The 80’s is often dubbed the ‘experimental decade’ whose outlandish neon brights, distortion of traditional silhouettes and experimentation with textural and print clashes made it an era that stood out. Despite what we may think, the exaggerated semblance of 80’s fashion is not as disastrous as we may think; if we look beyond the neon makeup and lurid yellow fishnets there were the more fashionable inclusion of Rayban Wayfarer’s, mini backpacks and Pussybow Blouses. The 80’s has a fashion history charged by gender politics and largely many of the 80’s trends were created by women to subvert stereotypes surrounding the representation of women in fashion. When it came to ‘working’ attire women were often pigeonholed into being less capable than men, particularly if they ‘dressed well’. Women were told that their fashion choices would affect their ability to be successful in the workplace and as a result women retaliated. How could they be feminine enough to retain their identity yet still be considered neutrally charged so that they could ‘fit in a mans world’. Thus the feminist term the ‘Pussybow Blouse’ was born, where women who landed roles as corporate executives ‘looked to men’ for fashion cues, because there had been no women beforehand who were given such ‘high authority roles. As Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett-Packard, explained 80s women used to dress ‘in suits with a skirt and a jacket with button-down shirts and a little bow tie, because that was [their]sort of interpretation of the mans tie.’ Whitman stated that it was her ‘ attempt to be feminine but fit into what was then a male world’. History critics also cite the birth of the 80’s ‘Pussybow Blouse’ as paying tribute to the female pioneers in high-level executive positions and being a ‘fashion weapon’ against a ‘patriarchy’ which saw women as a token for the male gaze rather than workers who could compete with men on a prospective market and business level. Naturally brands were quick to notice that for the first time women were the ones engineering fashion trends in the workplace and thus the popularity of pussybow blouses exploded into visibility. The blouse was chic, feminine and sartorial a winning combination that didn’t fail to escape ‘leading shirtmakers’ Hawes and Curtis’s attention.
Founded in 1913 and with more than 100 years of heritage, Hawes and Curtis’s beguiling blend of feminine, masculine and gender bending ‘shirt-wear’ has attracted the attention of leading royal figures including the Duke of Windsor, as well as selling out in all its 25 stores across London. Shirts, to Hawes and Curtis had no gender and like the 80’s movement that saw women in high ranking well paid jobs, they knew that creating shirts that were reverentially embedded in ‘workwear culture’ with a ‘feminine flair’ would mark Hawes as an ‘IT Brand’. Being It as a point of reference would mean that designs would sell out within moments of its ‘drop’ and in rarer cases during its pre-order phase, in which case Hawes would know their painstaking attention to female workwear trends would pay off. Thus the floral pussybow blouse was born, a Black and Orange Floral Boutique Shirt, made from 100 % polyester. With its distinctive ‘moody floral print’ that reigned supreme on the A/W 16 catwalk and its subtler reference to 80’s ‘workwear’, the revival of the 80’s classic has been given a decidedly 70’s edge. With its slight billowing sleeves and fitted cuff, the swinging floral neckie or ‘pussybow’ makes a dead ringer for Margaret Thatcher ( or the Iron Lady as many called her) power suit and pussybow blouse combo, which ‘softened’ her ‘authoritative’ image. However the 80’s revival or resurgence as we can more aptly call it does not just exist in the workplace: the pussybow blouse has been re-invented to be woven into a more casual fashion context with an emphasis on an era clash.
Note, the outfit above has incorporated the Mary Quant classic-the 60’s mini- while the 70’s floppy hat and the modern ‘perspex boot’ pairing engineers 2016’s love of all things hybrid. Not quite vintage but indefinitely modern, my ‘pussybow blouse’ pairing could be worn in and outside of the workplace.
A little known fact about the ‘pussybow’ or Bow [as it is called in America] blouse is its reference to the vagina. Confused? Stay put a moment. Having been around since the 1600’s the popularity of the blouse in the 80’s has been self-inscribed by artist Christen Clifford as ‘a feminist action disguised as a fashion accessory’ or in plainer words the ‘furtive piece of office wear’ that can allow you to don ‘the insides of [your] vaginal cavity’ while flicking through a Powerpoint presentation. It makes complete sense, in order to assimilate with men in an ‘office based environment’ women used pussybow blouses to expose or rather allow insight into the pigmentation of a woman’s interior, otherwise known as a vagina. Because we do have vaginas, our sex [not our gender because gender is culturally conceived] is brought into question every time we wear something considered fashionable. I have lost count of the amount of times that because I am well dressed, women and men have drawn up unlawful pre-conceptions about my intellectual state of mind as though what you wear can make you ‘more intelligent’ or less smart. Well I call bull on that, the pussybow asides from its implicit Freudian symbolism is a smart way of saying f**k you to those who believe fashion ‘ruins potential’ when in fact being well dressed-pussybow blouse and all- is scientifically proven to improve state of mind and be a factor that can augment rather than hinder success. As superficial as it sounds the way we dress does draw up pre-conceptions so what I love about the ‘pussybow blouse’ is that it is one of the few feminist clothing choices that liberates and empowers women, with its sub-textual reference to our genitalia, aka the vagina.
Do You Believe That PussyBow Blouses Can Emancipate Women From The Male Gaze In A Professional Environment?