Girls Will Be Boys

Several years ago I ran across Women in Pants by Catherine Smith and Cynthia Greig.  What I loved about the book was the great variety of photos showing women in pants, from homesteaders who adopted pants as a practicality, to actresses who played male roles, to women who dressed in men’s clothing just so they could have a joke photo made.  Ever since reading the book I’ve been on the lookout for antique photos in which woman were dressed as men, and last week I finally found one.

There was no information at all on the back of this photo, so we can only guess at the intent of the two women who are dressed as men.  And they are dressed as men, not as women who have taken to wearing pants on a regular basis.  With their hair stuck under the hats, and the stance of men with hand in pocket, this seems to be a photo made purely for the fun of it.

Whatever the motivation, it does make for an interesting image.

Interestingly, two people I follow on Instagram also posted antique women dressed as men photos this past week.  One was a family photo in which the poster’s grandmother was one of the women.  It was identified as a photo that the young women had made as a lark.

The other one was a find like mine, with no identification.  The poster assumed that the women were dressed as men because they were transgender.  And while I cannot say with certainty that she was wrong in this assumption, it is much more likely that the women were merely having a fun time making light of the opposite sex.

I think that when it comes to the past, it is easy to assign the knowledge of today’s world when confronted with an unexpected image like Edwardian women dressed as men.  In history it is really easy to take two plus two and come up with five.  I know I’m often guilty of making inaccurate assumptions about the past, but the more I see and the more I read, the better I’ve gotten about seeing the past only through the lense of the past.

27 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Proper Clothing

27 responses to “Girls Will Be Boys

  1. Good point about not making assumptions based on contemporary ideas.

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  2. I just ordered a copy.

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  3. In the Betsy-Tacy books (early 1900s), Mock Weddings were a very popular form of entertainment for young ladies and they would would delight in dressing up in their fathers’ suits.

    In my own family, we have pictures of my great-aunt and her sisters and cousins (early 1900s) dressed in a similar manner. Not only were they not transvestites or lesbians, they were NOT transgendered.

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  4. Dee

    Thank you for mentioning inaccurate assumptions about the past! I try not to do it. I unfortunately find myself irritated sometimes when I see other people doing it. I just ran into an article that made sweeping, inaccurate, assumptions about historical pockets, some of which could have been avoided simply by thoroughly reading the V&A article which was cited within the piece. Sigh.

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    • That’s really interesting. I think a lot of it comes from people just not reading critically.

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      • Dee

        Yes, absolutely this! It was what I was just thinking. I think if articles are being written for publication, they should either be well-researched, or the scope of the article should be restricted. To be frank, I actually had problems with the entire tone of the article, It was very much imposing currently popular attitudes upon history, with a huge dose of angry – “this is all patriarchy’s fault!” .Historical dress can be a complicated subject, and huge assumptions combined with oversimplification (to say the least) of how it relates to women’s lives…Ugh.

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    • I know the article of which you speak, and I am one of those people who did not get to the V&A article cited within. And now I have more to read! Thank you sincerely. I love reading about pockets.

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      • Dee

        You’re very welcome! I love pockets. 🙂 I would totally recommend reading the V&A article, to anyone who hasn’t already! And if you’d like a fun little diversion – I’d recommend having a look at miser’s purses. Designed specifically for carrying money, used by both sexes, and often beautiful to look at! I think V&A has them listed under a different term – sorry I can’t remember what, just now.

        The whole matter of published articles which are inaccurate, just gets to me. People generally take it on faith (so to speak) that what they read is true, and then unwittingly spread misinformation. And with the incredibly swift pace of communication now, it can spread so much faster, and farther than in the past.

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        • Oh, this turned into a very deep dive. It’s funny, the Racked article has a wealth of links to fascinating research and opinions on pockets and gender in clothing, but she flies over all of that to get to the damned pantsuit. Oy

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          • Dee

            Oh, that actually isn’t the same article. I haven’t finished reading it, but so far It looks much better than the one I read. If you want to irritate yourself, it’s here: 🙂 https://mic. com/articles/133948/the-weird-complicated-sexist-history-of-pockets#.mP8Mn2ES9

            To see the article, copy and paste and remove the space. Lizzie

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          • I’m not sure I really “get” the Racked article, seeing as that pantsuit does appear to have pockets. Or am I just seeing what I want to see?

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          • The examples of these two articles on pockets are well chosen. My knowledge of 18th and 19th century pockets is really basic, so how would I have known whether the information contained withing them was right or not? Well, except for the complete tone and the conclusions drawn of the mic.com article which would lead me to question every little detail.

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  5. Dee

    I’m sorry about the double comment. The first one seemed to disappear. Should have known better.

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    • Not a problem. I removed the double, and I also broke the link.

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      • Dee

        Thank you. Did I do something weird to the link? I very seldom include a link in a comment, and I don’t comment much anywhere, anyway. Or was the mic.com article just so bad that you wanted to make sure people didn’t accidentally click on it? 🙂 I’m totally with you on that, I wouldn’t trust anything in it, unless it could be confirmed elsewhere.

        The Racked article – Yes! The pantsuit in the photo appears to have welt pockets. So what was the whole point?

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        • No, the link was fine, but the content is so questionable that I did not want the link between my site and it.

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          • Dee

            Oh, I’m sorry. I don’t blog, or do social media or anything like that; I didn’t think about your site becoming associated with it. I really enjoy your blog and so much appreciate your thorough research!

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          • Dee

            Oh, I’m so sorry, Lizzie! I just went back to that article, because I actually hadn’t finished reading it, because I got so irritated. I didn’t know there was so much profanity in it, on top of everything else. It wasn’t even worth trying to get to the end. I would never have posted the link here, or anywhere else.

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          • No apology necessary. The profanity did not bother me at all; it was the crazy use of “history” to prove a point that didn’t make sense! I appreciate your input!

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  6. Almost everyone who has attended a school for boys or a school for girls will be familiar with the problem of the school play — you need both male and female characters. I was a tall girl, so of course I was cast in male roles. Laurence Olivier’s first display of acting ability to be widely noticed was his school performance as Katharina in Taming of the Shrew. Females also dressed in men’s clothes for Halloween — as hoboes (me) or pirates or comic characters, as Frankenstein’s monster (my mother.) People put on skits and plays in private, too. In England, “charades” could involve quite a lot of costumes. Why people choose the costumes they choose is sometimes a matter of personal psychology and sometimes (as in school plays and skits) it’s not.

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  7. A bit late to jump into the discussion but I just found your blog.
    My family had photos of my great aunt, a rather tall and gaunt woman who dressed herself in several different rather dapper looking male outfits for a photo session. She sent those photos to her sister (my grandmother) under a male name too. The photos were taken some time around 1920 in Carlsbad/Bohemia (Karlovy Vary/Czech Republic today), a rather famous and fashionable spa town.
    Since my great aunt was not known as a cross dresser/trans person I suppose it was more of a fad back then.
    I’m not sure if those photos still exist. If they do I think I should scan them.

    On the other hand, the husband of a friend of mine, once dressed as a woman in the Venetian Carneval. He is far from being a cross dresser or trans person. So I think maybe we should try not to pin too many labels on people who just dress for fun.

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  8. Yes, it does seem to have been just a fad at the time. I think it is really interesting that the fad extended all the way to Bohemia! And yes, you need to scan that photo. I’d love to see it, if you do.

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