Fashion, for almost anyone not in the industry, is a hobby. Clothing is something we’re required by law and weather to wear; fashion is something some of us choose to do. Some people put on the clothing that is the most efficient and effective for their needs and circumstances, and some people choose to put effort and/or money into curating their wardrobes via some arbitrary standard for price/popularity/aesthetic/other. In a similar vein, some people use coins to feed the toll booth, and others spend some and collect others according to some personal standard they’ve established. As long as your thing isn’t interfering with your ability to live your life in a healthy way, there’s no reason not to do it.
However, as the realities of society intrude, significant differences arise between fashion and numismatism, even outside of the necessary storage space.
Coin collectors don’t place value judgments on non-collectors.
Coin collectors don’t wear their collections on their backs. They don’t look down on the motley pocket change of people who don’t even collect coins. They don’t automatically expect people to collect coins. People with better coin collections aren’t treated better at work or in public places. Non-coin collectors aren’t seen as lazy or negligent for not collecting coins. There’s no huge Coin Industry that exists to convince people to buy more coins, and buy specific coins, and feel bad about themselves for not being able to afford better coins. Collectors don’t scour magazines to figure out how to fake a good coin collection. Coin collections aren’t expected to fit and be flattering in addition to being valuable.
Coin collecting isn’t a gendered activity.
Fashion is, for the most part, considered a “girl thing”–while a growing population of men is taking an interest in it, they remain a minority, and that interest carries its own separate value judgment. Fashion is a hobby that’s assigned to women by default in a way that it isn’t to men. Women are expected to dress to please men and to impress men, and they’re expected to compete with other women for the approval of men, so of course it’s assumed that they’ll care greatly about what they wear to that end. Men, of course, have been wearing the same modified military uniform for literally centuries, with only the occasional widening or narrowing of the lapels or addition or removal of a vest to indicate the passage of time.
No one automatically assumes you collect coins.
While a man is allowed to just wear clothes, a woman is assumed to be engaging in fashion whether she wants to be or not. She’s wearing a pantsuit to tell the world she’s strong like a man! Except it’s tailored, so she wants you to know she’s sexy, except it’s got a scarf, because she’s prudish. Except it’s got a peplum, because she’s trendy, which also makes her shallow. Except it’s consignment, because she’s thrifty, but it’s Dior, because she’s vain.
And tell me, do we really want a shallow, vain, cheap, ball-busting skank-prude leading this great nation of ours? Do we? Vote Dude in Totally Inoffensive Suit on November 6!
And that’s the reason Hillary Clinton got the question about fashion designers yestertwoyearsago, why Condoleezza Rice’s boots were analyzed, and why Nancy Pelosi’s wardrobe has been lauded: because the assumption is that they cared. The assumption was that they chose their clothes to make a statement, to send a message, to express individuality. And who knows? Maybe they were. (Rice’s boots certainly looked rather fashion-y.) But assuming that they or any other women are choosing to do fashion makes no more sense than to assume that they’re choosing to do coin collecting.
(Note that both male and female politicians’ clothes are analyzed when they’re on the campaign trail. Why? Because almost as a rule, they actually are trying to send a message with their clothes. It’s Blind Date America 2012, and they must dress to impress.)
No one randomly brings up coin collecting as a conversation topic.
Because what the hell does coin collecting have to do with running the country? When a man is there in a work capacity, they talk about work. Their time is valuable. It’s not the time to talk about hobbies, real or otherwise, so no one bothers to ask. Unless a male politician is wearing a fishing vest, no one is likely to ask him about fishing. Unless he’s watching a football game, no one is likely to analyze his choice of football teams as an influence on his effectiveness as a politician.
But a woman’s time, even at work, is less valuable. Her time talking to the media about work, even less so. It’s perfectly reasonable to ask her about hobbies–even hobbies she doesn’t actually have–and include hobbyist fashion on the list of standards by which we evaluate her. Because it’s Essentialist Woman Stuff, we’re hard-wired to care about fashion; it’s a recessive gene on the X chromosome, which means it’s got to be a huge influence over both her home and her professional lives.
Coin collecting rarely requires instructions like the following.
1. Don’t assume that every woman cares about fashion. Don’t assume that just because she’s wearing fashionable clothes, she cares about fashion. Don’t judge her by fashion standards, because she might not care about them. Don’t judge her by fashion standards, because she might care about them very much but lack the resources to meet your standards. Don’t judge her by fashion standards, because she might have standards of her own and be judging you for not meeting them, or just not caring about you at all. Don’t analyze her clothing choices for messages, because she might not be sending any; sometimes a cigarette pant is just a cigarette pant.
Don’t judge a woman based on fashion because for the love of God, it’s clothes. It’s things you wear. There is no inherent personal value associated with the way a woman chooses to keep her nipples from getting frostbitten on a cold day.
2. Don’t waste a woman’s time talking about inconsequential things when there are consequential things that need to be discussed. And of course this is not to say that a woman, whether a politician or a CEO or anyone else, can never talk about or should never want to talk about hobbies and family and fun. But that’s for Elle and O and Macrame and Car & Driver.
Newsweek? The New York Times? CNN? If you’re asking a woman a question that you wouldn’t ask a man who does the same job, you’re wasting her time. And you’re wasting your time, and you’re wasting the time of anyone who wants to know about something other than her clothes. Respect our time. Talk about important stuff.