Is dress used to consolidate or destabilize social identities in the film Some Like It Hot?

In Some Like It Hot, dress is used to consolidate social identities. Joe and Jerry use dress to disguise that they are men, but they perform femininity in a way that consolidates an impression of what it means to be a woman. Sugar does this through her dress too, as she is frequently seen performing in low-cut dresses that portray her through a patriarchal, heteronormative gaze. In contrast, destabilizing social identities would mean breaking out of traditional binaries.

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In the film Some Like it Hot, dress is used to shake up the characters’ social identities. Joe and Jerry dress like women because they are on the run after witnessing a mafia murder. They successfully trick people around them into believing they are women, to the point where Sugar becomes their friend and Osgood comically falls in love with Jerry. Dress is thus presented as a mechanism for altering one’s social identity to align with one’s interests.

Although dress is used to mask the men’s identities, it is not destabilizing them as to remove them from the socially constructed gender binary. When dress is used to destabilize identities, it attempts to break one out of categories that people have made up about things like gender and class. But to mask the fact that they are men, Joe and Jerry disguise themselves in ways that have been traditionally deemed feminine. They wear wigs and makeup and dresses and heels. Sugar, Joe’s love interest, is also portrayed as stereotypically feminine, with her skin-tight dresses that are clearly intended to garner male attention while she sings. Consider the low-cut dresses she wears when she performs on stage. These dresses sexualize her through a patriarchal, heteronormative gaze and help her perform very traditional notions of femininity. Thus, dress does not destabilize identities in this film but rather consolidates them by performing gender in ways that reinforce impressions of being a man and being a woman.

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