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Fashion

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THE GAZE

Whether we are talking about the women who love fashion, the women who do not really care about the industry, or the women who look down on fashion, they all dress for someone. Whether it is for men, women, or themselves, they all have a style and an identity.

REPRESENTATION OF WOMEN

Fashion is meaningful. It is about communication, and has become a cultural phenomenon. It is a way for the young and the old, the women and the men of every religion, social class, ethnicity, and culture to express themselves and show their true self. Ann Demeulemeeser once said ‘Clothes are the first things we know about each other. We don’t meet each other naked.’ It is a distinct way of conveying oneself in relation with other people.

In the article Whom Do Women Dress For, the author quotes the art historian Anne Hollander in her book Seeing Through Clothes “Clothes create at least half the look of any person… Most people do care very deeply about the way their clothes look, although they may not care about fashion, do not spend much time shopping, or do not have large wardrobes or much money or leisure… people must choose their clothes, even if the choice is perpetually and even unthinkingly to reject most of what is available”.

As long as we could remember, women used to be looked at as an object of vision, a sight. ‘The male is the surveyor, and the female is surveyed.’ QUOTE. The male acts and the women appear. Just like in the movies, the men always had jobs, earnings, and power. Earnings usually spent on their families, wife, and children. The men cannot allow and tolerate a sexual objectification, however, they can make things happen, they are in control.

DO WOMEN DRESS FOR MEN?

‘Much that really used to ascribe to women as female is really due to women as a sociologically and economically defined class. Women as a distinctive theme for fashion may be explained in terms of the social psychology of the present civilization. She is the one who pleases by being what she is and doing what she does. Whether it is biology or history is primarily responsible for this need not to be decided. Women has been the kept partner in marriage and has had to prove her desirability by ceaselessly reaffirming her attractiveness as symbolized by novelty of fashion’ says Edward Sapir in Fashion.

From the 18th century European oil paintings to the 21st century film or photography, women are looked at, and are aware of it. Laura Mulvey, author of the article ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ considers two looking positions for the spectator: voyeurism and fetishism. Voyeurism, associated with sadism, relates to Freud’s ‘Scopophilia’ leading to the pleasure of looking at others as objects. Fetishism on the other hand is a way of substitution the object, which is the human body in our case, into a fetish- an object of unreasonable amount of attention that might arouse sexual desire. ‘It is a way of building up the physical beauty of the object, transforming it into something satisfying in itself’ (Mulvey, p.58). Women are constantly being turned into objects to be looked and gazed at by men, According to Freud, women “are no more than puppets” (Mulvey, p.130) and their significance lies first and foremost in their lack of penis and their star turn is to symbolize the castration which men fear.

It is apparent in these paintings that the looks the women have are a genuine exhibit for men to watch. Women are then watching themselves being looked at, and therefore are behaving like men.

Berger says, women objectify themselves ‘as a consequence of having internalized male ways of seeing the world’. They have a confident idea of what they should look like and should appear as their ideal self. It is only when the ideal conception they have in mind matches the image in the mirror that the gaze becomes rewarding rather then objectifying.

While the male gaze has been a predominant subject of writing, few authors have studied the way women look at each other. The main reason might be that writers as John Berger declares that the essential way of seeing women has not changed, because the male is considered to be the “ideal” spectator and the women is disguised to flatter him.

Nevertheless, the world has evolved since the late 20th century, and the image of the women has identically done so. Today, according to Germaine Greer, women desire to be freed from being looked at, constantly being self-conscious, and subsisting to please men with a certain charm and apparels. Women are required to move in a particular way building herself up with undergarments, make-up, hairdressing… encouraged and influenced by beauty magazines created to make women feel bad about themselves. But it is only in movies and other media that women can achieve the perfect, and the beautiful. Femininity, beauty, and the sex rivalry promoted by movies and propaganda is a sign of capitalism, a projected idea to promote the fashion enterprise. Without it, the industry would collapse.

WHO LOOKS AT WHO?

