A Gender Transformation in the Character of Style of Clothing and Dressing in Post-Soviet Georgia

  I. Introduction

   The history of Georgian fashion started after the restoration of the history of independent Georgia. After the 90s of the 20th century, a complex character of a fashionable process has been developing in tune with the dynamics of Georgian post-Soviet society. During transmission from the Soviet system to the current one, a fashion-mark and its socio-cultural meaning changes. A growing differentiation of styles of clothes is underway. The image as well as individuality (not a style) is fashionable i.e. the fashion develops according to its rules and simultaneously absorbs and reflects the contemporary socio-cultural dynamics. As we know, translation of changes is  reflected in the presentation existed in the system of fashion [Barthes, 1983]. It is generally admitted that a visual introduction in the fashion is a peculiar “tuning-fork” of a general state of the society. It creates a particular system of orientations of stereotypes and values.

  As Georgia chose a new way, it became an open arena of the processes of globalisation and westernisation. The softening of conservative indications have been activated in many spheres of a vital activity, for instance, a public discussion of the problems related to gender in the cultural-social life started in post-Soviet Georgia.

  Supposedly, we will not be original if we mention that the attitude of the Georgian society towards the gender issue presents an amorphous mixture of traditional and modernistic views. Different directions of these vectors is more evident among the youth, while the problem of their correlation is more complex. On the one hand, the public view, popular journals and today’s internet-forums prove that in contrast to the predecessors, the modern generation perceives the topic of gender as a more familiar one, for instance, Georgian researchers mention that there is “the growth of gender equality and tolerance towards the minority” [Sumbadze, 2012:52]. On the other hand, the youngsters share traditional views more convincingly than their predecessors, who have not forgotten the language of the late Soviet egalitarianism” [Sumbadze, 2012:41]. This fact reflects the character of the modern epoch composing the inconsistency of gender imaginations as well as conflicts of beliefs and cultural norms. We do not aim at researching genderistics and we have no ambition to the competence in this sphere. Therefore, we put an accent on one quite unassuming aspect – characterization of women’s and men’s dressing on the example of Georgia from the viewpoint of the category of gender.

  Playing with gender stereotypes, shaking the “male-female” dichotomy and all types of gender ambivalency were reflected in such a relevant sphere of culture, as fashion. It is obvious that the modern Georgian society with its collapse, reformation and fashionable ambitions has not stayed beyond the tendency of liberalisation of fashion. It is reflected in the gender transformation of dressing, style and character. This process is carried out via external marks and correlates  –  clothes, a hairstyle, jewellery, a special behaviour. An objective necessity of a detailed discussion and consideration of fashion practices became urgent. An individual’s self-identification depends on the solution of this problem [Giddens, 1991:264]. It is undoubtful that identity is a quite complex phenomenon and only one aspect of the socio-cultural reality (in this case  - wearing clothes) cannot ensure its construction. However, as we know, identity is open for codes and fashion occupies one of the important places in the unity of these codes. If we use famous scientists’ periphrases, we may say that the clothing determines an individual’s personality [Фукс, 1994:176] and today fashion is one of the driving forces of a person’s individualisation. Therefore, the appearance of the topic of gender in the  theory of fashion can be assumed as a perspective direction. Moreover, the gender aspect is significant in the history of a thematic load of costumes and modification of a form [Laver, 1995:323]. The importance of the given paper is stipulated by the fact that fashion as a complex multi-aspect phenomenon has not been studied in the Georgian humanitarian sciences. Nowadays, an informative base depicting these issues does not exist in Georgia.  However, it must be fairly noted that the connection between the fashion (the most important socio-cultural sphere) and the gender transformation of culture has not been eventually studied in Georgia as well as in the west. 


