there’s something in the water today, i think. within minutes of each other, and only an hour after i got back from a lunch break at the local mall (still reeling from the 80s-inspired neon t-shirts and high-waisted cutoff shorts), i saw two different, and thought-provoking, posts on how women dress. specifically: “sexy”, yay or nay?
It’s the subject of women (primarily, though not exclusively) being pressured to present themselves as “sexy.” I’m not referring to bias-cut satin evening gowns on the red carpet, nor the So-and-So Celebrity Reveals All come-hither headline on the cover of Us. I’m talking about the relentless marketing of styles and attitudes derived from porn and prostitution. An adjective one often hears to describe this contemporary fashion/cultural phenomenon is “trashy.” To paraphrase United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart (in reference to pornography), we know it when we see it.
I often read contemporary fashion and style blogs that opine that feminism is about women getting to choose how they want to present themselves. If they want to wear clothes that reveal a lot of flesh, that’s their business and nobody else’s. If pole dancing and pin-up poses are back, it’s because they’re fun — a sign of liberation.
look, i’m from an urban area in the northeast US. i live in NYC. i grew up in a middle-class family that was lucky enough to be (very) upwardly mobile, and i live a very comfortable existence. i fit about every stereotype of a liberal there is: young, single, female, college-educated, urban, east coast…. definitely a feminist, and i won’t apologize for using the f-word. if women feel that they enjoy dressing like they are hanging off a stripper pole, i’m not going to get all upset about female modesty and giving away the milk for free. (but i will laugh at you behind your back! seriously, mall-trolling teenagers: no one finds that attractive.)
while i strive to be respectful of women who feel, for their own reasons and values, that modesty is important for them personally, i am distinctly uncomfortable with a society that would dictate those values for us. i think the online sewing community is uniquely respectful of the way that we, as (majority) women, prefer to express ourselves through our craft, and how our values and preferences inform that craft. i always find it fascinating to come upon a dress pattern and see how different women have adapted it: some found it too short, some wanted to show more leg, this was too low-cut to be office-appropriate, that was too high-necked and needed some decolletage, etc. it is an ongoing lesson in appreciating what each of us brings to her craft and, i think, is empowering on an individual level to make these choices to fit our own lifestyles.
meanwhile, over in kalkatroona, oona is pondering a similar question while enjoying her in-progress tangerine tango striped trousers. specifically, for whom are we dressing when (if?) we get skimpy or otherwise moderate our habits for a perceived norm:
for years, without ruggy asking me to, i dressed for his approval. i knew what colors, cut, and fit he liked, and i turned down my clashing. this was stupid and unnecessary, but even if ruggy didn’t expect it, we’re trained in a society that expects it. hard to rewire that, it still gets me sometimes.
that’s not news, we all experience that in some form– jobs, school, family… but what i wonder is: specifically as sewists who can make anything you might desire to put on your gorgeous bods, who do you YOU dress for? because as i get better at sewing, i look at women with thongs giving a jolly wave to everyone behind them, at ladies with peplums and skinny jeans and hell, men with low rise pants that give Thong Chicks a serious run for their money, and instead of trends that i should be wearing, i see poor choices in fit. choices in color and cut that don’t flatter the wearer– they flatter the wearer’s idea of “in”.
my answer was in the comment form before i even had a chance to think about it!
fabulous post, oona. peter’s also talking about this today, and i think, with all of the recent political headlines, the idea of women’s dressing (and other choices) seem closer to the front of my thought processes these days.
ITA–when i look at the trends these days, i see people wearing clothes that don’t fit, that may not flatter, that would look nicer in a different color–all of the things that we sewasaurus rexes started sewing to have control over! i walk through the racks at the mall in a state of shock that anyone would buy that sort of poorly-made junk.
but then, i’ve never been into trends. the closest i ever came, really, was the year some (guy) friends told me i was way too hot to be wearing baggy jeans and t-shirts. i like to dress for me and and i like for people looking at me to see the bits of me i want to project…and nothing else.
it’s not about feminism, if i may contradict rachael younger. dressing to be seen and approved is not tied in any way with seeking to be seen as an equal–in fact, i would say it’s the opposite! i dress the way i dress because i like it, because i made it, because it says something about me that i want said–and i want everyone else in the world (man, woman, child) to approach their wardrobe that way, within their own cultural, religious, budgetary and personal values.
i guess my takeaway is that, as a young woman, especially a young woman in college, where young women were expected to somehow project their awesomeness and hotness through clothing (and the lack thereof). i definitely knew which pink t-shirt and fitted jeans the cute guy i had a crush on preferred; i’ve been susceptible to the idea of dressing for others. (admit it. we all have.) but even in my days of skirts too short to sit in, i always looked for a way to express something about me, whether it was that short skirt with goofy sandals, or an off-color t-shirt, or a playful element that otherwise told people something about me i was willing to share–beyond the length of my legs and the color of my painted toenails. and, for the record: i wore that pink t-shirt and jeans with a belt that had a picture of a monkey on it.
but now, with my own life and a job that supports that lifestyle, i’m all about what represents me personally. i’ll show more skin some days, long skirts other days, high necks, tall boots–it all depends on my mood.
and really, isn’t that the ultimate goal? for all of us?