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Brewer Burns

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Clothes Make The...Woman?

I want to start this post with a proposition: Throughout recorded history clothing has been used as a tool of oppression with respect to people in general and women particularly.

I want to talk about expectations of dress, why those expectations exist and what they mean. But why this topic? Each of us have hot-button issues. Things that really piss us off in a disproportionate way. I hate it when someone makes assumptions about me based on how I look. This manifests in two ways: I hate it when someone looks at me and makes an assumption about me based on their assumption of how old I am (or how young I am, to be more precise) and two, I hate to be judged based on how I am dressed. More particularly, I become livid when someone tells me how to dress. Recently, I came across a post on another knitting blog (which I’m not going to link to) that really pissed me off. Basically the post addressed what that particular blogger (a man) thought his female co-workers should be wearing. Both the topic of the post and its tone, which was incredibly condescending, made my blood boil. Although I did not comment, the post has stayed with me. Then yesterday Eunny wrote a post addressing the same topic, in a different context. This kept me thinking about the issue. Why does it make me so angry when someone tells me how to dress?

I’ve decided that it basically boils down to one thing: telling a person how to dress is tanatamount to judging them based on the garments that they choose to cover their nakedness. To my mind, how a person dresses should not matter. Dressing in low rise jeans with the top of your thong showing does not mean that you are sexually promiscuous. Wearing an akle length skirt and a shirt that’s buttoned up to your neck does not mean that you are a prude. So, all other things being equal, I think that we should all be able to dress in the manner that we find to be most comfortable without judgment.

I know that this is not realistic. I work in a profession where I am required to dress in the most uncomfortable manner every day. I have to dress "professionally." I put "professionally" in quotes for a reason. What does that mean anyway? For men, it’s easy. Dress shirt, tie, slacks, sport coat. Extra points if it all matches. For women, it’s not so easy. I wish that I could come to work in the aforementioned dress shirt, tie, slacks, sport coat every day. I can’t do that for a variety of reasons. One, I would look like ass in that outfit. Two, I could not wear a variation of the same outfit every day because people would start to wonder if I was just wearing the same outfit every day and if so, did I wash it in between? Three, people expect something different of women. And there’s the rub.

Women are not men. Women are not expected to look like men, even in a business or corporate environment. Women are supposed to still look like women and dress accordingly. That means: fitted shirts. Fitted slacks or skirts. Nylons. No bare legs. Fitted sport coats. Fitted suits, of course, are acceptable. Nice shoes. Lots of shoes with heels. Lastly, we are supposed to accessorize tastefully, put on makeup, and fix our hair.

I hate every single minute of it. EVERY MOTHERFUCKING MINUTE. And remember, I do it five days a week, 51 weeks a year.

Don’t get me wrong. I like looking nice. I like dressing up for special occasions. What I really hate is the fact that I am constantly being judged according to how I look I am not the person that I really am on the inside. I am, literally, the clothes. My clients never see past the clothes. The Judge never sees past the clothes. So, depending on how I am dressed, I might be JenniferLawyer or, on some days, JenniferNotQuiteDressedWellEnoughToBeALawyer or JenniferClothesLookGoodButHairIsNotDoneInClassyEnoughStyleToGetRespect. On most days I am JenniferLawyerButStillLooksTooYoungToBeMuchMoreThanAGlorifiedSecretaryBecause

Consequently, it really makes me angry when someone bitches about the fact that some girl’s bra straps are showing. What’s the big fucking deal? And the thing that really gets me is this: I know what the big deal is. The person who thinks it’s a big fucking deal is judging that girl or woman. She’s thinking (and usually these judgers are women rather than men) that the fact that her bra straps are showing is a reflection of her character. That she is trashy or cheap or to put it bluntly: not good enough in some fundamental way. Personally, I can’t imagine anything more unfair or more likely to be untrue.


At 1:28 PM, Anonymous shelly said...

This is an interesting topic, I commented on Eunny's post yesterday, too. I used to work as a geologist and came up against a lot of judgement about how I was dressed, all of the women geologists I knew did. One was told by her boss that dangly earrings meant she was "loose". I NEVER wore dresses to work, I dressed like the men in my office-chinos, sweaters, suits, etc. and I always felt like I had to hide my true self. How we present ourselves to the world is an extension of what's going on inside of our hearts and minds. Unfortunately, too many people are letting us see too much of their sexuality, or their poor self-esteem. I'm thinking of young women with too much belly, breast and bum showing and an older many I saw shirtless, unshaven, sweaty, dirty and smelly in overalls at Godfather's Pizza. Yeah, sometimes I dash into the grocery store wearing the same jeans I mucked out the barn in, but I always try to be conscious of that sort of thing so I don't offend. But if you are a young professional, the heat is really on, especially if you are a woman and it can be a bitch trying to find a balance that you and the people around can live with. I'll be interested to read what others think about this issue, too. For me, I eventually realized that I was in the wrong line of work, the struggle to be taken seriously was too much. I was successful, too, but what a personal price I paid. Good luck to you.

At 2:33 PM, Blogger Moni said...

Good Post! It's very apt as I am wearing a "not in style anymore" knit poncho today. I thought about this as I grabbed it as I was walking out the door. Then my next thought was "f**k it".

I am going to have to do a little surfing to find this other post you refer to :).

At 6:57 PM, Blogger Pioneer Woman said...

Very interesting post. You made my brain work for the first time today. :)


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