared to a ‘little girl’s white party frock’ by the British press. Jagger, luckily, is one of them.

There is undeniable androgynous hybridity to Jagger’s ensemble. The white dress is ornately decorated with a ruffled collar and cuffs which mirror the pleated skirt, billowing full sleeves, and individual bow fastenings down the fitted bodice. All of these intricate details do evoke a young girl’s frock. The dress-making pattern image from the 1950s below exhibits the femininity and girlishness of puff sleeves, delicate collars and bows, and full skirts, which are arguably paralleled, or parodied, by Jagger’s garment.

Figure 2: Girl’s One-Piece Vintage Dress Sewing Pattern: Flower Girl, Party Dress, 1st Communion, 1950’s, Simplicity Pattern Co.

Designer Michael Fish was a pioneer of the ‘Peacock Revolution’. The evolution of menswear shifted drastically throughout the 1960s, prioritising rich fabrics, extravagant colours and more effeminate silhouettes over traditional tailoring. Mr Fish, a boutique in Mayfair, stocked and sold his flamboyant garments, from frilled silk shirts to men’s caftans, to the emerging demographic of the London dandy. Below, we see Michael Fish wearing one of his designs, with almost identical ornate details of ruffled collar and bow fastenings to Jagger’s dress. The context of the sexual revolution, triggered by the circulation of the contraceptive pill in Britain from 1963, brought in an era of sexual liberation, meaning that men could challenge traditional notions of masculinity and indulge in androgynous ways of dress.

Figure 3: Michael Fish and Barry Sainsbury, 1968, Courtesy of Mason & Sons

Jagger did not stop at dressing in a feminine manner. He went as far as adopting the female gender signifiers of long hair and makeup in a convincing performance of gender play. His eyes are shrouded in mysterious smokiness and his infamous pout is accentuated by lipstick as his hair sweeps down past his shoulders. Having said this, Jagger’s dress can also be read as a display of masculinity. The full, pleated skirt arguably evokes the fustanella – a skirt-like garment worn throughout South East Europe, but in particular by the Evzone elite ceremonial unit of the Greek Royal Guard (below, left).

Figure 4: The Archbishop Regent Damaskinos of Greece with an Evzone Guard at the Regency in Athens, 15 February 1945, Capt. Tanner War Office official photographer, Imperial War Museum

The dramatic flare of the Evzone Guard’s sleeve combined with the fullness of the kilt-like skirt both hint at the yards of fabric that have gone into the construction of this garment, whilst simultaneously providing a prototype for the defining features of Jagger’s frock. Origins on the fustanella date back to the nineteenth century, but the garment is also perhaps a continuation of men’s short tunics from Ancient Greece. Looking back to another time or another country became an increasingly important source of fashion influence throughout the 1960s.  Arguably Jagger was drawn to Michael Fish’s garment as it takes inspiration from then and there to challenge the gender divide of here and now.

Figure 5: Mick Jagger performing at Hyde Park in 1969, Ray Stevenson/Shutterstock

Later on in the performance, as the afternoon heat descends, Jagger removes his smock, untying each individual bow to release himself from his effeminate exterior. Beneath, he is wearing a simple vest which exposes his slender but undeniably masculine frame. Therefore in its fluid state, gender, like clothing, can be tried on, worn, taken off and worn again. Such was the case for Jagger. Not only was he rumoured to have worn this same dress to his financial adviser’s white-themed party two days before, but he also revisited this look forty four years later with a strikingly similar white smock garment during The Rolling Stones’ return to Hyde Park in 2013.

Figure 6: Mick Jagger performing at Hyde Park in 2013, Roger Tooth for the Guardian

 By Claudia Stanley

 

 

Sources:

 

The Rolling Stones – Tribute to Brian Jones / I’m Yours and I’m Hers (Hyde Park 1969)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQ5VhQMgjYw

Costantino, Maria. Men’s Fashion in the Twentieth Century: from frock coats to intelligent fibres. London: B. T. Batsford LTD, 1997.

Langkjær, Michael A. A case of misconstrued Rock Military Style: Mick Jagger and his Evzone “little girl’s party frock” fustanella, Hyde Park, July 5, 1969. Historical, sociological and methodological approaches. Conference Proceedings, Athens, 9-11 April 2010. Nafplion: Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation, 2012.

