The Gift Economy, Anarchism and Strategies for Change
Terry Leahy's website
A Little Bit Pinker: Human Nature and Sociology
Bringing The Body Back: The New Opening To Biology In Sociology
Ecofeminism Part One: Different Positions within Ecofeminism
Ecofeminism Part Two: Gender and Environment in Culture and Politics Today (Part A)
Ecofeminism Part Two: Gender and Environment in Culture and Politics Today (Part B)
Ruling Class Men: Money, Sex, Power
Women's Responses to Environmental Issues (Long Version)
Women's Responses to Environmental Issues (Short Version)
Second Wave Feminism - The Opening Debates
Second Wave Feminism - Since the Mid-Seventies
Lecture: Radway's approach to Romance Novels
Lecture: Soap Operas and Feminism
Lecture: Is Xena a Feminist Heroine?
Lecture: Walkerdine on Rocky
Lecture: Feminist Arguments Against Pornography
Lecture: What is Conservative / Respectable / High Status Dress?
Lecture: The Debate About Madonna
Lecture: Popular Media as Patriarchal Ideology
Lecture: What is Conservative / Respectable / High Status Dress?

Colours — grey , black, navy, white etc.

Fabrics — practical or expensive fabrics. Natural fibres. Leather, silk, wool, cotton.

Styles — styles are regarded as timeless and unchanging; i.e. nothing that too obviously suggests a current fashion.

Expense and status markers — brand names associated with expensive brands, costly clothes.

Cleanliness. No stains etc.


New garments, at least nothing that strongly indicates wear.

No obvious sexual display.

What are the discourses that govern this mode of fashion?

Puritanism — sober colours, practical dress, cleanliness, tidyness, not too much overt display (of wealth, luxury or sexuality).

The display of wealth — contradictorily, the styles and clothes must indicate wealth — handmade or expensive brands, expensive natural fabrics, gold and jewellery, clothes that need to be ironed and carefully looked after to achieve the desired effect.


Gender in Dress — i.e. Patriarchal Dress Codes For Gender.

{Again, get the students to construct this table while you write it on the board


Sensible, pragmatic fabrics


Flat shoes

"Sensible" colours

Buttons one rhs

No jewellery or discreet

No make-up

Hair short, not too fluffy

Not a sexual object

Not concerned with fashion — timeless styles

Can be a bit untidy

Deodorant permitted but not perfume

Glasses OK

No nail polish



Fanciful, impractical fabrics.

Pants, skirts, stockings

High heels or flat

Loud colours or sensible

Buttons on lhs

Lots of jewellery permitted

Make up or not

Long, dyed or fluffy

A sexual object or not

Fanciful and changing styles

Tidy, always careful about clothes

Perfume or not

No glasses

Nail polish or not

Can be impractical

What are the discourses that animate this gender division?

Women are either/ or — men cannot wear the styles associated with women but the opposite is permitted. Marks the "masculine" as the norm from which women depart. It is shameful for men to be considered effeminate. Also, femininity is marked by the most subtle and minor style indicators — such as buttons - so it is very hard for a woman actually to wear a totally butch outfit and even one or two indicators are enough to signify femininity.

Puritanism is the governing code for men’s dress in the sense that it is meant to indicate adherence to the puritan values of hard work, humility (i.e. no vanity), sexual restraint and so on — through colour, fabric, fashion and so forth. In other words, with puritanism comes a gendered division of labour in fashion:

Men represent the puritan virtues in their activity as workers.

Women represent the display of wealth generated by their husband’s hard work. So the way they dress is meant to suggest that they live the kind of idle domestic existence that their husband’s hard work and puritan virtue makes possible. Their role is to act to conspicuously consume their husband’s wealth.

There is a contradiction for women in relationship to sexuality. On the one hand, within the context of puritanism, sexual display is not permitted. Within the gendered division of labour established in puritan societies women are responsible for containing men’s sexual desire but are not seen as actively desiring sex. So the implication of this is that women should not display sexuality in accordance with a generalized prohibition on sexual display. Particularly as mothers, their role is to police men’s sexuality.

On the other hand, women’s role is to display their husband’s wealth, status and hard work by appearing as a luxury object — women’s role in conspicuous consumption. In the context of sexuality this means they are expected to demonstrate their husband’s status by showing how desirable they are.

When single, women are expected to attract a husband by demonstrating desirability. In other words, to attain the state of marriage, which is respectable for women, they have to appear desirable when single.

This contradiction leads to endless dilemmas about how much sexuality to reveal. The discourse of puritanism, the discourse of women as objects of conspicuous consumption and the discourse of women as sexual objects, have different implications for women in terms of sexual display and dress.

Some Factors that Act in Opposition to the Dominant Codes of Respectability and Gender in Dress.

Consumerism. In the late capitalist period the puritan discourse is under attack because of the new emphasis on the purchase of luxury goods — which is associated with consumerist display and sexuality for both men and women. In other words, the capitalist economy now depends on selling lots of consumer goods to people in rich countries and to do this advertisers and marketeers emphasize luxury, pleasure, leisure, sexuality, social connection. These values lie in opposition to puritan values of hard work, thrift, individualism and so on. In dress, consumerism translates as loud colours, sexual display, the display of wealth, extravagant fabrics, brand names, vanity, body shaping, flowers and patterns etc. There is an age difference here as young people are associated with the consumerist, "permissive" culture of the current period.

Feminism and Gender Bending. Butch dressing for women and effeminacy in dress for men, men as sexual objects of women’s gaze, gay drag, items of women’s clothing worn by men in youth resistance subcultures to shock e.g. make up, skirts, long hair.

Non Anglo Saxon Dress Codes. The puritan discourse of dress is worked out most strongly within Anglo-Saxon cultures and it could be said that it is actually the Anglo-Saxon version of puritanism. In Southern Europe, not to mention developing countries, many of these norms of the puritan dress code do not apply; it is common for men in these non-Anglo cultures to be perfectly happy about their dress expressing display, luxury, sexuality, fashion etc.

Subcultures of Resistance to Respectability. Both middle class and working class subcultures of resistance express their opposition to respectability on the terrain of dress and style e.g. rockers, bikies, westies, hippies, beatniks, punk, grunge, feminist lesbian, feral, gay male etc.






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