Fashion And Corporate Culture

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Fashion and Corporate Culture

Fashion and Corporate Culture

Developments in fashion (the production, consumption, and display of dress for social purposes, typically among people with disposable wealth) have been closely related to changing constructions of masculinity in the United States. In all human societies, dress is one of the most important indicators of gender identity and difference in daily social interaction. In American society as in many others, clothing has been used to accentuate gender distinctions, uphold gender hierarchies, and convey male social and economic power.

In the patriarchal society of colonial America, as in Europe, where male authority was firmly entrenched, fashion was less attentive to gender distinctions. Elite men and women alike wore lace, rich velvets, elaborate wigs, fancy hats, powders, and rouges. But with the onset of economic and political modernization in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, particularly industrialization, democratization, and the growth of national markets, men of the emerging middle class sought to express their male authority through fashion. Anxious to accentuate gender distinctions in their dress, men came to view the adornments worn by their predecessors as feminine, and they no longer wore them.

As the adult, white, middle-class male became increasingly defined as a breadwinner, an expanding consumer economy provided him with a somber uniform—a plain, dark, three-piece suit—that represented hard work, thrift, sobriety, and economic advancement. During the 1840s the business suit became institutionalized, reflecting the new masculine ideal of “solid integrity and economic reliability” (Langner, 191). According to nineteenth-century gender dictates, men's dress served practical rather than decorative purposes, and fashion-conscious men appeared to undermine accepted notions of men as workers and providers by entering the “feminine” realm of sensuality, adornment, and consumption. Yet men evidently remained interested in stylistic flourishes. The author Harriet Beecher Stowe noted in 1865 that men's clothes, like women's apparel, “have as many fine, invisible points of fashion, and their fashions change quite as often; and they have as many knick-knacks with their studs and their sleeve-buttons and waistcoat buttons, their scarves and scarf-pins, their watch-chains and seals and sealrings” (Stowe, 174).

By the late nineteenth century, many middle-class men feared that industrialization, urbanization, and the growth of white-collar office work produced overcivilization and feminization. In response, they increasingly looked to the business suit to assert an image of masculine strength and power. Most men adopted the outfit, and those that did not risked being seen as unattractive, unmanly, or effeminate. Despite variations over subsequent decades, the suit remained a staple in defining middle-class men's economic roles and identities through the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century. Meanwhile, many working-class men considered the suit to be a symbol of genteel effeminacy, and they rejected it as not being compatible with their identities as laborers.

During the twentieth century, male fashion and its relation to masculinity were increasingly shaped by three important developments: (1) the expansion of leisure activity, particularly sports, in male experience and identity; (2) the growing importance of body-centered ideals of manliness; and (3) the ...
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