Re: Thomasine/Thomas...clothes make the (wo)man

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Posted by Dana S. on January 11, 2000 at 14:03:11:

In Reply to: Thomasine/Thomas...clothes make the (wo)man posted by Goody Sandy on January 11, 2000 at 04:17:59:

Dear Sandy,

This piece has been so fun. Thank you for sharing it. The piece and the resposes have gotten my brain creeking and grinding back into motion after the befuddling afterglow of the holidays.

Here are a few of my humble thoughts:


: In April, 1629, a person named Hall was brought before the General Court in the Virginia colony. Hall had not committed a crime,

>>Today we can barely get KNOWN criminals into court. There is NO WAY one could be for wearing the wrong clothing items, unless you are impersonating a policeman or something like that.


but had been reported to the authorities for one simple reason: people were confused about Hallís sexual identity. At times Hall dressed as a man; at other times, as a woman. Virginians attempted to come to grips with the problems presented to them by a sexually ambiguous person.


>>Today this man/woman may have been eligible for oodles of money from the confused Virginians. Because he was mentally confused, he could have gotten assistance. Because he was born with this ambiguous sexuality, he would be entitled assistance for his second wardrobe. Because he was raised as a woman, he would be entitled to an education fitting a man to prepare him for whatever manly employment he may decide to take on. We KNOW I could go on and on...

: This court case illustrates the importance of clothing as a crucial identifier of gender in early American society. Not only did males and females wear very different garb, but persons of different ranks also were expected to reveal their social status in their dress.


>>I LOVE reading and learning about the 17th and 18th century eras, but clothing requirements is one reason I'm glad I live in the 20th century. Gayle had written a little about the 'class rules for clothing' awhile back. Makes me think twice about wanting to travel back in time...as a woman anyway.:)

: In short, one was supposed to display visually oneís sex and rank to everyone in the society. Thus, new acquaintances would know how to categorize each other even before exchanging a word of greeting.

>>Aren't we STILL a little visually oriented today? Look what agony friends and relatives go through trying to buy outfits for unborn nieces and nephews, grandbabies, and godbabies. Pink or blue. Thank goodess, by the time little 'Tootsie' is two years old, Mom throws a barrette in her hair and hopes that it suffices to let the world know Tootsie is a girl.


In a fundamental sense, 17th-century peopleís identity was expressed in their apparel. Massachusetts went so far as to pass laws regulating what clothing people of different ranks could wear.

>>I don't think we have come so far in this area of dressing for different ranks. There may not be laws, but I think people do it, and expect it, naturally in our society. Some would like school age chilren to wear uniforms. What's really funny to me, is when kids rebel against these uniforms because they want to express their individuality, and they STILL end up all looking the same. Just funny...


: The significance of gender distinctions in 17th-century Anglo-America is dramatically underscored by the case of Thomas/Thomasine Hall and the vigor with which this matter was pursued.


>>I think the biggest difference between today and the 17th century would be that Thomas/Thomasine Hall would have been the one in court doing all the pursueing.

>>Thanks again for the wonderful information on Thomas/Thomasine Hall. Wouldn't this make a fascinating movie? What was really going through peoples minds back then?

Dana S.



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