After writing The Zsa Zsa Zsu, I started thinking about fashion and to what extent the role clothing and costume play in attraction. Again, I use my love of women’s magazines. Glamour.com has a column called “guy pretty vs. girl pretty,” which brings up the old question—do women dress to impress men or other women? I often lean towards impressing other women and I remember asking a guy in truth or dare in high school what kind of girl he liked, fashion wise; he said a laid back girl in sweats. Yet, women all around the world, past and present, don crazy outfits to fit in with current fashions.
While I don’t actively dress based on what I think guys like on a regular basis, I have been known to wear low-cut shirts while seeing a “boob guy.” Especially when feeling frisky. But I frequently see other women wearing short skirts or low-cut tops, sometimes both, and often times in inappropriate settings (i.e. museum on a Sunday afternoon). I’m assuming this style of dress is to attract men, because the amount of cleavage on display is distracting even to me!
I was at the MFA when I started thinking about the history of fashion. At the time, I was pretty convinced man-attracting-fashion was a modern phenomenon. After watching The Importance of Being Earnest and looking at portraits in the museum, I thought to myself, “no man could consider that sexy!” Clothing covered everything and was incredibly intricate and fussy. It gives me a headache thinking of how women got their clothing on everyday. The women looked stiff and hard; if you tried to hug or touch them, you’d get hurt.
Then, after reading The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and using my brain, I realized, “duh,” Indigo, “corsets!” A conversation between Calpurnia and her grandfather explains it all: “’It’s funny,’ I said, ‘that girls have to be pretty. It’s the boys that have to be pretty in Nature. Look at the cardinal. Look at the peacock. Why is it so different with us? ‘Because in nature it is generally the female who chooses,’ he said, ‘so the male must clothe himself in his finest feathers to attract her attention. Whereas your brother gets to choose from the young ladies, so they have to do their best to catch his eye’” (Kelly, 366).
Apparently men have always had a thing for women’s curves. A friend of mine once said women’s chests remind men of buttocks, and it is a sign of fertility; hence their attraction. I suppose it’s also what distinguishes male from female on the most primitive level. The twenties are the only era, to my knowledge, that women attempted to de-emphasize their bits and bobs. Think about it, corsets push everything up, while simultaneously making bottoms look bigger by comparison to the teeny tiny waist.
So, even though women were covered from head to toe, they used fashion to draw attention to themselves—to make them stand out from the crowd. Just as women do today.