Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov

Fashion directly connected with fetishism

When medieval regulations were replaced with fashion and the emerging bourgeoisie sought to match the aristocracy's style of clothing, Voltaire rightly argued that keeping up with fashion was madness, but ignoring it was ridiculous. However, fashion is more than just an imitation. There is another aspect to it that is directly related to sexuality and fetishism.

American fashion historian Valerie Steele who has been working as a director of the museum at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology for ten years talks about this in her book Fetish: Fashion, Sex and Power. Long before her appointment as the museum director, she was among the first people who took up the study of garments that are undoubtedly objects of fetish. Before her, none of the scientists have seriously delved into the history of the relationship between fashion and fetishism, although such an approach promises to penetrate into the essence of the nature of fetishism and at the same time shed light on the enigma of an erotic attraction of fashion.

In short, according to Valerie Steele, anyone who wears clothes, listens to music, goes to movies or uses the internet would like to know more about fetishism. A person who looks at fashion from the inside should be interested in this matter even more. She drew attention to the fact that all men without exception (straights or gay, old or young) learning about the subject of her book took it with approval and enthusiasm. Many women, on the contrary, said that this topic disgusted them or was simply depressing. Exceptions were mostly young women, most of them related to the world of art and / or interested in pornography.

Originators of sexology were inclined to believe that we are all fetishists in varying degrees, and the famous French psychologist of the last century Alfred Binet said that normal love was a result of a multi-faceted fetishism. American psychiatrist Robert Stoller who for many years studied erotic fantasies and sexual behavior came to a conclusion that fetishism was the norm for men but not for women. It is not that women do not care about body parts and "sexy" clothes, but these objects do not incite the "lust" men may feel.

Some of the manifestations of fetishism are very common among otherwise healthy men. In other words, they are practically the "norm."  

Neither historical research nor psychoanalysis could answer the question why fetishism was much more common among men than women. From the perspective of sociobiology (or evolutionary psychology) that takes into account the evolution, heredity and exposure to hormones, our sexual behavior is mainly determined by the process of Darwinian natural selection. Secondary sexual indicators developed in this direction because they contain information about reproductive capacity.

Steele wrote in her book that male ancestors who favored pre-pubertal girls or older women failed in competition as they did not transfer their genes. Potentially, this has to do with fashion, as in the animal world secondary sexual indicators (horns, bright plumage, etc.) can be compared with "biological fashion" in the sense that the changes affecting these indicators may either enhance or reduce their sexual attractiveness in the eyes of the opposite sex. This is a cyclical process. For several generations features attractive due to the fact that they emphasize the reproductive capacity are being enhanced and thus gradually gain a dominant position in the phylogeny.

Since males do not need to nurture and feed their offspring, they have the opportunity to mate with a large number of females capable of reproduction. Consequently, visual perception is dominant in males as a result of constant readiness for a possible "coupling" with any female capable of reproduction. This suggests that the fetishes worshiped by humanity could emerge on biological grounds.

In 1992, International Women's fashion magazine Vogue wrote that many most influential people in the world of fashion found inspiration in sexual perversions. Popular culture has made once secret and hidden from prying eyes sexual practices visible to a wider audience. Approximately until 1965 fetishistic imagery were hidden behind the pages of specialized magazines such as High Heels, and buying things in fetish style was extremely difficult. But then objects and images associated with fetishism started getting out of their nooks to appear in public, wrote Valerie Steele.

An open public fetish fashion flourished in the West after the sexual revolution. It was demonstrated on the pages of glossy magazines, on the catwalk and the stage, by fashion models, musicians and actors. First, rockers and punks threw into the crowds tasteless objects made of plastic, tinsel, vulgar artificial leopard skin of "sickening" colors, long rejected by those who stood guard over the quality of the fashion industry. These kitsch representatives donned sparkly dog collars and showed off swastika and other Nazi symbols on their sleeves that troubled harbingers of future political correctness.

Millions of men at the sight of a woman walking in high heels showed reflexes that would make Pavlov envy. Yet were they all fetishists? How is fetishism different from a passion for "sexy" shoes and "playful legs" familiar to many of us? Valerie Steele asks rhetorically.  

Not only in the West but also in China miniature female feet for a long time were associated with conventional notions of feminine beauty. A female foot three inches long was called the "Golden Lotus" and praised as the perfect personification of erotic attraction. However, the Chinese tradition to tightly swaddle girls' and young women's feet that lasted until early 20th century is considered quasi-fetishism by most modern Western scholars. In addition, as evidenced by Ms. Steele, a three-inch foot in China was almost as rare as a 16-inch waist in Europe.

A manner of walking formed as a result of systematic feet bandaging was also among the virtues that made women sexually attractive, and besides, it was assumed that it strengthened the muscles of the vagina, wrote Valerie Steele. This custom seems to have originated in the Chinese imperial court in the 10th century and at the time was related solely to the art of dance.  Valerie Steele assumed that initially this was limited to wearing tight stockings that can be even compared to modern en pointe. However, during the Song Dynasty the high society took over the tradition, and a small foot became a marker of social status.

Painful and lengthy procedure to create a "Golden Lotus" hindered the mobility of women. A foot silhouette was deformed in a way that the foot resembled an outline of a high-heeled shoe.

The tradition to swaddle female feet was associated with the philosophy of Neo-Confucianism and had to do with the subordinate role of women in the society. This custom allowed not only to observe female virtue, but also served as the hallmark of an idle lifestyle and recognizable element of China's cultural identity. Although to date articles describing the "correct" way of swaddling are published in specialized magazines from time to time, by early 20th century many Chinese regarded this tradition as hopelessly outdated and impeding the nation's effort to resist Western imperialism.

Igor Bukker


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