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Research project

‘No disagreeable Figure in Petticoats’: Men, Mollies and Cross-Dressing in England c.1690-1750’

Project overview

This project examines the lived experiences of men who dressed as women in early eighteenth-century England. These Mollies, who frequented the relative ‘safe-space’ of the Molly Houses for entertainment, companionship, sexual relations and love, attracted considerable contemporary comment, both curious and hostile, particularly as a result of the raids initiated by the Society for the Reformation of Manners. The choice of physical appearance of some eighteenth-century Mollies, characterised by female fashions, hairstyles, make up and accessories speaks to key social and cultural questions in British society, then and now, and will advance of our knowledge and understanding in relation to wider debates surrounding gender and sexual identities, and trans-histories, and material cultures.

Our research will identify what items of female clothing Mollies were depicted as wearing and how these related to contemporary fashions for both men and women. We are researching where this clothing was acquired through locating those who produced the clothing suitable for male bodies, to considering how certain garments could be shared, loaned or rented. Finally, we are examining how men wore female clothing, the practicalities of adjusting garments to fit male frames and what adaptations needed to be made.

We are combining archival research, object-based research and recreation and wearing of historic dress (‘experimental history’) to discover what Mollies wore and how they acquired this female clothing to establish how Mollies engaged with female dress to project their identities.

Staff

Other researchers

Professor Maria Hayward

Head of Department

Research interests

  • Early modern textiles and clothing especially in a court context.
  • Early modern court culture, including the Tudors and the later Stuarts.
  • Early modern Scotland, in particular looking at the engagement of the male elite with material culture.

Dr Julie Gammon

Associate Professor

Collaborating research institutes, centres and groups

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