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A History of Women in Men's Clothes (Hardback)

From Cross-Dressing to Empowerment

P&S History > Clothing & Fashion P&S History > Social History Women of History

By Norena Shopland
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 216
Illustrations: 40 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526787675
Published: 18th June 2021



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Traditionally, historic women have been seen as bound by social conventions, unable to travel unless accompanied and limited in their ability to do what they want when they want. But thousands of women broke those rules, put on banned clothing and travelled, worked and even lived whole lives as men. As access to novels and newspapers increased in the nineteenth century so did the number of women defying Biblical and social restrictions. They copied each other’s motives and excuses and moved into the world of men. Most were working-class women who either needed to or wanted to, break away from constricted lives; women who wanted to watch a hanging or visit a museum, to see family or escape domestic abuse, some wanted to earn a decent living when women’s wages could not keep a family. The reasons were myriad. Some were quickly arrested and put on display in court, hoping to deter other women from such shameful behaviour, but many more got away with it.

For the first time, A History of Women in Men’s Clothes looks at those thousands of individuals who broke conventions in the only way they could, by disguising themselves either for a brief moment or a whole life.

Daring and bold, this is the story of the women who defied social convention to live their lives as they chose, from simply wanting more independence to move and live freely, to transgender and homosexual women cross-dressing to express themselves, this is women’s fight to wear trousers.

I thought this would be an interesting book to read as I don't think I have seen something that covers this area before.
The book is filled with multiple accounts of women and their stories. The reasons they wore what they did and the reaction or backlash they faced for doing so.
Reading this book was fascinating as you start to relate it to today and where we are now.
If you are interested in an area of history that is rarely discussed in depth and want to hear about fascinating women through time, then I would definitely recommend reading this book.

For the Love of Books

"This book is an excellent addition to scholarship that attempts to carve out space for understanding the lives of queer ancestors, as well as to create a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the lives of women. Shopland’s humour and expertise make it an enjoyable and informative read, suitable for academic contexts or casual browsing."

The Journal of Dress History, Spring 2022

As featured on golwg360 - 'A historian specialising in the LGBT community in Wales has revealed that cross-dressing was "perfectly common" in Wales during the nineteenth century, contrary to what some would expect.'

Gwern Ab Arwel, golwg360

The book was interesting: both informative and intriguing.

NetGalley, Paddy Pikala

Norena uncovers the truth behind this attempt by women to bring normality into the wearing of trousers and other articles of male clothing by women into society, something that I always took for granted as being perfectly acceptable.

Books Monthly

This is a meticulously researched and well written work which apparently came about from the author's research for a related project and covers a wide ranging and fascinating cross section of women who, through choice or necessity, used clothing and presentations traditionally reserved for men of the period. The introductory notes were fascinating and I recommend them highly. The author explains some of her methodology (with applicability to other queries and of undeniable usefulness to readers and researchers in other fields). Terminology/gender/pronouns are explained in the introduction as well and the author's choice of where and when to employ specific terms are explained clearly and logically.

The chapters are organised thematically and cover the reasons that women have chosen to dress and/or represent as men and include working conditions, protest, disinclination to conform to societal norms (and what the repercussions might've been). Although it's a layman accessible volume and the language throughout is understandable and engaging, it is rigorously annotated and the chapter notes and bibliography provide fertile material for readers to investigate further.

The book includes a number of photographs and facsimiles of drawings and news articles from the past with occasional background info or glimpses into a long vanished time. It would make a good selection for public or university library acquisition as well as support text for allied subjects such as gender studies. Fascinating stories from the past, well told.

Four stars.

NetGalley, Annie Buchanan

Such a fabulous book. It was informative and intriguing in equal measure.
A thoroughly researched topic that was very eye opening.

NetGalley, Nicola Whitehead

A History of Women in Men's Clothes by Norena Shopland is a very well researched excursion through the history of oppression by regulating how a group of people can dress without either legal ramifications or social ridicule, or both. As Shopland states clearly, the bigger issue is women dressing "as men" rather than men dressing as women since only the latter is a threat to the idea of men as superior. Men dressing in women's clothes, as she states, is a step in a culturally backward direction, so while frowned on it was also less of a threat to patriarchy.

Highly recommended for those interested in feminist history as well as LGBTQI+ history.

NetGalley, Jack Messer

I saw this pop up on Netgalley and was intrigued by its premise, as I've never seen a book about this subject, and now I am even more curious about the people who appear in this book as Norena Shopland brings them to life and our attention for the first time.

Informative and interesting, I also appreciated how Shopland reintroduced different case studies, but not in a way that is repetitive but reminiscent to take us back to previous moments in the book - something I find often happens in non fiction, however Shopland crafts this book incredibly well and keeps you fascinated from beginning to end.

A really intriguing and interesting book that explores the stories of women from across the world, Shopland really has delved deep to share the stories of the people who appear in this book. I feel so fortunate that now, it doesn't matter who gets to wear the trousers.


NetGalley, Victoria Caswell

This book is a good look into the lives of the thousands of women across history in Europe and North America who adopted male clothes and/ or mannerisms for some period of time. It details many of the reasons why these things were often necessary, as well as touching on a few of the individuals who simply wanted to dress that way for personal affirmation. As a collection of historical anecdotes, it's very well researched and informative.

NetGalley, Felix Aitch

You've all heard the phrase, "Who wears the trousers?".

The answer to that is Women, whether they were allowed to or not.

A History of Women in Mens Clothes delves into the thousands of Women who history swept under the rug for carrying out their own forms of protest by forcing their way into a Mans world and refusing to be defined by their biology.

Some Women had to do this, to escape abuse and danger, others because they were finding who they are, others just because they could.

Easy to read, informative and a must-read for anyone who wants to know more about womens history.

NetGalley, Bethany Casey

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This book is hilarious and horrifying. Did you know that women were banned in France from wearing trousers? If they wanted to wear “male” clothing they had to apply to the police and pay for a permit. The ban was overturned in… 2013!

The whole book is full of maddening little anecdotes about the way society treated (and still treats) women who deviate from societal expectations. At times, all you can do is to laugh to stop yourself crying. The book sometimes feels like a catalogue of Fragile Masculinity – as men of the age rage against women encroaching into “their” territory”. The fear that a woman might to as good a job as a man – as an employee or as a lover – is seen as an existential threat which must be crushed...

The book mostly draws from English-language reports, so is firmly tied to the Anglosphere – with occasional forays into France, Germany, and China. It is meticulously referenced, and contains some images of news cuttings to peruse.

Much like Miranda Kaufmann “Black Tudors”, it is a fascinating book which uncovers a facet of history which is often conveniently ignored.

NetGalley, Terence Eden

About Norena Shopland

Norena Shopland specialises in researching, recording and promoting LGBT+, women’s and Welsh histories. Working closely with heritage organisations she curates exhibitions on these subjects, hosts workshops on research techniques and is in great demand as a speaker. Shopland regularly appears in the press, on radio and TV.

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