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Hustvedt used her experience in wearing a corset as part of her wardrobe as an extra in a movie she was part of, to elaborate on the factors that fashion plays in society. Fashion is used to distinguish feminine and masculine, define social status and express one’s desired image. Using fashion to differentiate between femininity and masculinity is as basic a function as its purpose of coverage or protection.
Hustvedt’s example of the wardrobe and lack of hair of the Buddhist monks and nuns, prove how important fashion is in defining gender.
“Had they all stripped naked and stood together, the difference between them would have been ridiculously small, would have been no more nor less than what the difference truly is – genital variation and a few secondary sexual characteristics in the chest and hips” (Hustvedt 446). A corset is a great article of clothing to use as an example of how fashion accentuates gender. It creates an hour glass figure which emphasizes a women’s bust and hips.
“The corset helped to create a notion of femininity, and the lines it produced have gone in and out of fashion ever since” (Hustvedt 448). Fashion is also a way for people to express their social ranking or status. Hustvedt used the hoop skirt and petticoat she wore as an extra in a film as an example of how even in 1860 fashion was a crucial expression of one’s social class. The fact that these garments restricted a lot of bodily movement was a way to show that a woman wearing this was not the type of women you would find doing lower class duties such as scrubbing the floor, or tending to the garden.
“If you’re wearing one, it’s a sign that during the day you are never on your knees. …
The hoop was a sign of class; its restriction meant luxury” (Hustvedt 448) Fashion is a way for one to express their personalities or to portray an image of what they want people to see them as. “Clothes give us insight into culture and its wishes, and into individuals and their desires. More than who you are, clothes articulate what you want to be” (Hustvedt 448). Fashion is also society’s way of categorizing people, a way to judge a book by its cover if it were. Hustvedt’s story of the experience she had walking down the streets of New York is a prime example of profiling someone based on their attire. Even though she believed she was portraying an image of femininity, her clothes combined with her height gave off the complete opposite vibe to the passing stranger. “The man had mistaken me for a transvestite.
The experience, both comic and sad, gave me a sudden insight into the venom that appearances can produce, not to speak of the often hazy line between femininity and its parodic double” (Hustvedt 449). Fashion has become a key factor in society. Clothing has more applications than its fundamental purposes. It empowers people to create personas, accentuate sexuality and emphasize societal standings. “In the end, wearing clothes is an act of the imagination, an invention of self, a fiction” (Hustvedt 450).
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