On fashion, time, Hillary Clinton, numismatists, and Big Coin

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.

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47 Responses to On fashion, time, Hillary Clinton, numismatists, and Big Coin

  1. Henry says:

    yep…what the CEO of Yahoo wears is not doing a damn thing for my retirement fund, Condi’s sexy boots did not bring about world peace, and Hillary’s tailored pants suit will not scare Syria into solving its issues peacefully. The press made fun of Qaddafi for his very public crush/obsession for Ms. Rice, and they were right to do so…so dear Press, please don’t engage in the same behavior. You have a style section, at the back of the paper…use it.

  2. Andy says:

    Hear hear.

    I live in Canada, so politics aside, nudity is never, ever gonna fly for me. But I do not give a damn about clothes. I find some clothes aesthetically pleasing, sure, and I know a bit about what different outfits convey, but as a whole, I can’t remember to care 98% of the time. Where some people say they can’t pass a mirror without looking into it, I often manage to stand smack in front of mirrors without–somehow–even remembering to look into them. If I could get away with it, I’d pick out three outfits (the “fuck it’s freezing fuck fuck I can’t feel my toes”, the “three days of spring a year” and the “augh someone turn off the sun”) and then just buy multiples of each. I (personally; I respect that others feel differently) express myself through my words. My clothes, makeup and hairstyle don’t mean anything.

  3. “fuck it’s freezing fuck fuck I can’t feel my toes”, the “three days of spring a year” and the “augh someone turn off the sun”

    I…I think I love you. My wife and I are giggling helplessly right now.

  4. LC says:

    Andy, I saw macavitykitsune’s quote and then immediately thought, “Huh, Andy must be Canadian as well.”

    Sure enuff.

    As for the main post, I agree and I really thought the whole coin collecting comparison was genius. I am not sure the bit about men wearing the same military uniform for ages actually holds up that well, though. There was a pretty massive change in men’s fashion with the Industrial Revolution. For a long time, men were expected to show off fashion wise (and status wise) that just got clamped down massively post 1850 or so.

    I almost did my master’s on male vanity, so I did some preliminary research on this. But it was years ago, so I am happy to be corrected by someone who is more up on the field. I do recall this argument pointing out that the great renunciation by men just put MORE pressure on wives to be decorative, as now she was even more important as a status display.

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  6. Angie unduplicated says:

    Caperton, thank you. This article should be posted in every mainstream media outlet in the English-speaking world.
    If we can convince the world that fashion is a hobby, then perhaps we can put an end to socially-induced starvation. Biscuits will be ready in half an hour, and you are invited.

  7. TennesseEMW says:

    Tweeted and FB shared. Thank you!

  8. samanthab says:

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say that clothes have no value. by any means. As a dressy dress person, I think it can be an important vehicle for self-expression and creativity that absolutely has a value. It’s worth keeping in mind that it has not always been true that fashion was not always a gendered phenomenon. There was a shift at the beginning of the 20th century that rendered fashion a gendered phenomenon. Historically, fashion was considered the domain of men as well.

    I would also point out that women were, for centuries, pushed out of the larger domain of the arts, and that textiles, embroidery, etc. were the rare exception to this rule. To say that clothes are meaningless is to deny respect for centuries of women’s artistic expression.

    On the other hand, I’m in 100% agreement with the larger message of this post: fashion should not be fucking mandatory for every woman. I lay a lot of blame for this at the feet of “Sex in the City,” which, while of course not initiating the phenomenon, I think without question exacerbated it. It had some positive messages for women, undoubtedly, but that was a seriously screwed up message that was pretty central to the show. Women are paying the price for it. Enough with it already.

  9. SaraC says:

    Thank you for this post. It articulates so well some of the thoughts I’ve been struggling with over the last few years. I collect unusual clothes and love putting together outfits that reflect my personality/ interests. I suppose I’m not really a fashionista because I could not care less about current trends, and I try to buy things second-hand or to pick things made from more sustainable materials (cotton, rayon, etc.) All this being said, my love of clothes and fashion is a hobby, one that I can indulge because of a certain level of privilege as well as a fair amount of leniency in my field. I would be pretty horrified if my clothes were a point of discussion during the work day.

  10. MiZ says:

    If we can convince the world that fashion is a hobby, then perhaps we can put an end to socially-induced starvation.

