Sex and Unisex

Sex and Unisex

Fashion, Feminism, and the Sexual Revolution
Jo B. Paoletti
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 02/27/2015
Format: Hardback 14 b&w illus., 3 tables
ISBN: 978-0-253-01596-9
Bookmark and Share

Other formats available:

Buy from Amazon


2016 AAUP Public and Secondary School Library Selection

Notorious as much for its fashion as for its music, the 1960s and 1970s produced provocative fashion trends that reflected the rising wave of gender politics and the sexual revolution. In an era when gender stereotypes were questioned and dismantled, and when the feminist and gay rights movements were gaining momentum and a voice, the fashion industry responded in kind. Designers from Paris to Hollywood imagined a future of equality and androgyny. The unisex movement affected all ages, with adult fashions trickling down to school-aged children and clothing for infants. Between 1965 and 1975, girls and women began wearing pants to school; boys enjoyed a brief "peacock revolution," sporting bold colors and patterns; and legal battles were fought over hair style and length. However, with the advent of Diane Von Furstenberg’s wrap dress and the launch of Victoria's Secret, by the mid-1980s, unisex styles were nearly completely abandoned. Jo B. Paoletti traces the trajectory of unisex fashion against the backdrop of the popular issues of the day—from contraception access to girls' participation in sports. Combing mass-market catalogs, newspaper and magazine articles, cartoons, and trade publications for signs of the fashion debates, Paoletti provides a multigenerational study of the "white space" between (or beyond) masculine and feminine.

Author Bio

Jo B. Paoletti is Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland. She is author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America (IUP, 2012).


“Tracing unisex fashion against the backdrop of the popular issues of the 1960s and 70s—from contraception access to girls' participation in sports—this absorbing book explores the white space between masculine and feminine.”

“…a very provocative and timely book!”
 — Susan B. Kaiser, Author of The Social Psychology of Children

“Jo Paoletti's groundbreaking work reveals not how clothing styles reflect gender norms, but how they actually come to constitute those norms themselves. Whether the history of color coded baby clothes, as in her earlier work, or the rise and fall of androgynous unisex clothing, Paoletti is one of our keenest and most perceptive cultural historians. In her skilled hands, the word "material" in "material culture" is not simply an adjective, but also an active verb.”
 — Michael Kimmel, author of Manhood in America

“This skillful, interdisciplinary work is important reading for scholars in many disciplines and continues a conversation Paoletti began in 2012 with Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America.”
 — The Journal of American Culture

“With interest, energy, and a tinge of nostalgia, Paoletti explores the unsettling of gender roles and identity in the late 1960s and ’70s caused by the sexual revolution and the fight for equal rights through the popular but short-lived trend in unisex clothing for men, women, and kids.”
 — Publishers Weekly

“This book is truly refreshing: an incisive, challenging look at gender, sex, and sexuality from a feminist scholar, but without a trace of academic jargon or theoretical posturing.”
 — Boston Review

“There’s a lot to agree with, and a lot to disagree with in Paoletti’s book, but it’s an ambitious, creative, and thought-provoking study that offers much to consider.”
 — Pop Matters

“The philosophical significance of physical appearance, as shown in this book, seems undeniable. Paoletti didn't invent the sociological study of fashion, but she has made an impressive contribution to it.”
 — The Gay & Lesbian Review

“Arguing through carefully selected case studies, this accessible monograph explores shifting masculinities and femininities amid a series of culture wars that emerged alongside an increasingly consumer-oriented and image-based society invested in self-examination.”
 — Journal of American History

“The fact and the way she has raised these questions can keep gender and sexuality researchers busy for a long time to come. For serious scholars, this book scratches the surface, in a good way. Each chapter poses abundant questions that merit full-length book considerations.”
 — Journal of Popular Culture

Customer Reviews

There are currently no reviews
Write a review on this title.

Table of Contents

1. Movers, Shakers, and Boomers
2. Feminism and Femininity
3. The Peacock Revolution
4. Nature and/or Nurture?
5. Litigating the Revolution
6. The Culture Wars, Then and Now

Related Titles