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The Peacock's Tail

If you were able to time-travel back in to the 17th and 18th centuries in the British colonies in America, many aspects of people's dress would probably surprise you. One of the big surprises would be that men's clothes were every bit as fancy and as fussy as women's clothes.

Women were no more likely than men to wear bright colors, fancy buttons and buckles, wigs, embroidery, or ruffles. Men who could afford it and who were free from the dirt and sweat of physical labor wore satin or velvet waistcoats richly decorated with embroidery or brocade; the waistcoats might be fastened with buttons made of gold, silver, and precious stones. Above the waistcoat they might wear a ruffled linen collar decorated with lace. In the late 1600's, gentlemen also began wearing tightly curled, powdered wigs.
Should men wear glamorous clothing?

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What about our male friends in Niger, the Wodaabe, who spend hours applying make-up and heavy jewelry in order to compete for womanly affections? Those yards and yards of cowrie shells and feathered headdresses can't be very easy to walk in. Or, since we're speaking of shoes, what about the ridiculous, two-foot-long poulaines that men wore during the 14th century? (Poulaines, which Robinson calls "phallic-shaped," were shoes with long, pointed toes that curled at the end. The points ranged from six inches for a commoner up to two feet for a prince.)

Or what about the 12-inch geta that Japanese Emperor Hirohito wore for his 1926 coronation?

First to wear High Heels, Silk Stockings and "Foundations"? Men, of course.

In 1558 Henry II wore silk stockings to his sister's wedding in England, starting the silk stocking fad in that country.

High Heels were inspired by Louis XIII of France. The first ones were red and elevated by him to the "uncomfortable height of three inches".

Louis XVI put jewels into his high heels.

Corsets with curved steel rods encased first men, then women, about the 16th century. The stiffened bodice came into fashion during the Elizabethan period. Stuffed hips, achieved by padding the colorful doublets worn by men, came into vogue after the age of chivalry and Sir Walter Raleigh began.

Men were the leaders during the lace and ruffles period. They wore shirts with ruffles, sleeves with lace cuffs and carried perfumed handkerchiefs.

But it was during the French Revolution that simpleness in clothes replaced the elaborate designs.

We have been told

that the male is more courageous, more aggressive, more adventurous, more individualistic, more creative, more ready to take the initiative. The female we think of as the more timid, the more regimented, etc.

"In the matter of our fashions we find that it is the male in our society who is the timid, cautious, sheeplike one, the female who is the brave, creative, adventurous individualist.

"Where a woman glories in being the first wear something exotic, striking, different, the man is fearful of wearing anything that other men aren't wearing."

"Coming into our own history, right up to an including the time of our founding fathers, male vanity flourished.

"If you now think it feminine for a man to have a passion for wearing silks, laces, colorful brocades, and lavish velvets, remember that George Washington and his contemporaries didn't think so.

"Many of our colonial leaders made a rush for the draper's when a new shipment of brocades came in and spent more for a fancy vest than all but a few men now pay for a suit.

"They spent hours at hairdressers' or wigmakers', slicking themselves up for a big party.

"They were not above adding a touch a paint to their cheeks, rouge to their lips, and liberal sprinkling of heavy perfume over their bodies.

"Men's attire continues to be more lavish than women's in many parts of the world where European garb and customs do not prevail. In almost any primitive tribe, anywhere, the women are put completely in the shade on all formal occasions by the warriors and chieftains, who reserve for themselves the fanciest costumes and who outdo any woman you know in the extremes and pains ... they take to look stylish, striking, and beautiful by their standards."

"Today our men are in a phase (by no means to be considered permanent) in which not only the emphasis on simplicity, but the herd psychology, the fear of going too far afield from other men in dress, keeps men's fashions severely in check."

Amram Scheinfeld

"Another French industry that was almost destroyed by the Revolution was that of lace-making. Thirty factories closed and many of the lace-makers emigrated, chiefly to Belgium. After Napoleon became emperor of France he tried to revive the use of lace, for the sake of the lace industry. Court dress in France became more formal again. ... Gentlemen were required to wear lace frills at their wrists and lace ends to their cravats. Ladies sometimes wore court dresses made entirely of lace. But the old enthusiasm for it was dead."

