Women's Dress Fashions as a Function of Reproductive Strategy

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Abstract

Despite many speculations, there is no well-supported explanation for cycles of fashion in women's dress and scholars cannot agree whether fashions reflect societal changes. Generalizing from cycles of bodily attractiveness for women, it was hypothesized that dress styles are reflective of reproductive economics. Using data from three studies of dress fashion extending from 1885–1976, the prediction was tested thatshortskirts (signaling sexual accessibility) would be correlated with low sex ratios (indicating limited marital opportunity for women), with increased economic opportunities for women and with marital instability. Predictions for narrow waists and low necklines (which signal reproductive value) were opposite. These predictions received strong support indicating that dress styles, like standards of bodily attractiveness may be partly determined by marital economics.

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