Dating back to 1700 B.C, Chinese women practiced foot-binding; this process forced women to have broken and bent bones in their feet or what society considered, “...three inch golden lotuses” (Lim, “Painful memories of China’s footbinding survivors”). During the 1700s, European women wore five layers of clothing that included a suffocating corset which could, “... rupture the ribs…” (Meister). These decisions were made by a society that believed this is what an ideal woman should wear. Moreover, in The Awakening by Kate Chopin, the description of women’s clothing in the 19th century displays that society prefers women concealed in long, thick, and white garments. This society, which is ruled by men, often control the true identity of women by controlling what they wear. However, women who don’t have men to control their lives and are able to choose their attire are categorized by society as wild and sinful. Women are obligated to wear certain clothing and accessories (even if it can harm their health) because societies ruled by men force it on them.
Society imposes restrictive apparel onto women to show them that the clothes they wear are their only identity. Robert forces Edna to wear the, “...rough straw hat…” (Chopin, 17) by placing it onto her head even when the sun was, “...low in the west…” (Chopin, 17) because her outer identity as a well-behaved woman has become the only identity she is known for. Although Edna slowly becomes comfortable with her true character, she is still hesitant to be independent. Edna gradually transitions into an independent woman, but Madame Ratignolle disguises her own, “...complexion… [wearing] gloves that protect her wrists...in pure white…which became her” (Chopin, 19). Her identity is absorbed into the clothing she wears and is taking over her true and inner expression.
Men enforce long and concealing clothing in society to restrain women’s freedom.
The audience is confronted with the attire that a well-behaved gentlewoman should wear in the 19th century. Madame Lebrun is described as, “... pretty woman...always in white with elbow sleeves,” (Chopin, 2) proving that women must wear restrictive clothing approved by society to be attractive to the male species. Chopin provides the example of, “...elbow sleeves,” to demonstrate that women are forced to wear gloves to ensure their arms are covered. This is how women are able to find spouses and have clean reputations. Simply through their clothes, women are automatically categorized as either sluts or high-value women--even when the definition of a slut is someone who is immoral. Edna Pontellier also is constantly wearing her, “Tuesday reception gown,” “street gown…[and] morning gown,” (Chopin, 90-94) which demonstrates how men are able to force women to wear gowns because they are long and are able to cover up the whole female figure. Since she wears nothing but gowns, she doesn’t have the freedom to reveal herself.
If women appear...