on getting dressed: how, and why, and for whom?

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?

playful? tight? skimpy? friday-night casual? it's in the eye of the wearer.

peter asks:

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.)

i shortened this skirt by more than a foot and a half. and now it's perfect--for me.

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.

for instance, many of the reviewers on vogue 1247 felt the skirt was inappropriately short--but in this instance, the length was exactly that i wanted.

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:

yellow with white polka dots and fish. is it too goofy for a grown woman, or a bit of impish whimsy from someone who knows how she likes to dress on a hot summer day?

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.

badass, and HOT. who says casual friday is a dress-down day?

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.

some days, i like bright colors and fitted, body-hugging garments.

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.

kenneth king took one look at this shirt and said, "you made that. i can tell. it has a point of view."

and really, isn’t that the ultimate goal?  for all of us?

favorite me-made outfit to date.

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6 Responses to on getting dressed: how, and why, and for whom?

  1. oonaballoona says:

    love this, puu. (i also love to type puu, though i know otherwise…and your fave is my fave too!)

    and i love the point you bring up about the online sewing community. we really are so respectful and encouraging of one another, even with our vastly differing styles– it’s always a shock to see a negative comment pertaining to style (i’m thinking of the burdastyle community here; and, when you click on the flamer’s studio, there’s almost always zilch in it). but click on a “fashion” site and negative, thoughtless comments seem to reproduce like rabbits.

    i really think it’s because we fit our bodies and not just the trends, and so sewasuarus rexes have a greater appreciation for all bodies.

    (ruggy is OVER THE MOON that that word is in use now, by the way.)

  2. puu says:

    anything that pleases sir ruggy is automatically worth it 🙂

    i really do think the sewing community is unique in its acceptance. each of us is here because we were looking for clothing that was unavailable to us, right? because we wanted more color, or more prints, or something vintage–or even something more modest. so i think we all understand on a visceral level where each garment is coming from, not to mention the effort it takes to go from pattern envelope to wearable garment!

    (i also know otherwise, yet ‘oona’ always seems perfectly a propos!)

  3. Clio says:

    “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 could not have said this better!!

  4. That is exactly why I love the sewing community — most of the ladies in it started sewing because they wanted something that wasn’t available RTW, so they are very understanding of, say, unique design choices. I would never wear red pants myself, but I love love love seeing them on you (you look fabulous in them!), and that fave me-made (you-made?) outfit is so eclectic and awesome. I love seeing what other people think of, even if it’s not me, and I know I’ve received that same courtesy from other sewing bloggers. Pinterest, now, is some weird combo of fashion/sewing…my dear friend Shayna got all up in arms for me when she found out that someone had pinned my hippo dress on a board entitled “Why would you even…” I though it was funny, but I have to confess that I’m glad no one left me a comment like that, because that would be a whole ‘nother story. Anyway, thanks for letting me write a mini-essay.

    • puu says:

      i think this is actually a hugely important topic, both because of the constant deluge of magazines and other images around us and because we, as consumers, as women, as humans, should know how each of us feels about this issue and why. so i LOVE a mini-essay!

      why shouldn’t there be hippo dresses and superman sheets right along side couture french jackets and red trousers? all of it came from somewhere inspired and in turn inspires something else. 🙂 i would say, why WOULDN”T you wear a hippo-print dress?

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