    I say fashion bloggers first, then the world. There is a fairly large subculture of people for whom fashion is the pinnacle of their creative expression and SO NOT A HOBBY. If you look through any fashion blog to find the “about me” section, you will find all manner of lofty reasons for why said blogger devotes massive amounts of their time to photographing their outfits, photographing other peoples’ outfits, ordering shit off Net-a-Porter, memorizing every seasonal collection, and defending Terry Richardson…but no mention of the “h word”.

    Is it any wonder that someone, somewhere, thought it was perfectly legitimate to ask Hillary Clinton about the label on her suit (or whatever it was)?

  11. Chiara says:

    not really gendered imo, just another way for the upper/middle class or the wannabe upper/middle class to distinguish themselves

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  13. Dr. Toboggan says:

    It’s certainly ridiculous when a powerful person’s clothes are discussed more than their policies. For instance:

    link

    and:

    link 2

    Since these people are running for the two highest offices in the land, perhaps what they wear isn’t the most germane topic of conversation?

  14. DonnaL says:

    Coin collecting isn’t a gendered activity

    Apologies for the slight derail to say something about your chosen analogy, but: would that it were so! I used to collect British coins and historical medals, although I haven’t done so actively for some time, and I still enjoy going to the giant International Numismatics Convention held in New York City every December, just to look at all the coins and medals and antiquities from all over the world that are on display. But the dealers and attendees are so overwhelmingly male — well over 90%, I would guess — that it’s made me feel rather uncomfortably conspicuous ever since I transitioned, and even a little embarrassed, as if I shouldn’t be interested in something that’s so predominantly a pastime for nerdy/eccentric middle-aged men (many of them affluent, to be sure, but that doesn’t change the fundamental character of the pastime). I also find rather pathetic the way that when I talk to dealers, they’re so obviously astonished and excited that an actual real-life woman knows something about, say, the different coronation medals of Charles II. So I haven’t been going anymore the last few years.

  15. samanthab says:

    I actually don’t think fashion can be accurately classified as a hobby. You have to get dressed, for starters; you don’t walk around displaying your coin collection for the world to see. And there are genuinely physiological responses to color, texture, and fit. You don’t get that out of coins.

    I’m not disagreeing that you can take a hobby-like approach to it. I do myself, I think. But the bigger picture of fashion is a highly complex subject. It’s inextricably tied to identity and class, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. Of course it’s bullshit to interrogate HRC on the details of her outfit, but it would also be disingenuous to argue that fashion isn’t used to convey authority by both male and female politicians. You aren’t going to see either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton showing up to meet with Putin in a ratty t-shirt or sweats. And, on other side, Jimmy Carter very deftly used his relatively casual cardigan sweaters to convey an “I’m one of you” image to the American public. I just don’t see how it can be argued that fashion doesn’t have a system of codes and impacts that far out do those of coin collecting. I get that the inanity of media coverage of fashion can lead to the conclusion that fashion itself is an inane subject. If you read Anne Hollander’s work or look at Frida Kahlo’s, however, it should be obvious that it’s a subject with profound significance.

    And, to address the argument that fashion is strictly the domain of the wealthier classes, yeah, sure, there’s a big part of it that’s aspirational. On the other hand, high end fashion has also importantly gone the other way and appropriated the looks of the not so affluent, especially in the 20th and 21st century. In fact, it’s usually said that the preponderance of high end fashion has, since the 60’s, copied looks from the street rather than vice versa.

    It has also been repeatedly, throughout history, tied to social subversion. Think of the roles played by bloomers, jeans, baggy pants, leather, and the mini skirt- to name just a few. Conversely (duh!) fashion has been bound to social oppression and exploitation. The point remains, it’s by no means a simple subject; it’s a profoundly complex one. Coin collecting doesn’t come close to that kind of social significance.

  16. iiii says:

    See also Deborah Tannen’s “Marked Women, Unmarked Men.”
    http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/tannend/nyt062093.htm

  17. Fat Steve says:

    I really enjoyed this bit of writing.

    Strangely when reading the bullet points, I couldn’t help but notice that if you used ‘coin-collecting’ as a synonym for ‘earning money,’ all of the statements take on totally different meanings in which they would all be untrue.

  18. Bridget says:

    Wonderful post. I’ve seen a couple of episodes of the show “What Not To Wear” and I find it sad. I mean, here you have this interesting person who happens to wear kind of odd clothing…so what? Why is this a huge problem that needs to be fixed? People who are into fashion tend to say it helps them express their unique qualities, which is great and all, but if that’s the case, what’s so wrong with someone else expressing who they are with un-trendy clothes? And even, what’s wrong with someone expressing, through their un-trendy clothes, the sentiment that they prioritize other things in life above clothing?

