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Book Review: Sex and Unisex: Fashion, Feminism, and the Sexual Revolution

You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but when “Sex andUnisex” by Jo B. Paoletti popped up in a book search I had entered for “masculinity and femininity,” well, I couldn’t not click on it.

I wasn’t looking for a book on fashion or history, but the subtitle, “Fashion, Feminism, and the Sexual Revolution” as well as the synopsis convinced me to check it out. (For those interested, the cover is a picture of “Models Wearing Rudi Gernreich Unisex Clothing, 1970.”)

The book begins with a discussion of “Movers, Shakers, and Boomers,” setting up the social scene of the 1960’s and 1970’s as the backdrop for exploring gender expression through the surge in unisex fashions for a short period during this time. There is a discussion of “Feminism and Femininity” as well as a much appreciated discourse on men’s fashion and masculinity in “The Peacock Revolution.” The book includes discussion of the topics (the fashions and the era) with an eye toward sociology and psychology as well as an interesting look at legal actions taken against certain style trends (men with long hair for example) that exemplify the social conflicts of the time. The book finishes strong with my favorite chapter, “The Culture Wars, Then and Now” which addresses trends such as raising gender-variant kids and the blurring line between youth or junior’s fashion for women and the adult fashions that included edgier or more revealing styles.

This book was valuable to me for a few reasons, the most notable being the way the author framed the sexual revolution as more of a gender revolution. Rather than radical changes in the way we as society approached sexuality (which was confronted along with other movements such as Civil Rights) we saw more radical changes in the ways we see and express gender. As a sex blogger I have often been confused as to why the things I write about are so controversial. I mean, didn’t we already have a sexual revolution? It has been clarifying for me to see this time as more of a gender revolution as I see the effects of the gender role change of the era more so than I do in the sexual arena.

Overall I felt this book had a fairly good balance between an entertaining “popular sociology” read and an academic one. The discussion of fashion and social trends is interesting for a general reader. However, the author does go in to detail regarding clothing patterns, marketing, and consumerism that is mostly academic. People who are more geeky when it comes to fashion will likely take the most from this book, followed by those of us gender nerds.

This book is packed with tid-bits of information that can be applied to many areas of study. If you have a particular interest in textile history or the sexual revolution era, you will definitely want to add this book, complete with Gernreich models, to your library.

Also be sure to check out the author's site/blog


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