Langkjær, Michael A. ‘Then how can you explain Sgt. Pompous and the Fancy Pants Club Band?’ Utilization of Military Uniforms and Other Paraphernalia by Pop Groups and the Youth Counterculture in the 1960s and Subsequent Periods. Textile history, Vol. 41, no. 1. Published online 19 Jul 2013.

https://doi.org/10.1179/174329510X12646114289824

Lester, Richard. Boutique London, A History: King’s Road to Carnaby Street. Suffolk: ACC Editions, 2010.

Luther Hillman, Betty. Dressing for the Culture Wars: Style and the Politics of Self-Presentation in the 1960s and 1970s. Lincoln, Nebraska : University of Nebraska Press, 2015.

Morgen, Brett. Crossfire Hurricane: The Rise of the Stones. London: Milkwood Films, Los Angeles: Tremolo Productions, 18th October 2012.

Sims, Joshua. Rock Fashion, London and New York: Omnibus Press, 1999.

Performing Gender Through Costume in the Takarazuka Revue

The Takarazuka Revue is an all-female performance troupe, formed in 1914. Now one of the biggest theatre companies in the world, the group is known for its spectacular performances with highly trained female actors playing male and female roles.

The leading actors of the Takarazuka Revue are celebrities. Today, they have a global fanbase and entire Wikipedia dedicated to documenting all past and current performances and trivia about the troupe (www.takawiki.com). Yet, before the internet and the increasingly connected world of the post-war era, fans had to find another outlet for their eager engagement with the Revue.

The British Museum has in its collection an incredible example of such engagement: an album of 200 postcard photographs, some signed, of the performers in the Takarazuka Revue, dating to the late 1930s.

Figure 1: Album of 200 postcard photographs of actresses in the Takarazuka revue, with covers in textile. Six of them signed. © The Trustees of the British Museum.
Figure 2: Album of 200 postcard photographs of actresses in the Takarazuka revue, with covers in textile. Six of them signed. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

In these photographs we see the range of characters, periods and styles used by the group. Costuming alone tells us that there were military figures from a range of historic periods, gentlemen, geisha, dancers, swooning young women and the epitome of a 1920s gangster.

This remnant of a bygone age gives us a beautiful insight to the world of Japanese theatre in the 1930s. The highly decorative costumes would have immediately expressed a character’s identity to a theatre audience. The jacket of the figure in the top right corner of the first image is so reflective is can barely be photographed, and the feathered headdress in the image below is so grand it is having to be held upright by its wearer.

These photographs also reveal the visual markers used to denote gender on stage. Beyond the outfits, the actors’ hair is modelled in short, slicked back styles for male characters. Eyebrows are also styled differently, the female characters have longer, thinner brows while their male counterparts style thicker and far straighter brows.

Photographs can tell us about what these actors wore, how they used their faces to convey their characters, and that they were revered enough to be immortalised in an album. However, there are things these photographs lack. Colour, for instance. Staging or the style of the performance too. That is where I bring in this ticket for comparison.

Figure 3: A ¥2 ticket to the Tokyo Takarazuka theater performance on July 17, 1937. www.oldtokyo.com.

This ticket, saved from a Takarazuka theatre performance in Tokyo on the 17th July, 1937, is a drawing. It can therefore can give us a completely different range of insights into the 1930s performances for the Takarazuka Revue.

I must firstly point out the similarity between the figure on this ticket and the actor in the top left corner of the second album page. The resemblance is uncanny and given the similar time period the ticket must either be a representation of that exact actor or at least of the character they were playing in a show at the time.

Gender is expressed in a greater variety of ways through the drawn figure on the ticket. We can see their masculine posture, laid back and confident, dominating the space they stand in with ease. But we also see now what we could not in the photograph, the makeup on their face. The pale skin, rouged cheeks and red lip remind us that this is a female actor playing a male role. There is a sense that, no matter how convincing of a performance the actor could give, the audience must always be reminded that it is not a man they are seeing, but a male-role played by a woman.

