Wednesday, 13 May 2015
The masculinization of dressing up
‘Dressing-up’ has often been seen as a gendered activity. In particular, costuming – the design and creation of costumes – has been viewed as a female pursuit. However, Barbara Brownie's latest article, recently published in Clothing Cultures (vol. 2, no. 2), explores contemporary events and artefacts which frame dressing-up in contexts that are more acceptable to male audiences. As a result, a new generation of men are becoming more engaged with costume.
If costume can be justified as a functional object, particularly in that is associated with the very masculine act of combat, it can be distanced from feminine acts of vanity, and childish acts of play. Historical and military reenactment invites participants to consider clothing not as frivolous fashion items but as the tools of war, and a means of recording history. In multiplayer online games (such as World of Warcraft), the dressing and preparation of the avatar is a significant part of the player’s gaming experience. Fron et al. (2004) observe that male gamers devote a lot of time and effort into developing their costume, justified by their use of terminology such as ‘gear’ rather than ‘costume’. Such terminology suggests that the avatar’s wardrobe is primarily a matter of function rather than style. These environments introduce quantifiable measures of a costume's success - including numerical scores for effectiveness in battle scenarios, or point-by-point assessment of authenticity.
The notion of costume as functional object has also made the practice of dressing-up more acceptable to mainstream cinema audiences. Christopher Nolan took great pains to justify Bruce Wayne’s costume in his recent cinema incarnations of Batman (The Dark Knight, 2008, and its sequels), in which the Batman costume is depicted as pseudo-utilitarian. The superhero genre also presents numerous masculine characters actively involved in the design and creation of costume, including Spider Man, who is seen sewing his own suit. In the domestic space of his aunt’s home. In sci-fi and fantasy fandom, fans acquire cultural capital through the design and creation of costume. Through accuracy and authenticity in costume, a cosplayer may position himself as an authority. The organized ‘masquerades’ that take place at cosplay events add a masculine element of competition to this traditionally feminine act.
Barbara's article identifies contemporary influences on the perception of the wearing and construction of costume, particularly with regards to costume as an expression of masculine ideals. It discusses the costume as a marker of hypermasculinity, authority, or preparedness, and identifies how traditionally feminine domestic spaces and activities have been co-opted by a new generation of males. It presents domestic activities such as sewing as rites-of-passage on the path towards masculinity.