"For centuries men's clothes had been just as fantastic and extravagant in every way as those of women -- and in some periods a great deal more so. No fabric, color, or decoration was worn by women that was not also worn by men. But now all this was changing. For the first time silks and satins, laces and ribbons, feathers, jewels and delicate colors were considered unmanly. From this time -- the end of the 18th century -- onwards men's clothes became steadily more and more sombre, and 'fashion' became a subject in which only women were supposed to be interested."

Agnes Allen

"The immediate effects of the French Revolution in 1789 were to make the wearing of fine clothing a dangerous thing. The nobility and wealthy classes ... were looked upon by the mobs of Paris as the enemies of society, and there was no hesitation in tearing them to pieces or sending them to the guillotine. ... Those who stayed disguised themselves by wearing the simplest and poorest clothing for a period of several years."

"The fashion industries went to pieces. The demoralization was ... complete."

"Prior to the French Revolution ... men's clothing was as fancy and as colorful as the clothing of women.

"The garments used in society and on formal occasions were made out of the same material as women's clothing, that is, of silks, satins, and velvets as well as the finer materials of cotton which were rapidly coming into use in western Europe in the latter part of the 18th century.

"Furthermore, these garments were, according to the fashions, heavily embroidered or liberally trimmed with lace and decorated with multitudes of buttons and buttonholes, braids and other materials."

"The colors of these garments were usually vivid."

"In many respects the apparel of men was very similar to that of women. In the first place ... they used the same materials and the same colors.

"Both wore long hair, used hair powder, face powder, paints, and even patches for decoration of the face. ... Men were even experts in what are now known as feminine accomplishments such as crocheting, embroidering, and sewing."

Paul H. Nystrom

"The political organization ... of the Tuareg was hierarchical. ... A major distinction of the nobility was that its menfolk were veiled, never revealing their faces below the eyes."

For many years both men and women wore silk stockings.

Richard Oliver and J. D. Fage

The present "feminization" of the masculine image, which is present not only in the most seducing and luxurious garments, but also in the frivolous styling used on the catwalks, is not something new. Western society has already witnessed this phenomenon at other times.

During the Old Regimen, before the French Revolution, men wore as many colors, ornaments and embroidery as women, even surpassing them at certain times. The kingdom of Louis XIV brought with it a true paroxysm of male ornamentation. The man in the court of that time used make-up, wore wigs and embroidery-covered garments, as well as bows and gems in the full spectrum of colors. After the bourgeois revolutions, this situation changed and the sexual roles that have defined customs until now were created.

Wagner's Muse: Silk and Satin

He could not bear to have any coarse material against his skin, and for many years dressed in silk or satin underwear. During his later years, including the period during which he was working on the score of Parsifal, Wagner's working environment too was draped in silks and satins, in his favourite colours, and soaked in perfume. It was in these surroundings of extravagant sensuousness that the music of Parsifal, a work that apparently celebrates renunciation and chastity, was brought into the world. The music of Parsifal was to be at the furthest remove possible from that of the Ring, he told Cosima: the music was to have the softness and shimmer of silk, like cloud-layers that keep separating and combining again. Wagner's surviving letters include several in which he give instructions for the purchase of fabrics and perfumes. During the composition of Parsifal, many of these errands were performed by Judith Gautier.

I saw a picture in an encyclopedia of an Ibitoe, a wasp-waisted boy of New Guinea. It said above all things, these people admired a well-spiked nose and a small waist. So I found a belt, and in secret, and at night, I would put this wide belt on and pull it tight. I would become the Ibitoe. From wearing the belt I got sensations and found I could do shifts in consciousness, all of which played into my earlier experiences with lucid daydreaming and trancing.
Corset mania runs in hundred year cycles. Every hundred years there's a corset cycle and it's happened for 400 years in a row now, and there's no reason for it to stop. The last corset mania reached it's peak about 1890. The one before that was 1790. I traced all of this. And you reach extremes in corseting, this extreme in fashion, at the end of each century.

I got a job as a copy writer at Ampex corporation and that started a 27 year career in high tech advertising. Then I worked in a number of agencies over on the peninsula and in Silicon Valley and finally had my own agency for 17 years.

I'm actually going to be 67 years old. I decided two years ago that I'm going to get younger instead of older, and it seems to be working. I can be kind of a gender bender at times; I cross dress sometimes, I go out into public. I can wear the highest of high heels and have the smallest of waists going down the streets.