Female Dandyism; Defiance or Deference?
This study investigates women who adopted and incorporated items of male clothing at the turn of the nineteenth century Paris and London. In their interaction with both the male attire, accessories, habits and lifestyles, these women challenged the dominant Victorian discourse by embodying the key attributes of the Regency dandy such as the aloofness, cynicism, provocation, and decadence, and became subject to social exclusion due to their preferences. Even though they came from different upbringing, education, social status, and sexual orientation, the activities of these women were not isolated incidents, but suggested a collective respond to the cultural setting in which Modernism developed.
The subjects of this investigation comprise primarily of women who worked and lived in the fields of politics, literature, visual and performing arts in the context of the early feminist movement and the social, cultural, and practical involvement in different activities they have undertaken. Since the terminology did not exist to identify women in men’s-tailored clothes at that time, this endeavour requires a close reading of theories on gender and sexuality to contextualize the multiple and contradictory models of female masculinity produced by these women and their contemporaries in the turmoil of two fast-growing cities. While exploring the characteristics of dandyism and its manifestations in women who occupied the role of the dandy, this study locates female masculinities within the discourse of masculinity with its own history, characteristics and representations in this ongoing process shaped by culture and choice.
As the driving force of cultural transformation in the creation of new gender relations, the stage became the key location for the dissemination of contemporaneous fashion styles. First, with the courtesans and the male impersonators as companions to the poet, the bohemian, and the dandy, and later with the expatriate collective that found the ultimate habitat in Paris in their exploration of cultural, sexual, and personal freedom.
Through an extensive reading of documentaries, biographies, illustrations and photographs taken in studios, music halls, theatres, boulevards and avenues, this study demonstrates that the most basic assumptions on cross-dressing are not credible, when it is no longer a fleeting narrative. The adoption of men’s tailored suits as daywear by women, considered a modern uniform for the new woman, was regarded in France as revolutionary, whether they escaped from the traditional roles and societal expectations of the heterosexual world, or urged to signal sexual orientation believing themselves to have a gender identity at odds with their anatomy.
Considering that the dandy continues today in new forms, one might state that the aesthetic of the dandy is an attitude, confined neither to a historical period, to a certain place or to particular design and materials. By focusing on the concept of dandyism in the context of modernity, style, urban life, gender identity, masquerade and self-presentation, this paper reveals what constitutes the female dandy since it is not only a matter of status, but also a specific way of relating to oneself in spite of the patriarchal culture.