I wonder if Arlene Dahl, film star of the forties and fifties, was ever embarrassed by her anti-feminist manifesto, Always Ask a Man. Written in 1967, in the early years of second wave feminism, it is all about performing for the male gaze. The chapter on clothing, “How to Dress (and Undress) for a Man,” is filled with quotes by male celebrities of the time, including Dean Martin and Richard Burton. She offers tips on how to keep your husband happy at home, including fixing your hair and makeup before you sit down with him at the breakfast table.
Most shocking from my twenty first century perspective was her view on pants. “I must express here the male opinion on women in pants,” she writes. “With few exceptions, men do not like them. And, truthfully, neither do I. Some girls may look chic or sporty in them, and there are certain outdoor occasions when they are warranted, but a girl puts a man on guard psychologically when she starts wearing pants around the house… Not only does a woman look less feminine in pants, she acts it too. Give a girl a pair of pants and she sprawls in a chair, crosses her legs like a man, and becomes more aggressive in her speech and manner.” (135-136)
By the 1980s, however, her opinions on pants must have changed. When she became Vogue Patterns’ spokesperson for older seamstresses, she not only sponsored pants patterns, she was even photographed wearing them. Despite this shift, her hairstyle stayed the same.