The new power relationship between women and men opened an intense debate about their respective identities.
Women’s trajectory was clear. As they had acquired greater independence and power, they had left femininity behind. The symbolism of power had been well established by men, and women adopted it as their own as they advanced: its most potent sign being the trouser suit.
There was no question of a working, breadwinning woman wearing such fripperies as high heels, dangly ear-rings, tight skirts and the other inconvenient and time-consuming humiliations that had been used to prettify and trivialise them over the centuries. Why should a modern woman try to sexually entice men by shaving off her body hair and wearing makeup, jewellery, false nails and elaborate hairstyles? Women controlled money and power: if anyone needed to do some enticing, it was men. Trousers became the clothing of choice for women, and the panoply of frilly, lacy, uncomfortable lingerie was consigned to the dustbin in favour of sensible, practical underwear. The refusal to countenance ‘emasculate’ clothes and behaviour was most intense among the young. The new generation of girls had a very strong sense of female pride and a conviction in their superiority — the last thing they would tolerate was being put in a skirt.
This was not just in matters of dress. Women were drinking more, talking more loudly, being more aggressive, taking up more sports, scorning the opposite sex, and generally shifting into some of the less positive behaviours that characterised power. In short, women had, without particularly planning it, taken on the behaviours of masculinity.
Women who continued to wear dresses were looked upon with disapproval by their peers. This intensified as the century progressed until women eventually abandoned altogether makeup, dresses, tights, stockings, lingerie, heels and all the rest.
As for men, women’s rise had some uncomfortable — for some, terrifying — implications.