The performances of masculinity and femininity in the Takarazuka Revue are exaggerated. The Revue presents a heightened version of femininity and a particularly elegant version of masculinity. In this sense, the Revue exposes the constructed nature of gender but also remains rigidly within the confines of a binary gender system. You are either male or female. At no point does the performance wish to the leave audiences uncertain as to the gender they are seeing performed, or the true gender of the actor in the performance.

The images in this blog post reveal to us the ways that dress and embodied behaviour were used by the Takarazuka Revue to present a strong sense of gender whilst paradoxically also highlighting the fact that gender is indeed a performance.

By Megan Stevenson

 

Sources:

Stickland, Leonie R. 2008. Gender Gymnastics: performing and consuming Japan’s Takarazuka Revue. Melbourne: Trans Pacific Press.

Yamanashi, Makiko. 2012. A History of the Takarazuka Revue Since 1914: Modernity, Girls’ Culture, Japan Pop. Boston: Global Oriental.

“Album of 200 postcard photographs of actresses in the Takarazuka revue, with covers in textile. Six of them signed.” – https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/A_2006-0113-0-1-1-200

“A ¥2 ticket to the Tokyo Takarazuka theater performance on July 17, 1937.” – http://www.oldtokyo.com/takarazuka-gekijo/

A Kit Of Their Own

On 9th June 2019, the England Women’s football team took to the pitch at the Stade de Nice for their first match of the Women’s World Cup. They wore white, with red and blue striped cuffs, andsported the Three Lions (or maybe the Three Lionesses) on their shirt. This was the first time in the 140-year history of women’s football in England that a national team wore a kit that had beenspecifically designed for them.

England Women’s Football Team (‘The Lionesses’), June 2019.

Even on a practical level, the new England Women’s strip is of huge significance. Up until now, female players have worn kits designed for the masculine body. Often baggy and ill-fitting, the strip made the players less aerodynamic and caused discomfort while playing. The new kit is designed for and fitted to the female shape. For the first time, sportswear technology has been channelled into the development of a specifically female, professional-standard football kit, in order to support and enhance the performance of these top-level players.

England Women’s Football Team, UEFA Women’s Euro, June 2005.
Kirsty Pealing of England, ca. 2004.

Beyond this important practical progression, the new strip allows the England Women’s team to construct a unique visual identity, distinct from that of the men’s team. Academic discourse has, inrecent years, focussed on the interrelation of sport and gender. Jayne Caudwell and Jennifer Hargreaves, among others, have highlighted how, since the Victorian period, sport has become central to both the symbolic construction of masculinity and the lived experience of many men. As such, women have historically been excluded from sport on organisational, symbolic and cultural levels. These deeply engrained attitudes towards sport have often resulted in the derision ofwomen’s sport, clearly highlighted in the criticism female footballers have received via social mediain recent years. The implication of such criticism seems to be that women’s football is merely an inferior version of the men’s game, which is held as the pinnacle of what football as a sport can be.Despite the many and varied successes of England Women in the last 30 years, their kits – identical to the male strip – arguably visibly reinforced this perception of female football as merely anextension of the men’s sport, their achievements and identity drowned in the din surrounding men’sfootball.

Twitter Comments on Women’s Football, June 2019.
Twitter Comments on Women’s Football, June 2019.

The new strip, by contrast, creates an aesthetic associated exclusively with the England Women’sfootball team. Worn by players, it links this aesthetic to their performance and the pride and support it generates. Worn by fans, it expresses an allegiance to specifically the England Women’s team. Furthermore, it allows for a differentiation between the men’s and women’s games.

While perhaps, in an ideal world, there would be no distinction between the two, in reality the sports have developed in different ways. Men’s football is highly professionalized and skilful, but has also seen large-scale organisational corruption, while enormous salaries and invasive media attention is arguably damaging to the well-being of players. Women’s football aims to take a more holistic approach. At a talk I recently attended at the British Library, a representative of the F.A. suggested that there are structures in place to support female players, providing financial advice, career support and mental health provision, issues that she believes were historically overlooked in themen’s sport. Fans present at the same talk suggested that the sport itself had its own distinctive andpositive attributes, describing it as ‘football like it used to be’. Other fans praised female players for the efforts they make to interact with fans and the safe, friendly atmosphere of the crowds. The visually distinctive new England strip allows both players and fans to celebrate these unique aspectsof women’s football.

