Sex and Unisex

Sex and Unisex

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


“…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

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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

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