  II. Methods

 There are quite a lot of researches about the fashion of clothes in the international scientific-research space. Despite this fact, we could not find a conceptual unity in the comprehension of this issue. Besides, there are no universal methodologies and major approaches for the research of this problem. The development of science requires finding a new approach. This fact frees us from binding methodological conditions and gives us an opportunity to determine our way of a logical comprehension of the problem, which corresponds to the complexity and multilateralism of the subject of research and a posed task. While paying attention to the wearing of clothes in post-Soviet Georgia from the viewpoint of a visual representation of the gender identity, we share semiologists’ ideas and discuss clothes as a multi-digit phenomenon and a system of digits. The conception of Jennifer Dickinson’s “Semiotic baggage” gave us an opportunity to observe the changes of the post-Soviet fashion-marks and meanings embodied in these marks during the process of the transition of the Soviet society to the contemporary one [Dickinson, 2005 : 291-301]. The prioritized methods of our paper are socio-cultural and gender approaches. The socio-cultural approach considers that the fashion develops under the influence of social-cultural dynamics of the society as well as its immanent factors. In accordance to this interpretation, clothes represent  an empirical base of the dynamics of culture and an urgent indicator, whose  prioritized direction is the construction of a visual side of a “man of an epoch”. The gender approach of the research enabled us to pay attention to gender aspects of the massive wearing of clothes in post-Soviet Georgia. We noticed that contemporary gender conceptions do not directly consider the problematics of a costume, but enable us to legitimise the topic of clothing in the system of knowledge via their strategies [Corrigan,1997; Lurie,1983; Rubinstein,1995, etc.]. We used the method of observation for the analysis of the style and practice of wearing clothes [Жоль, 2004] in the streets of Tbilisi. The objects of the fashion practice are single individuals, groups of people (the photos of friends, relatives, etc.) social networks, blogs and personal observations. We organized a visual procedure of gathering the data in order to present a maximal possible number of variations of the styles of clothes as well as the most typical styles of clothes that can be seen in the streets of today’s Tbilisi. This is quite sufficient for our research, which does not consider the study of rational elements (constructions, technology of modelling, materials and creation of accessories) of dressing.


III. The Major Part. The Discourse of Gender Neutrality in the Georgian Fashion.

  “Unisex”.  It is undoubtful that standards and conventionality are left in a small dosage in clothing. The levelling of the gender differencing and the tendency of the gender neutrality is developed in dressing.  The most vivid mark of changing of gender borders in clothing is the non-existence of prohibition and an imperative tone, whose deviation was rebuked on all levels – from religious commandments to a living level. A generally spread example is the prohibition of wearing clothes of an opposite gender in Georgia and in the majority of the world cultures. However, this prohibition is actively opposed by the representatives of the feminist movement. They believe that the “sexual dimorphism” of clothes has been a part of those prohibitions that  legitimize and defend the gender inequality” [Клецина, 2004:256].

  Today (starting from the nearest past) the Georgian street fashion becomes universal -  the silhouettes of men’s and women’s clothes create something common. In parallel with the established styles, the levelling of the gender differentiation of clothes and the strengthening of the gender neutrality  (style “unisex” does not depict gender in clothing and consists of common elements of men’s and women’s dressing) are underway. “Unisex” does not characterize the majority of individuals walking in Tbilisi’s streets. However, there is growing dynamics of its followers. Girls and boys wear similar jeans, coats, shoes and accessories. Trousers marching a skirt, a blouse or a t-short represent an individual’s everyday dressing. Unification of clothes i.e. “fitting” the clothes of the second sex by the representatives of the first one, the spread of “manly” clothes and colors in women’s dressing and a hesitant usage of “womanly” ornaments and colors in men’s costumes characterize clothes of the youth.

The establishment of “masculine” style in women’s dressing. While emphasizing the change of a woman’s role in socio-historical processes, the scholars note that today it is “the most active category, which undergoes the influence of the tendencies of fashion” [Гофман, 2010:228]. It is interesting to observe how the fight for the emancipation of women was reflected in the evolution of the European fashion, for instance, during many years in the dominant classes a woman had a role of a “walking showcase” [Тард, 2011]. In the beginning of the 20th century, women were given the right to participate in a social sphere. After the second half of the 20th century, the attention has been concentrated on the problems of the social equality (in the division of family duties, in education, in the availability of working places, in the payment for work, etc.). Similarly to men, women started participating in all spheres of the social work. On the existed socio-cultural background, the greatest changes were underway in the fashion of women’s clothes. The most important changes were the refusal of a corset in the beginning of the 20th century and an active borrowing of items from the costumes of a man having a functional business style (the 20s of the 20th century - ,,a la garson“ (a girl – a boy). While discussing this from the viewpoint of the costume and fashion, we will not mention exaggeratingly that it was the action of a woman’s symbolic rebellion for the achievement of the equality with a man. The establishment of men’s style in women’s dressing is associated with "Coco" Chanel (Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel, 1883-1971). Afterwards, the popularization of women’s trousers was facilitated by cinematograph via Marlene Dietrich and American actress Katharine Hepburn (1907-2003). Katharine Hepburn irritated the society with slacks (loose trousers made from a solid wool cloth). She noted that she stayed warm and comfortable in the trousers. In 1950s, the girls wearing trousers were not allowed to enter universities in America. A manly cut suit, a tie and a man’s hat were favorite clothes of Marlene Dietrich (Marie Magdalene "Marlene” Dietrich, 1901-1992). It is interesting that after returning from Paris, famous Georgian painter Elene Akhvlediani wore a similar suit, while appearing in the society (1898-1975).