England Women’s Football Team (“the Lionesses”), June 2019.

That is not to pit men and women’s football against one another. Personally, I would love in the future to see them learn from one another in order to create two equally skilful, equally holistic sporting structures. Because, for those of us who love sport, two sets of high-quality football to watch can only be better than one.

 

Bibliography/Further Reading

@lionesses Instagram account

Hargreaves, Jennifer, Heroines of Sport: The Politics of Difference and Identity (London: Routledge, 2000).

Hargreaves, Jennifer, Sporting Females: Critical Issues in the History and Sociology of Women’sSports (London: Routledge, 1994).

Caudwell, Jayne, ‘Gender, Feminism and Football Studies’, Soccer and Society 12, no. 3 (2011), pp. 330-344. Accessed online via British Library.

Caudwell, Jayne, ‘Reviewing UK Football Cultures: Continuing with Gender Analyses’, Soccer and Society 12, no. 3 (2011), pp. 323-329. Accessed online via British Library.

“Do You Mind If I Borrow…”: The Fun and Significance of Sharing Clothes

Recent theoretical discourse has sought to emphasise the emotional significance of dress, with many studies – academic and anecdotal – highlighting how the tactile and visual nature of clothing, and its prominence in our everyday lives, can imbue clothing with deep emotional resonance and also can be an important part of the human bonding experience. This idea of connecting through clothing resonated with me as my brother, Zak, and I now regularly exchange items of clothing, and always have a comment ready (usually, though not always, complimentary) on one another’s outfits. We have similar tastes, both favouring bright colours and bold patterns, and find most of our outfits in charity shops or (cheap) vintage markets.

Zak and I both chose some of our favourite garments from each other’s wardrobes, styling them with our own clothes. He chose two of my (many) jumpsuits and a pair of high-waisted trousers that he has always loved the colour of – and annoyingly suit him better than they suit me! I chose some of Zak’s outfits outright – you can’t go wrong with jeans and a t-shirt! – and also incorporated one of his favourite jumpers into one of my usual outfits.

Daisy
Zak

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our discussions on clothing while taking the photos for this blog highlighted to me some interesting distinctions in the kinds of garments currently designed for men compared to those for women. My brother has mentioned that the clothing he sees for men in high street shops is often less colourful and daring than the clothing available to women, while I feel that some of the clothing marketed at women is impractical; as highlighted by the ongoing debate on why women’s clothing often comes without the useful addition of functional pockets.

 

Furthermore, the filtering of clothing styles through the rigid wall of traditional gender boundaries can sometimes seem somewhat one sided. Sarah Wilson has argued that the adoption of traditionally ‘masculine’ garments, such as trousers, by women in the 1920s initially resulted in a popular ‘hysteria’ in response to this supposed transgression of gender boundaries. This raised the point in my mind that while it now is generally accepted for women to wear conventionally ‘masculine’ clothing – I can easily incorporate Zak’s t-shirts or trousers into my outfit – it is still seen as less socially acceptable for men to wear ‘feminine’ garments or cuts. Additionally, I’m not sure if it’s the case that the cut of women’s clothing doesn’t flatter the male body shape, or that we are still culturally programmed to see men in women’s clothing as jarring, but some of my more ‘feminine’ clothing, such as dresses or flared trousers (not shown here), really didn’t seem to suit Zak at all. By sharing clothes with one another, and experimenting with some outfits that we wouldn’t necessarily try on in a shop changing room, we thought more closely about the clothes we choose to wear and why. As such, while swapping clothes with my brother is primarily a fun and playful bonding experience, I also now see it as an interesting exploration of the gender boundaries which have come to define sartorial norms.

 

 

In her image: the documentation of the Neue Frau in German Weimar-era lesbian magazines

I came across these magazines when researching the topic of my most recent written assessment. By now, I have carried an intense fascination with the sexual socio-political climate of the Weimar Republic for a couple of years. On the course ‘Reassembling Modernism: Artists’ Networks in Europe 1909-1960’ as an undergraduate, I was introduced to Weimar culture when we examined the Neue Frau in the Berlin of the 1920s. It was a text by Maria Makela entitled ‘New women, new men, new objectivity’, however, that truly peaked my interest in the subject. 

