Sex and Suits

Hollander, Anne. Sex and Suits: the Evolution of Modern Dress. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1994.

Let’s clear up one thing right away. Fashion is not just the clothes you wear. Since I was none the wiser before reading this book, I am truly one of the unfashionable. I would never cut it on Rodeo Drive.
Anne Hollander takes the history of fashion, and more specifically, the history of the tailored suit, thread by thread. In the beginning clothes for men and women were equally elaborate and meaningful. It wasn’t until the late eighteenth century when a divide between the sexes started to emerge. Fashion for men became simpler while women’s wear got more complicated. Styles for women boasted of sexuality while men were more subtle and subdued. Women took advantage of male fashion and twisted it to suit their statements. As with anything, the lines are being blurred again as men find inspiration in styles designed for women. One of the most fascinating points Hollander makes about dress for man and women is the phenomenon of identical identity. She argues that if men are dressed in identical tuxedos their unique faces would stand out in relief, just as women dressed in a variety of styles would all have the same face.

Quotes I liked, “Fashion in dress is committed to risk, subversion and irregular forward movement” (p 14), and “It corresponds to one very tenacious myth about women, the same one that gave rise to the image of the mermaid, the perniciously divided female monster, a creature inherited by the gods only down to the girdle” (p 61).

Reason: The Mercedes Benz Fashion Week takes place in May

Author fact: Hollander is an art historian. Makes sense that she would write about fashion. Fashion = art sometimes.

Book trivia: Sex and Suits has great illustrations and photographs of fashion. My favorite is the back cover; a woman leaping in the air with a raised umbrella over her head and pointed toes.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter “Do the Clothes Make the Man (or the Woman)? (p 75).

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