  19. LotusBecca says:

    I really liked Caperton’s post. . .especially for its spirit and rhetorical value and flair. In terms of looking at the issue analytically, I probably see things more the way that samanthab does though. I see clothing as a lot like language or politics or physics. All these things are omnipresent and affect almost every aspect of human social existence. That said, only certain people are “into” fashion, just like only certain people are “into” politics or physics. But whatever clothing you wear still is socially important, and it still sends out messages to every person that looks at you. . .whether you want it to be doing that or not. In a similar way, even a person who finds physics boring as hell will be bound to the ground by the Earth’s gravitational field. As samanthab implied, a person who doesn’t care about fashion in the slightest is still going to–at least subconsciously–view a person in a t-shirt and sweatpants differently than they view a person in a business suit. The social meanings of clothing are just programmed into people too early and too consistently through too many different avenues to completely transcend all that.

    When I was younger I felt that the solution to oppressive fashion standards was just to say that clothing wasn’t that important. Nowadays I say that clothing is important, and the most important thing about it is for each individual to choose whatever clothing they like without being negatively judged or marginalized. People should wear whatever clothing they want to for whatever reason they want to (comfort, practically, aesthetics, etc.) and should refrain from projecting unwarranted assumptions or negative judgments on the clothing of others. Just my two cents.

  20. Tony says:

    There’s no doubt that fashion has had a tremendous political significance in world history- much of it having to do with cultural insecurity, imposition, rebellion, or (re)assertion, as well as changing gender roles. Peter the Great famously ordered his generals to shave their beards and adopt modern styles, then taxed men for growing beards. Kemal Ataturk required the civil service to wear Western-style hats over the Fez, and discouraged use of the veil and the turban. The queue and later the Mao suit, was compulsory in China, when political winds made them so. There is the Nehru jacket. The return of the veil in the Middle East coincided with the resurgence of political Islam. Beards or long hair on both men and women have variously represented conservatism or counterculture. And countless other things- as samanthab mentioned.

    The issue is not that fashion, image, and beauty cannot be an interesting, complex, or political subject. It is that while it is given appropriate treatment for men as a potential signaling mechanism supplementary to other more substantive things (usually those things seen as what is being signaled or communicated), for women it was and is often seen as an end to itself. The stereotype is so strong that even when confronted with intelligent, powerful women (like Clinton, Rice, Pelosi, Mayer, etc.) we can’t resist going back to it.

    As in, the politician’s wife is there to “send signals”, to embody an aesthetic, to project an image, to be a “public face”, to have flattering profiles published in fashion magazines or style sections about how she’s doing great things, how she reflects well on her husband, who is running for office. Just as long as she doesn’t stick her nose into anything substantive or controversial (like health care), she’s doing great!

    The kicker is that once sexism has successfully made a public woman’s image the most important part of her, infantilized her by rewarding her more for glamour than anything more substantive, and excluded her from the real channels of power, it can always be turned around by the clever misogynist to accuse her of being shallow, vapid, airheaded, or even fake and deceptive. All of which by this point has a ring of truth to it, as the public persona has become so divorced from the actual person embodying it.

  21. Li says:

    When I was younger I felt that the solution to oppressive fashion standards was just to say that clothing wasn’t that important. Nowadays I say that clothing is important, and the most important thing about it is for each individual to choose whatever clothing they like without being negatively judged or marginalized. People should wear whatever clothing they want to for whatever reason they want to (comfort, practically, aesthetics, etc.) and should refrain from projecting unwarranted assumptions or negative judgments on the clothing of others. Just my two cents.

    I think it’s important to remember that elements of fashion can sometimes be heavily rooted in systems of oppression. I understand what you’re saying here, but I have to disagree with “whatever clothing they want to for whatever reason they want to” because of things like cultural appropriation. I’m going to judge white people who wear warbonnets because that fashion is centred in white supremacy. I’m similarly going to judge dudes who wear any of myriad t-shirts with misogynistic slogans printed on them. Sometimes the social meanings of clothing aren’t just in the eye of the beholder.

  22. LotusBecca says:

    OK Li. . .I agree with that for the most part. I’m pretty sure I will judge the hell out of someone wearing a KKK outfit. . .whether it’s because they are a member of the group or as some part of an “ironic” Halloween costume. I meant what I said in my last comment as a general principle, and I still think it holds mostly, although I also think all generalizations carry exceptions within them. So I appreciate you raising a good counterpoint.