The tendency of the collapse of the gender difference has started characterizing the Georgian fashion. In a short historical period, the Georgian women mastered all elements of men’s clothes. The most prominent example of the approximation of men’s and women’s fashion was the wearing of trousers by women. In 1956 Georgia’s film studio produced the movie “Abezara”, where Leila Abashidze wore the man’s overalls. At the end of the 60s, women dressed in trousers appeared in Tbilisi’s streets and dissatisfied passers-by. In the beginning of the 70s, the Georgian movies “Orera – in a full walk” (1970) and “A Joyful Novel” (1972) gained popularity. In these movies singer Nani Bregvadze appeared in trousers, while actress Khatuna Kotrikadze wore a suit. At that period, wearing trousers was controlled at higher educational institutions of Soviet Georgia. In the 21st century, when the gender equality at work and in everyday life (however, not finalized in Georgia) put on the first place functionality and comfortability of clothes, the women’s dressing acquired more sharp forms. The typical men’s clothing had almost completely moved to women’s wardrobes. It was marked as universal. Therefore, despite conservators’ protest, a contemporary woman’s dressing is daring, loose and ready for new experiments.

  The model of “a fair sex” in the style of women’s clothes. It is noteworthy that fashion theoretics discuss the formation of the above-mentioned tendencies in the context of the movement against the construction of a “fair sex” and erotizing of “women’s clothes” [Bovone, 2003: 370-382]. This fight has the character of one of the elements of the fight for women’s and men’s social equality. In the mid of 1990s, the following appeal was made by a moderate part of women-feminists: “Our power is in our beauty”. This attitude actually meant returning to the traditional norms dividing subcultures of men’s and women’s clothes. Similarly to any society of the civilized world, the model of a “fair sex” was established in Georgia. This style of Georgian women is mainly based on the traditional conception of femaleness in clothing and it is one of the most spread phenomenon in Georgia (for instance, if American women do not put high-heeled shoes during a day and do not spend time on the make-up, the majority of Georgian girls do not behave so). This model forces women to gain men’s interest and likes of surrounding people via different levers. For this reason, the majority of women create their social identity with the help of the symbols of beauty. This is achieved, first of all, by means of a purposeful consumerism  - correcting natural data according to the model of beauty accepted by the given society.  It is worth mentioning that generally the model of a “fair sex” has an important economic function. Production, trade and other spheres of the contemporary world rely on this model. It characterizes the whole history of the western culture as well as contemporary Georgian situation, where men are key referential groups in the system of consumerism. From this aspect, Georgian actress Ia Parulava and Nino Tskrialashvili’s series of TV programs with the elements of the reality show become interesting. They are dedicated to the transformation of “Georgian characterless” and “Cinderellas” into “real women”. All shows reveal how a woman must dress to be liked by a man: a female style, fashionably decorated colorful festive clothing. A woman’s image acquired by the participants of the show becomes modern, light, female and very different from their uniforms  -  the uniforms of “Georgian mice”.

 The attitude towards women’s clothes has been special throughout the centuries  -  the cut, the style and ideals of beauty changed. Severe requirements towards women’s appearance existed at particular periods. They had to be followed by all self-respecting women. “Femininity” was understood word by word and as a rule considered wearing female clothes – a skirt, a dress, high-heeled shoes. Everything laconic and modest. Contemporary fashionistas are lucky  - they can choose clothes according to their taste and peculiarities of their bodies. However, despite the extent of changing a woman’s costume under the influence of the style and fashion, a “feminine” style maintains its main characteristic feature (indication to the femininity of an owner) via its semiotic content.