‘The Latest Acquisition of the Masculine Woman – the Tuxedo’, Das Magazin, August 1926, addition to image made by the author

This year, I revisited the Neue Frau and explored her myth and ideological potential whilst considering her as a phenomenon of cosmopolitanism—in relation to class, gender and violence in the city. Makela’s essay was my starting point, and these magazines gave me an example of how the Neue Frau’s multi-faceted identity was utilised to develop a progressive symbol of gender subversion. The Neue Frau/neue frauen is the German adaptation of the New Woman. The New Woman was a female figure, a new gender type, who emerged in modern society towards the end of the nineteenth century, becoming a popularised construct in the first half of the twentieth century. 

‘What do you say about Fräulein Mia?’, Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung, November 1927, additions to image made by the author

The Neue Frau was a fashionable woman who adopted traditionally heteronormative, ‘masculine’ traits within her dress identity to disassociate herself from the pre-WWI woman. Her image epitomised modern femininity, but it also effectively mirrored how interwar Germany perceived itself to be under cultural threat from the masculinisation of a ‘New’ generation of emancipated women. In the pages of queer publications, however, the Neue Frau’s image was represented without ridicule or cynicism. It was interesting to reconfigure my own perception of her image after months of aligning it with the caricatured parody that male, Neue Sachlichkeit artists had painted her to be.

Otto Dix, Portrait of the journalist Sylvia von Harden, 1926, oil and tempera on wood: 47¼ x 31½ in (120 × 80 cm), additions to image made by the author

In the case of the women depicted in Liebende Frauen (1927-1930), the tensions felt nationwide between opposing genders are made redundant. At the time of the1929/30 issue, Liebende Frauen was one of two lesbian magazines in Berlin; the other, the more widely-known Die Freundin (The Girlfriend: Journal for Ideal Friendship between Women) had been in circulation since 1924. Art historian Heike Schader notes that Liebende Frauen is most likely a reprint of the magazine Frauenliebe (Women Love); which in turn was renamed Garçonne in 1930.

Liebende Frauen: Wochenschrift des ‘Deutschen Freundschafts-Verbandes’ Vol. 4, no.13, (1929), Berlin, Spinnboden—Lesbenarchiv und Bibliothek, Berlin, additions to image made by the author

In the above image, a cover dated 1929, the female subject sports a bubikopf—a haircut strongly associated with the Neue Frau, which translates directly to ‘boy’s head’ and was reconfigured into numerous variations, such as the shortened and smoothed ‘Eton crop’, similar to that of Louise Brooks’ Lulu in Pandora’s Box. The overlapping strings of pearl necklaces that decorate her neck, the draped cut of her neckline and way in which her face is coquettishly turned from the camera’s gaze tells the reader that this Neue Frau, like Brooks’ Lulu—will not apologise for claiming her own sexuality. This cover presents allure and a conscious play on the provocation of desires, celebrating the figure of the New Woman by virtue of her dress and demeanour.

These covers are truly wonderful examples of how the New Woman, specifically the homosexual New Woman, found alternative means of how her image could be disseminated in popular culture via ways less damaging to her personhood. Each cover is a portal into an important history for women, and they each contribute to the Neue Frau as a social construct: one that was repeatedly well-documented until the Weimar Republic’s fall.  

To see more of these wonderful covers, go to the Spinnboden Lesbenarchiv und Bibliothek, Berlin’s online archives: www.meta-katalog.eu 

Additionally, there are lots of many interesting texts covering the Neue Frau’s image, such as: 

  • Women in the Metropolis: Gender and Modernity in Weimar Culture by Katherina von Ankum 
  • Women in German History: From Bourgeois Emancipation to Sexual Liberation by Ute Frevert
  • Women in Weimar Fashion: Discourses in German Culture, 1918-1933 by Mila Ganeva 
  • The New Woman International by Elizabeth Otto and Vanessa Rocco
  • Visions of the “Neue Frau”: Women and the Visual Arts in Weimar Germany by Marsha Meskimmon
  • The Masculine Woman in Weimar Germany by Katie Sutton 

