The variety of clothes styles available to women in a culture is representative of the variety of lifestyles available to her. For example, a woman in Europe or America can choose from more styles of clothes than a man, as she has a wider choice of lifestyles. These women have adopted and adapted men’s apparel as part of their foray into previously male-dominated arenas and still retained the styles deemed by society as only suitable for women.
When dressing their upper bodies, women can choose from blouses, tank tops, shirts and T-shirts, whereas men are limited to the latter two. The shirt, with buttons sewn neatly in a straight line down the front, crisply ironed-in creases down the sleeves, a starched collar with pointed corners (which may or may not be buttoned down) and cuffs joined by cuff-links or buttons, provides the overall impression of a clean, respectable, sharp, formal, well presented man with a purpose. He can make clear decisions, is ready to do business in a bank or sales office and able to take care of his appearance, whether himself directly or indirectly through engaging a laundry service, mother or wife.
The T-shirt, on the other hand, provides a more casual appearance, its knitted fabric not conforming to the pressure of an iron as precisely as the woven fabric of a shirt will. It also implies a less strong intention in the wearer, suggesting student, labourer or technician carrying out a task set for them by a man in a shirt. The ‘in-between’ Polo shirt, with a collar but also a knitted fabric is often the choice of a shirt-wearer when being forced into a more casual environment where more movement is required such as at a golf and country club.
The lifestyles associated with these two styles are that of a suited and shirted salaryman or entrepreneur with a career in an office or lecture hall and that of a technical specialist or physical labourer who is likely to get his t-shirt dirty and sweaty.
The additional clothes choices available to women enable them to portray additional images. The blouse, made from the same woven fabric that submits to an iron as a shirt, is softer than the shirt, frequently with gathers at the shoulders and cuffs, around the neckline or under the bust, not least to accommodate the female upper body. A blouse carries the same connotations of cleanliness, good presentation and a woman able to take care of herself (or by proxy) that a shirt does, yet rather than the strength of purpose of the sharp pointed collar and crisp sleeve crease, the gathers and fullness of a blouse show a softness, a welcoming femininity and a caring nature. The fourth option is the short-sleeved tank top, tailored to follow the feminine shape without obvious closures. It is usually worn under a jacket as part of a suit, in place of a shirt. Despite being part of a suit, it avoids the sharp edges of the shirt and provides a less confrontational image, more supporting and nurturing.
By taking up wearing shirts and t-shirts, women have entered into the realms of the salaryman and technical specialist, without giving up the options of a bloused homemaker, teacher or carer and the tank-top wearing secretary or assistant. As men are entering into these professions they frequently struggle to find appropriate clothing styles to suitably represent their career choice. European and American society’s acceptance of men in these roles will not be confirmed until new clothing styles become available to them reflecting these professions.