I will never forget the rage that electrified my body when my father looked me in the eyes and told me that the way a woman dresses should reflect the man she is with. I love my father, I thought to myself.
How could someone I think so highly of have such a naive view of women? After a lot of arguing and a lot of thinking, I finally found an answer. As everyone I talked to about this would tell me, he acted this way because he is an old-school Italian. Problem solved.
Except…. Is that not really the entirety of the problem? Have women not made any progress since the 1900s, when their only role was to clean the house and tend to their children? The archetype of the female has pushed through so many boundaries and defeated so many limitations that the gender has been attached with with over the eras. News flash: we are in the twenty-first century. Man is not about to start dictating what we can and cannot dress ourselves in.
We’ve seen it in history, and we continue to see it every single day. Women of different sexualities, religions, and ethnicities, often attach feelings of shame with the clothes they wear. Gay men get criticized for dressing too feminine, just as Queer women are generalized as too masculine. Muslims get stereotyped for the simple wearing of the hijab, Indian women are often embarrassed to be wrapped in the beauty of their culture, just as the white female gets slut-shamed for showing off her curves. No matter when in time or where in the world, femme individuals are judged.
I am a lover of all things fashion. I am a feminist. I am a woman. I am a person. When I think about fashion, I think about designers and trends and colors and details. What I do not think about is how I am going to be perceived by the man walking down the street who sees me on my Monday morning walk to campus.
As women, why should we be concerned about the thoughts going through the minds of people who could be spending their time thinking about anything the slightest bit more important? We shouldn’t have to be thinking of the judgments of others, is what is going on in their brain really any of our business? No.
But, what is our business – and by us, I mean me, you, your mother, father, sister, brother, teacher, co-worker, boss – and what we should be judging, is the way society justifies its interference with the ever-progressing fight for feminism. And how something as small as the mini skirt a woman chooses to express herself with can set back a lifetime’s worth of fighting.
“I wear what I want.” I tell my father.
He laughs and tells me that is okay, but that I shouldn’t ask a man for his opinion and then get mad that the answer is not what I want to hear. As if belittling an entire population of gender is something someone should want to say.
I think about the times I have been told not to buy my friends a gift because, “Would their partner let them wear that?” I think about the times I’ve used the line “I have a boyfriend,” in which men have responded that it must be a lie because “Why would you be wearing that shirt if you weren’t single?” I think about the fear of falling in love with someone, because what am I to do with my closet of sheer tops and strapless dresses that I love so dearly? I think about the heaviness of the shirt woman has to carry on her back. I think about feminism.
Fashion is about artistic expression – it is a personal representation that is limited to the dresser. Others can interpret this form of art, but only through their own perspective. Just as “no means no,” a low-cut shirt does by no means yes mean yes. A woman walking into a bar wearing high heel stilettos and a tight black latex dress does by no indication make her a slut, just as a woman walking into a room wearing a cultural uniform does not make her a prude. Society has a funny way of attaching the individual woman with a constructed reputation of generalization.
I think about it a lot. I think about my dad, I think about men in general, I think about women and I think about clothes. I think about how strangely it all ties in together, into another societal scapegoat of degrading the idea of the femme.
Despite all of this, I believe that as feminists, it is important that we criticize our own selves as much as we examine the rest of society. I mean, let’s face it, we have all been there. We have all judged someone else because of their style choices, and we have all been untrue to ourselves when we refuse to wear what we want because of the fear of others.
In order for the state of women to progress, us as women have to take part in the progression. We must stop demining one another, and we must not succumb to the mentalities of the bitter men that try to confine us. And it’s not just men – it’s humans in general. It’s everyone who likes Kim Kardashian's nude selfies on Instagram one day yet is making rude comments about the girl on the bus who chose not to wear a bra the next.
The next time you see a woman wearing a fishnet top, tell her that you love her figure. When the next woman is wearing a piece of her culture, tell her she is beautiful. When you see your roommate walking towards the fridge in her sweatpants at midnight, remind her that she is born for the runway. Because the pieces of fabric that are stitched together through a system of machines in a factory do not and cannot make up or discredit the beauty that every woman obtains.
We need to remind ourselves and others that fashion is a form of art. When society interconnects the notion of woman and fashion, we should be linking Coco Chanel and Anna Wintour to their legacy and their work, not connotating the work with a judge of character. Fashion is about more than who is wearing what, it’s about who designed it and what it means in terms of the state of society. Let’s stop assuming that a woman’s choice of clothes has anything to do with the reflection of her intentions or her character, and start seeing it as a means of performance and creativity. Let’s recognize fashion for what it is meant to present, and not let it get caught between the common person and the protest for equality.
Make an oath to yourself to never let anyone dictate your choices – even if it is something as small as what you wear – and repeat it to yourself in the mirror every morning when you are brushing your teeth. The next time a man, woman, friend, enemy, teacher, co-worker, or stranger makes a comment on the style you choose to express your femininity, look them in the eyes and say … “I wear what I want.”