Sources
Maria Makela, “New Women, New Men, New Objectivity” in New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic 1919-1933
Heike Schader, ‘Liebende Frauen’
Katie Sutton, ‘The Masculinisation of Woman’ in The Masculine Woman in Weimar Germany

Fashioning Femininity (and Making Masculinity) in the Post-War Era

When we think about the twenty years immediately following the Second World War in Britain, what images instantly spring to mind? Smiling women in glamorous dresses, feather duster in hand, happily making home for hardworking husbands and clean, grinning children. This construct of woman as a glamorous housewife in the 1950s is one of the most well-known images in the modern consciousness. Whatever our opinions of it, it is all-pervasive; on posters, cards and throughout the media. But how did clothing, and its depiction in advertising, feed into these constructs of femininity? And how was masculinity constructed alongside and in relation to this?

Advert for Wolsey, Woman’s Own, Week Ending 19th March 1960, p.20

Domesticity was expressed in advertising as being a woman’s ‘job’. A Wolsey advert constructs the role of ‘man’ as breadwinner and ‘woman’ as homemaker and domestic purchaser as being objective facts. The advert is aimed at presumably female ‘fiancées’, stating: ‘Sooner or later… you will find yourself buying his socks. This is the job that will probably be yours from “I will” onwards’. Through this single garment of the sock the assumed roles of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are expressed. ‘Woman’ here is constructed as residing within the domestic sphere, with mundane, everyday garments such as the sock being part of her everyday concerns. Furthermore, ‘man’ is presented here as being domestically incapable, unable to purchase even his own socks. His sharp suit, the uniform of the masculine breadwinner, further constructs him as residing in the public, rather than domestic, sphere.

Advert for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Woman’s Own, Week Ending 3rd September 1960

While a woman’s concerns may have been mundane and domestic, her appearance certainly wasn’t. Countless advertisements show women in glamorous, flattering garments even while in the home. One advert for Kellogg’s depicts the idealised couple at the breakfast table. While the man is dressed in a suit for a day of work in the economic sphere, the woman is dressed in a house coat for her day of work in the domestic sphere. Her beautifully patterned house coat and perfectly styled hair and make-up suggest that being attractive is also an integral part of her role as housewife. Similarly, in an advert for Batchelors Peas, the mother is dressed very glamorously for a casual dinner-time. She is fully made up with red lipstick, ornate earrings and colourful clothing. Her garments are soft and flowing, following the idealised lines of the hourglass figure. She cuts a very bright figure against the father, who again wears the masculine staple of the suit.

Advert for Batchelors Peas, Woman, Week Ending 17th July 1955

By analysing adverts from this period, we observe a strictly traditional representation of ‘woman’; as beauty, housewife and mother. Meanwhile ‘man’ is constructed, equally traditionally, as breadwinner. These images show us a snapshot in history at a time in which advertisements were both constructing and reinforcing real-life ideals. We see domestic ‘woman’ and working ‘man’ idealised as safe, predictable constants in a world that was rapidly changing. These images depict the moment before the liberation movements of the 1960s changed the world, and particularly the female experience, beyond all recognition.

Fashioning the Dangerous Woman in ‘Killing Eve’

Villanelle wearing a Molly Goddard dress. Costume design by Phoebe de Gaye. BBC America/Sid Gentle Films, 2018.

Killing Eve’s female-led approach to the spy thriller reverses a number of gender stereotypes. However, reversing a stereotype is not always the same as challenging it, and one which the series struggles to challenge is the trope of the dangerously fashionable woman.

In Killing Eve, this woman takes the form of sharply dressed assassin, Villanelle. Her passion for her work is matched only by her passion for designer clothes, and she stalks the streets of Europe in an array of the latest fashions. A hit in Tuscany requires a lace-trimmed Burberry dress, for example, while one in Bulgaria calls for a satin Miu Miu bomber jacket. In Berlin, she dons a frilly JW Anderson top to hide in plain sight as she spies on MI5 agents, before changing into a brocade Dries van Noten suit to stab one of them. Then, of course, there is the striking Molly Goddard dress and Balenciaga boots ensemble that she wears to visit her psychiatrist in Paris. Villanelle’s fashionable clothes are both her tactical wear and markers of her confident, fearless character.