By drawing out ideas that would captivate a person’s attention and seduce him into believing that a perfect ideal does exist and is obtainable, publicity has been a prominent way of promoting women. People may watch movies, may look at photographs, and may be interested in art. But publicity is one thing that people of the 21st century cannot avoid. It is everywhere, and we see it everyday. One may remember or forget. However, just by gazing at it, it stimulates a person’s imagination and memory. It is a mean of attracting public notice by spreading certain information. In fashion for example, women are publicized as thin, beautiful and enviable. And being enviable is a way of generating glamour. She is the ‘Eternal Feminine’ (Germaine Greer). Glamour is grace, elegance, and authority. Glamour and being glamorous is a modern creation that did not exist in the day of oil painting. These women in the paintings were envied because of their beauty, and their wealth. There were very few women who could afford being painted. On the other hand, women of the last decade’s publicity look joyous and are transformed by the clothing. Clothing, being an object of envy for others longing to have it, justifies the women in the photograph loving herself. Mass media used to show that women could only be as happy and ‘successful’ if they were as feminine as the women in the picture. The conventional feminine: romanticizing motherhood, beauty, and being a housewife. 

OTHER ALTERNATIVES

Additionally, ‘women of substance’, as The Female Gaze authors would say, are beautiful and attractive to men. And, ‘selling sexuality to women is different than selling it to men’. Having Cosmopolitan or Elle magazine offering what to wear, where to wear it and how to wear it have definitely led women to dress for themselves rather then for the ‘ideal’ spectator. The women portrayed are just here in their aesthetics. They have no ego. They are beautiful in their passivity, ‘and nothing must interfere with her function as a sex object (Germaine Greer)’ ‘woman’s desire is subjugated to her image as bearer of the bleeding wound; she can only exist in relation to castration and cannot transcend it. Women must measure to their image. They must be pretty, must be thin, but with a right amount of curves, must be fit, but not too muscular in the fear of being even somewhat unfeminine. The ‘Eternal Feminine’ is predetermined by media and is increasing to an unrealistic extend. Laura Mulvey presents women in connection to the media in an equation described as ‘Women=Sexuality’. She describes women as a transformed ‘factory’ ‘painting’ their faces with make-up, and ‘sculpting’ themselves with undergarments and clothes. Yet, counter to all these ideals given by women magazines, men does not always see women as sex objects. (Germaine Greer) “That is what can be seen on a woman’s face, the presence of awareness, something which gives her different, an extra beauty. Feminine beauty becomes something all-powerful, and it’s for the reason, I believe, that all the great ideas in French are in the feminine gender.”(Mulvey, p.600)

WHAT IS REAL MAN REPELLING?

Feminism has been misinterpreted over time.  The simple idea that there could be a right type of women or a wrong time of women has forged the idea of the feminist movement. The simple thought that women should be as equal as men regardless of her looks is a sign of feminism. At the beginning of the 21st century, the TV series Sex and the City has become a social phenomenon. It portrayed the new social and political reality, celebrating women’s newfound power and sexuality. It created a world which most of modern women wished to explore- a world where feminism and sexuality co-existed.

The series focuses on four characters with different personalities. The identity and femininity of the women protagonists is mainly their self-presentation in their mode of dress, considering social situations, style preferences, and their own distinct life story. By picking out a specific outfit, women are not only exploring a style, but must act appropriately upon the way they are dressed (Why women wear what they wear). Instead of trying to achieve individuality and uniqueness, most people want to fit in and achieve a social class and standards. Most movies with male protagonists often put women on display giving them an insistent sexualized image of passiveness and glamour.

By focusing on the human form in its shape and scale, Cinema fulfills entertaining and gratifying looking.. Still, the way women dress are not always related to the glossy magazines and perfect ideals, but by memories, previous comments, and other important people’s previous likes and dislikes.

In Sex and the City, the usual gender roles have been switched. Charlotte is the most conservative and traditional of the group. She is looking for great love- her “knight in shining armor”. She is dressy and wears feminine clothes- including uniforms and adornments – portraying her status as housewife in the ‘haute bourgeoisie’.  However, she is not without allure or sexual desire.Miranda is a career-oriented woman, portrayed as being too masculine, with extremely cynical views on relationship and men. Samantha is a seductress who avoids personal involvement and satisfies her sexual desires, adopting a male attitude in her sexual activities.

Finally Carrie, the literal voice of the show, is a self-proclaimed shoe fetishist who overspends on fashion. Carrie experiments with appearance, a way in her opinion of personal expression. The adornment does not exist independently of the women, but becomes a mean of accessing and understanding her. By choosing a particular outfit, putting it on, then looking at themselves in the mirror, women are trying to find themselves. They are looking at their own image visualizing the way in which people are going to portray them. By choosing an item, women have not only the power to represent their true self, but also to impersonate whatever they are trying to symbolize and aspire to be. It gives women a way to project themselves, but also gives them susceptibility and opportunity of a judgmental and objectifying gaze. (wwwtw) By producing illusion, cinema builds the way women are looked at and creates an illusion of desire. (LV)

Women are multidimensional, whereas men are objectified and barely any of them are given a name. Kim Akass, author of Reading Sex and the City, indicates that the episodes suggests that platonic friendships rather than sexual and romantic love, and that women can be each other’s life partners in a way that men cannot.