Sexualisation in style and wearing women’s clothes. Besides conscious female motives of following the fashion, we can single out unconscious reasons, for instance, at the end of 1960s the so-called sexualisation of fashion started in the west i.e. exposing a hidden sexuality, which is depicted in the underlined deviation of visual forms of an accepted nudity (a maximally tight silhouette, a deep cut,  a deep zone of décolletage, a maximal slim (thinness, slimness)). Nudity is not a new tendency. It has a long history and since its inception, it underlines femininity of a dress. “Fashion – sex” is more related to a woman’s body than to a costume. In parallel with acquiring the feeling of social solidity and a solid position in the society, a woman tried to return her femininity  -  female features – via her body, not a costume. Famous sociologist and writer Iarskaia-Smirnova (Ярская-Смирнова) notes that generally “a body occupies such an important position in the system of marks, as a cut or items of clothing in connection with existed and debatable norms” [Ярская-Смирнова, 2001 : 254]. A woman aggressively becomes nude and proves the marks of her sex and nature by nudeness. This task is not posed to a costume, because according to the above-mentioned, the opposition “men – women’s” clothes lost its meaning in the contemporary culture and therefore, it does not have the function of denoting the gender. According to J. Baudrillard’s opinion, nowadays a body with its identity, sex and social status becomes the material of fashion, while clothes represents its private case [Baudrillard, 2006 : 254]. Modern researcher of fashion Elizabeth Welter Wilson pays attention to this global tendency. In her work “Urbane Fashion” (2006), she writes that a contemporary city is the place of wishing and exploitation of a body, while the demonstration of sexuality has become a scale of an experimental freedom of the life of a city. According to the scholar’s viewpoint, in this context, clothing acquires the greatest importance for esthetisation and sexualisation of a body [Wilson, 2006]. It is difficult to argue with the scholars, who claim that a permitted sexual subtext expressed in clothes depends not only on its owner’s class and gender belongingness, but on the epoch in which she/he lives [Lurie, 2000]. We underline the fact that this peculiarity (sexualisation of fashion) refers mainly to a woman’s fashion.

After the 60s, the fashion-sex revived in the west (in the 90s). In Georgia it appeared in 2000s. Direct observations and the visual materials found by us revealed that the tendency of exaggerating femininity via declining to sexualisation and esthetisation of a body or via a softer version, an erotic play, is familiar for the post-Soviet Georgian reality. A woman’s clothes are appealed to nude a body instead of hiding it. All the above-mentioned has become usual. Today girls in provoking dresses, with a deep décolletage and sharp make-ups do not look strange. Naked legs under almost non-existent skirts, mini-skirts, tight jeans, “peg”-heels, sparkles are broadly presented. A sexual accentuation of clothes is underlined via transparent blouses with holes, which make a body nude. The underwear is noticeable. Max is prioritized. However, a face becomes more seductive via the usage of external symbolic details, for instance, a long hair. It can be said that the phenomenon of sexualisation of clothes is vividly revealed in the modern Georgian fashion. One of its peculiarities is women’s excessive participation.

Liberalization of men’s fashion. If in the beginning of the 20th century appeared feminism, which freed women from social restrictions or gender stereotypes, the beginning of the 21st century was marked with the “crisis of masculinity” in the context of the growing process of feminization [Бендас, 2006:431]. The roles of men and the models of their behavior have changed. They have differed more or less from the traditional views on “manly”. The borders of social roles of women and men were demolished or acquired a universal (unisex) character. This factor became the basis of social relations, interaction of womanly and manly in culture as well as the development of men’s costume.

A short excursus in the history of Europe witnesses the fact that external attributes of gender belongingness changed in time and space, for instance, in a new epoch a costume and its features differed a man and a woman according to the sex. However, a woman’s costume became a leading one and a man’s suit was under its influence for a long time. It kept up with women’s costume via its decorations, richness and excess of jewelry. Bows, laces, wings of an ostrich, flowers, precious accessorize decorated a man’s dressing. J. Molière (Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, fsevd. Molière) described a man’s costume in the following way: “bows, ribbons, bows, ribbons – from shoes to a hat” [Энциклопедия... 1997:88]. In the 17th-18th centuries, elements of a woman’s clothes, curly long hair, wigs, wide-brimmed hats decorated with jewelry and wings entered the men’s fashion. However, noblewomen could appear in the so-called Amazons’ costume. Netherlandish historian and culturologist Johan Huizinga indicated that at that period, men’s costume lose modesty, naturality, practicality and a man’s long tight trousers-pantaloons (It. Pantaloni) became so short and broad that they looked like a woman’s one. This coquettish costume, which was decorated up to the ankle, indicated to a manly character only via a dagger [Huizinga 1955:220]. Such type of dressing reached its apogee in feminized men’s clothes of the 18th century. The men’s dressing of that period was influenced by women’s etiquettical dancing culture, manner of behavior and feminine image.  A man’s costume has acquired a contemporary manly image only after the second half of the 18th century.  It gradually became free from feminine details. After the 19th men has finally rejected frock coats, embroidered vests and velvet shoes for the benefit of a suit. The same has happened with colors – pink, red, yellow, violet, etc.  -  has been absolutely excluded from men’s clothes. 