Crucially, Villanelle’s fashionable appearance also contrasts her with Eve, the unassuming MI5 agent tasked with hunting her down. Eve favours ill-fitting suits and anoraks, and is so decidedly unfashionable that Villanelle feels compelled to send her a selection of designer clothes. Eve cannot let herself enjoy them, though, for they represent all that she feels she is not. Over the course of the series, her unfashionable appearance thus becomes associated with a certain rationality and self-control, thereby distancing her from Villanelle both visually and characteristically. As such, Villanelle’s fashion sense might appear confident and fearless in and of itself, but it can also be read as unruly and ostentatious when contrasted with Eve’s appearance.

Eve. Costume design by Phoebe de Gaye. BBC America/Sid Gentle Films, 2018.

In some respects, it is exciting to see a woman as fashionable as Villanelle on screen. Fashion and costume are so often viewed as mutually exclusive, but Villanelle’s costumes show how fashion can be utilised in costume design without appearing distracting. Furthermore, it is unusual for a female character to embrace fashion without fear of being perceived as frivolous or overly feminine, and to completely own her appearance. In turn, Villanelle’s costumes are refreshing because they allow both her and the viewer to unashamedly indulge in fashion.

However, this also makes it all the more frustrating that Killing Eve then associates Villanelle’s fashionable appearance with wrongdoing, for the trope of the dangerously fashionable woman is as old as the moving image itself. More often than not, the fashionable woman is also confident and assertive, independent and liberated, and her fashion sense, as a visible manifestation of modernity and change, comes to symbolise these characteristics. There is a reason that the vamp always wears a short dress and bobbed hair, and that the femme fatale has a fondness for shoulder pads and red lipstick; her fashion sense others her, often prefiguring her downfall.

Villanelle’s fate may not yet be known, but positioning her as the dangerously fashionable woman nonetheless renders her character as dated as it is enjoyable. Might the characterisation of Killing Eve’s leads feel different, perhaps, if Eve were the fashionable one?

Barbette

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Decades before gender studies questioned the stability of existing notions of sex and identity, Barbette – born Vander Clyde – transcended ‘male’ and ‘female’ to embody beauty as a performance beyond binary definitions.  In the 1920s, he evolved a circus act that defied expectations. Born in Texas, and living in Paris, he was an aerialist, gliding above the audience’s heads on a trapeze, but with an extra element of theatricality  – he wore drag, which he then removed as the finale of the spectacle – challenging spectators to question what they had perceived and to rethink their perceptions.

His body, and the way he spectacularised it through costume, re-created him as a modernist artwork. Jean Cocteau was enthralled, and commissioned Man Ray to photograph him in 1926, as well as composing a literary homage to him in his essay Le Numéro Barbette of the same year.  In December 1930, pioneering magazine Vu published a photo-essay that showed his complete metamorphosis.  I found this copy in a brocante market in Nice – and was immediately enthralled by the story and the intimate images.  These detailed his masculine attire as he walked through the city streets, and then his gradual transformation as he applied makeup, wig, padding and gown to become Barbette – a name chosen for its very ambiguity.

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He used his own gender dissonance to seduce his audience – his movements and gestures, were feminine, and yet simultaneously masculine – his body muscled and athletic. His act was equally fluid – graceful yet a feat of strength.

He acknowledged Shakespeare’s use of male actors for female roles as inspiration and spoke of the ‘strange beauty’ both they and he embodied. He queered expectations and showed how ineffectual binary gender ideals are – mere cultural props that he redeployed to produce an enticing ‘inbetweeness.’

06

His avant-garde performances were a contradictory triumph of transcendence, and it is important to contextualise this within the vibrant world of interwar cabaret and performance in major cities. Barbette’s modernism was at one with contemporary challenges to definitions of art and beauty, and went further with his defiantly indefinable sense of selfhood.

07

Although wider interwar society was not in step with his forward looking queerness, he is an important figure and role model. Indeed, he was instrumental in one of the best known pop cultural instances of cross-dressing – in later life he coached Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis for their roles in Some Like It Hot (1959).

Sources:

http://asitoughttobe.com/2011/06/02/the-surreal-sex-of-beauty-jean-cocteau-and-man-ray%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%9Cle-numero-barbette%E2%80%9D/