Category Archives: Historical

The Chanel Suit

Image courtesy of Thames & Hudson, http://www.marshallmatlock.com, 1958.

Coco Chanel is hailed as a fashion revolutionary for her many innovations to women’s fashion. Her designs were streamlined, slightly masculine, and absent of lace, frills, and other overtly feminine details relating to the “corseted silhouette” that was common of the early 20th century. One such example is the famous “Chanel suit,” worn by Marie-Helene Arnaud in the above photograph by Sante Forlano for the 1958 issue of Vogue France. 

The Chanel suit has been described as “a symbol of empowerment for the modern woman,” partly because it draws inspiration from men’s suits. However, this suggests that women can achieve liberation from gender inequality only by imitating their male counterparts, thus perpetuating the idea of male superiority.

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Bonny and Read

“Ann Bonny and Mary Read convicted of piracy,” Image courtesy of Bridgeman Berlin, myartprints.com, c. 18th century.

Bonny and Read were two of the most famous and few female pirates, sailing the high seas during the Golden Age of Piracy in the 18th century. In Villains of All NationsMarcus Rediker described the cross-dressing efforts of Bonny and Read, as well as other women, as attempts “to disguise themselves and enter worlds dominated by men.” According to court testimonies, the two female pirates “wore male attire during a chase or engagement, when a show of ‘manpower’ might help to intimidate their prey and force a quick surrender,” but otherwise wore female clothes in their daily routine.

Bonny and Read, despite their notoriety and capability as pirates, were still victims of gender inequality and discrimination. Regardless of their weaponry and their skill with them, the women were considered most fearsome and dangerous when dressed in men’s clothing and thus distanced from their true gender. Mary Read even went so far as to categorize herself as a “[man] of courage” to assert her capability as a seafarer.