Still, the whole series is based on a quest for men and finding the right men- of the moment rather than a life partner. Fashion, described by Sarah Jessica Parker as a ‘fifth character’, is noticeably highly important for these women, and is in a way a means of dazzling the opposite sex.

Dressing up is not just a way of distinguishing one sex from the other. It is also used for ‘the purpose of sexual enticement’ says Mary Ellen Roach in her theory The Language of Personal Adornment. She implies that ‘emphasizing body characteristics beyond what the mode in dress prescribes has often provided the additional variable necessary for enticement.’ Showing too much leg, chest, shoulder, or any other part of the body signals a women who wants to be desired, hence would seduce the opposite sex who will, at his turn, plausibly desire her.

‘Our clothes are dictated by the deepest unconscious desires of the opposite sex. Throughout the greater part of history and prehistory, men have chosen their partners in life by their attractiveness as women. Therefore women’s clothes are intended to make their wearers as attractive, as women, as possible’ says James Laver. They are governed by the seduction principle describes by Laver as ‘sex-conscious clothes.’ He makes it clear that it is a woman’s role to attract and that clothing is a fundamental element in this process. Thus, even in a female’s standpoint, inviting the male’s attention and gaze gratifies the women and authenticates her attractiveness. Just as Miuccia Prada would say ‘I’m inspired by men because I dress more to please men no? Some moments, I’m interested in sensuality and romance, and some moments I’m interested in the aspect of masculinity in all of us’.

It is rare that women pick their clothes with only their own satisfaction in mind. The author of Whom Do Women Dress For? Has interviewed many people, getting a different answer every time. Only a few of them revealed to be dressing for themselves. However, by enjoying the way they make themselves look, women are in a way dressing for their own pleasure and gaze. In the article, Dorothy Thomas, the founding director of the Human Rights Watch Women’s Project at the time, admits to the author that the only time she dresses for herself is in the bathtub. Inferring that as soon as she dresses up, she considers every other people’s viewpoint before hers. Nevertheless, not every woman is the same. In the same article, the designer Mr. Blackwell has categorized women in this article into three types: ‘the dry, the moist, and the wet.’

According to Blackwell, the ‘dry’ woman dresses for nobody. He adds that ‘She’s not even dressing for herself- She’s dressing to be covered’. The ‘dry’ women has had the same attire for years and do not see the necessity of changing it for her own satisfaction, let alone for everyone else. On the other hand, the ‘moist’ women pretends to be younger then she would ever even could dream of being. She is the so-called fashionable woman dressing up for her peers, flaunting her apparels, and enjoying her wealth. Finally, the ‘wet’ woman is a seductress and is dressing for a man. The designer Carolina Herrera reveals that ‘women who want to be noticed by other women tend to be trendy’ she indicates that these women ‘ dress with the label on the outside so everybody knows how much they paid.’ In the same article, Rachel Urquhart, the author quotes the Harvard Anthropologist Irven DeVore who once told time magazine ‘males are a vast breeding experiment run by females.’ The author paraphrases by saying that in the case that women choose their mates, they are capable of choosing outfits. She then suggests that ‘still, men can be primitive, manipulative creatures when it comes to the clothes they want their women to wear. One women told me that when she was getting to know her boyfriend, he wanted her to dress provocatively; but when they became more serious, his taste suddenly ran more to Laura Ashley.’

However, a women’s closet is much more complicated then the general average man. Subsequently, it is understandable that it would be more gratifying for the women of today, to dress for their female competitors rather then comparing their attires to how a man looks in a suit. Since man do not always appreciate a women’s outfits, her friends often intercept opinions. ‘ We look at other women to reassure ourselves that we look as good-or better. Or admire using each other as inspiration. It’s flattering when a man looks approvingly at us, but doubtingly so when a woman does. Women know.’ Confirms Urquhart.

I have designed a survey interrogating men on this brainteaser. 86.1% of the men replied that they do care about what women wear. However, they still maintained the fact that it is not the clothing and the attire that attracts men to women, but their attitude, their approach, and their personalities.  On top of that, 75% of the men believe that a women has to be feminine, even so, only 40% approve that androgyny is deal breaker. The gaze is multiple. It transforms and relocates from a woman’s ideal, to a man’s angle, or even a conscious or unconscious memory.

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