Although both are escaping the confines of the restrictive gender boxes they’ve been put into, it's interesting to think about what cross-dressing in “the other direction”, if you will, implies. Historically, it has always been a social/societal benefit or privilege to be a man, and a detriment to be a woman – a restrictive gender binary which is damaging for both men and women, as well as those considering themselves to be neither, in between or both.
As a result of this binary that places one gender above others, women dressing as men were seen to be aiming too high above their station, or trying to get something they don’t deserve. The women in these photographs could be seen as trying to emulate the power and social stability that they saw men having.
On the other hand, men dressing as women were seen to be demeaning or debasing themselves – beautifying themselves into the “fairer” sex but also connecting with the “weaker” sex, whose feminine stylings are often seen as frivolous and inconsequential.
This might be part of why nowadays it’s much more common to see women in what was traditionally “men’s” dress - trousers, jeans and suits have become acceptable for everyone to wear, despite differences in fit. However, in western culture it’s still more taboo for men to wear dresses or skirts, clothing items seen as more “feminine”.
This is a beautiful archive, and an important record of a kind of queerness we too often think of as being thoroughly modern. Thanks to The Photographer's Gallery for having me.