  According to French researcher of modern fashion Laura Bovone, nowadays, while following the tendencies of fashion, men are ready to neglect a traditional uniform and practical clothes or wear them only during working hours (Bovone, 2006 : 370-382). It can be said in this respect that today the topic of liberalization is actual in Georgia, where the revolution in the sphere of men’s costume is underway. It implies the insertion of elements of women’s clothes in men’s dressing and less noticeable, but existed inclination towards androgyny. Based on the visual observation, we can definitely say that the regularity of feminization of men’s clothes has several vivid marks in Georgia, for instance, traditionally, in Georgia as anywhere else, the classical men’s fashion was humble. It emphasized courage, status and skillfulness.  The major colors were grey, brown, blue and black. Nowadays, the Georgian man’s fashion is filled with sharp-colored clothes, for instance, if in Soviet Georgia sharp-colored shirts and ties caused a severe criticism of the society and were considered as marks of “the stylish”, in the costume of 2000s appeared new colors and types of ties and shirts. Afterwards, the spectrum of colors broadened and comprised an entire consume. Nowadays, men start borrowing traditional “feminine” silhouettes, images and prints. A long hair and a variety of clothes (sets with accessorize, vests, scarfs) is fashionable. Pluralization of men’s clothes appears. It comprises sweaters, jackets, multicolor suits and cut shirts with ornaments. It is noteworthy that such marks of “femininity” as flower prints, half-transparent cloths and laces have been  added to the men’s clothes. They “demolished” the monopoly of women’s fashion. However, in this case it would be better to speak about their “return” to men’s clothes. The usage of the models of women’s dressing is also vividly seen, for instance, wearing shortened tops taken from women’s clothes or long t-shirts that look like dresses. At the same time, by means of trends, the Georgian man’s trousers are tighter than a classical version. One more example of this trend is the existence of a specialized print for women and men. We see identical prints in men’s and women’s collections: a footprint of nature or a plant, floral unclear pictures of a raster, a rigid geometry, political or social messages, imitation of facture of the cloth. The coping of women’s shoes is also noticed, for instance, comfortable Australian UGG (Ugly Boots) gradually enter men’s fashion. Men’s shoes are decorated with different furniture (packs, stranzas) and prints. Demolishing of gender borders in dressing is most vividly seen in the accessorize, which gradually lose gender difference. The assortment of men’s accessorize has significantly broadened on the expense of the borrowings from a woman’s arsenal. A fashionista wears jewelry – a necklace, gemmed bracelets, earrings -  as decorative objects. A gorgeous silicon wrist-band is added to leather or metal wrist-bands of a watch. More conservative individuals put on a scarf in the style of a playboy. Men’s bags traditionally had a rigid form and a dark color (different from the sports bags). Now they gradually “lose gender”. Bags made from different-colored cloth complete women’s and men’s fashionable images. Instead of usual diplomats, “programist’s bags”,  rucksacks and the so-called “Boursette”-s (Fr. Boursette – men’s small wallet) large soft bags of unexpected colors are spread among men.  This especially refers to the bags with logotypes of firms -  Louis Vuitton (1854) or Gucci (1948).  

Undoubtedly, this is the prove of Georgian men’s westernization. At the same time, we believe that the above-mentioned changes in dressing were stipulated by new aesthetic principles of the youth  - the rejection of an established image of “an employee of a corporation”, which became tasteless and limited.


IV. Conclusions

  In the paper we made an attempt to actualize the research of the gender discourse in the style of clothing and dressing in the context of the post-Soviet reality.  We were oriented on “plurality of the gender form” in wearing the clothes. We paid attention to the change of hegemony of the rules of femininity and masculinity, which took place under the influence of socio-cultural and political transformations. We discussed wearing of clothes as a peculiar indicator of the contemporary socio-cultural reformation. We believe that attesting sign accents of gender differences in the style of dressing facilitates finding a new meta-language, signing out the features corresponding to new post-Soviet images and an adequately changeable situation in socio-cultural space. In the process of analysis, in parallel with a traditional practice of dressing, we note an evident breaking of gender stereotypes. We show that contemporary Georgian specificity of functioning of fashion and fashion-marks is expressed in a radical zone of its stimulators. The marks, which functionally (referentially) denoted any meaning (trousers – a mark of the belongingness to a male, a skirt  - the belongingness to a female) related to them in the previous cultural epochs, nowadays comprise no vivid indications. Today they do not have the function of the social marking, but comprise the function of an individual construction of a person’s “ego”. We found out that the following tendency is gradually established in today’s Georgian culture of wearing clothes: an individual is free in using any marks and symbols for the self-identification of his/her “ego”, including stylization, simulation and mystification. The sexual and gender belongingness shifts to the second place. However, we believe that very often an obvious lack of the gender identity in clothes is not a special statement. It is the mere following of fashion by the owner of clothes.


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