The term "unisex", a combination of uni- and sex [ ËjuËnÉªËseks ], refers to things designed to be suitable for both sexes and to a style in which men and women look and dress in a similar way. The term was first used in 1968 in Life, an American magazine that ran weekly from 1883 to 1972. The definition of "clothing" or "clothes" is described as items worn to cover the body. Therefore, "unisex clothing" is best described as clothing designed to be suitable for both sexes in order to make men and women look similar.
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Although the first use of âunisexâ as a term dates from the 1960s, it can be argued that âunisex clothingâ its first appearance dates from the late nineteenth century, as part of the âVictorian dress reformâ. It can be argued that in the nineteenth century fashionable clothing, which originated in France, reflected the dominance of traditional feminine roles. John Berger his famous statement âmen act, women appearâ can be useful to further discuss the appearance of âunisex clothingâ. Berger claims that, in Western European cultures, the role of men is considered active and that of women considered passive or, to put it differently, men observe women and women are observed by men. This asymmetry in the relationship between men and women was visualized in dress in the nineteenth century: women were more and more prescribed to fashionable clothing, clothing that disabled them to be active due to, for example, crinoline dresses that were very heavy, whereas men had the ability to be active due to their sober and simple clothing. An attempt to develop alternative feminine roles by the use of alternative clothing behavior started in England and the United States. For example, members of the womenâs movement deplored the use of corsets and sets of ponderous garments and centred their proposals of dress reform on the adoption of trousers. However, they were unable to win the support of many women outside of their own group due to the basic premise of nineteenth century ideology concerning womenâs roles in which âthe belief in fixed gender identities and enormous differences â" physical, psychological, and intellectual â" between men and womenâ was at centre. One example of this was the organized âSymposium on Dressâ in which three designs, that included either a divided skirt or trousers, were presented. These dress reform proposals were, at that time, very controversial and seen as too radical by the middle-class women, therefore, leaning more towards alienation than involvement of this potential group of supporters of the womenâs rights movement.
A more fruitful account of the recognition of non-conformist costume or dress of that time lies in the history of âalternative dressâ. The alternative dress style can be described as a âset of signs, borrowed from male clothing, that appeared sometimes singly, sometimes in combination with one another, but always associated with items of female clothing.â This alternative dress is a form of non-verbal communication and is different than the âVictorian dress reformâ (as mentioned above), being a form of verbal communication. Bicycling, for example, was a late nineteenth century sport that was not identified as a male activity. Women, therefore, were able to wear divided skirts and knee-length bloomers without having difficulties considering gender roles because this âalternative dressâ did not intend to undermine patriarchy. After a while, this and many other alternative dress examples, such as uniforms, became more effective in conveying a message than that of dress reformers, because alternative dress had more âfollowersâ in everyday life. The bicycle, therefore, can be seen as âone of the symbols of emancipationâ that has changed the attitude towards womenâs sports apparel.
Eventually, the 1960s can be considered the decade in which âunisexâ and âunisex clothingâ became widely spread. The âunisexâ trend arose in response to the youth revolution and the hippie movement of the 1960s and the womenâs liberation movement of the early 1970s. However, this trend can be considered a more recent form of the aforementioned fashionable clothing, because it confirms a traditional feminine role subservient to the masculine role given the fact that âunisex clothingâ, mostly, represents women wearing (altered) menâs clothing.
Today, a common mode of unisex clothing may be a costume made up of shirt, pants or both as these articles are considered appropriate for either gender in western society. Both men and women wear shirt and pants on regular basis in the western world and it has become quite a fashion favourite despite feminine style clothing maintaining a secure place in female fashion.
- Unisex name
- Gender role
- Gender mainstreaming
- "A Brief History of Unisex Fashion" by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, The Atlantic, Apr 14 2015