  23. mxe354 says:

    I think it’s important to remember that elements of fashion can sometimes be heavily rooted in systems of oppression.

    Yeah, but that’s a massive exception.

  24. Yeah, but that’s a massive exception.

    Sometimes it’s really not, though. I mean, if you check FA blogs, you’ll find tons of articles about how fashion is explicitly designed to shame, conceal and flat-out uglify (is that a word? I say it’s a word) fat people. It’s something I have extensive experience with, too. Trying to get good clothing, that looks even remotely aesthetic, means I’m shelling out easily twice what a thin person would for identical clothing. And I’m not even that fat, ffs, just 10-15kgs overweight depending on what measures you prefer to use. I find myself actively sickened by how limited options are for people much more overweight than myself.

  25. LotusBecca says:

    Yeah, but that’s a massive exception.

    I don’t really think so. I think by far the greatest oppression around clothing has always been around forcing/pressuring people to wear certain types of clothing and oppressing them when they deviate from clothing norms. I’ll stand by that. And I’m including in this people being denied access to sufficient clothing due to income, which is another way of pressuring people to wear clothes (sometimes merely rags) other than the ones they want or need.

  26. LotusBecca says:

    Or as mac pointed out. . .how people with bodies outside of what is socially desirable are also pressured into wearing ill-fitting or unfashionable clothing whether they want to or not. I experience this problem being 6’2″, having broad shoulders (for a woman), and size 11 and a half feet. It’s also a problem for fat people (as mac said), short people, and many people with disabilities.

  27. being 6’2″, having broad shoulders (for a woman), and size 11 and a half feet

    *offers hugs* Your shopping aisle woes, I feel them. I’ve had to shop in the men’s section for shoes for years. D: And there’s the Indian assumption that only thin women ‘dress Western’, which I had to deal with until I came here. The joys of spending four hours going in and out of stores to find a swimsuit in my size…. and finding exactly one in all that time and it’s STILL small.

  28. Not to mention, Becca, that while I can shop in the men’s section with relative lack of issues, I imagine it must be way worse for a trans woman like you to have to do so just because people can’t acknowledge that women come in all sizes. I can’t empathise, but I definitely sympathise with your issues.

  29. EEB says:

    I saw a really awesome video of Madeline Albright (a TED talk, I think?) where she talked about how she wore pins every day as a way to make a statement. She knew people were paying attention and writing about what she was wearing, so she used it to her advantage. Another reason why I think she’s awesome.

    In her tenure as ambassador from 1993-1997 and secretary of state, 1997-2001, Albright’s jewelry often had much more serious connotations than the styles she wore Friday. In fact, the whole thing started when she was labeled an “unparalleled serpent” in the Iraqi press after criticizing Saddam Hussein in 1994. She took to wearing a gold snake pin when meeting the Iraqis after that, and realized that her jewelry could communicate messages both subtle and obvious.

  30. EEB says:

    Eeek, I somehow left off the link to the article I was quoting from:

    Article about Madeleine Albright’s pins in the Dever Post

  31. LotusBecca says:

    Thanks for the kind words mac. And not to mention most of the shoes I want don’t even exist in the men’s section. Samanthab mentioned the deleterious effect of Sex and the City. I was also one of the many women whose desires were influenced and mind was scarred growing up by that, er, problematic television program.

  32. LotusBecca says:

    But yeah Mac, on a more serious note, you’re right. It is all fraught with issues for me as a trans woman. I guess that’s why I brought up the issue of individual freedom because that’s what resonates with me on the topic of clothing and fashion. I was forced to have this body I have because I wasn’t allowed to transition during adolescence. Now I’m pressured to wear men’s clothes due to lack of access to women’s clothing suitable to the body I was coerced into having. When I choose to wear women’s clothing anyway it looks strange, and I can’t blend in, and I’m harassed on the street for it by the types of people who forced me into this situation to begin with. So I more than agree with Caperton that the types of people who are overly concerned with the clothing choices of others can fuck right off.

  33. LotusBecca says:

    Not to imply that a woman can’t be harassed on the street regardless of what she looks like or wears.

  34. Now I’m pressured to wear men’s clothes due to lack of access to women’s clothing suitable to the body I was coerced into having. When I choose to wear women’s clothing anyway it looks strange, and I can’t blend in

    And, of course, when you wear men’s clothing, you’re not REALLY trans, and when you wear women’s clothing you’re not REALLY…. I don’t even know. Fuck, how do you even navigate that bullshit? D:

    I…think I can empathise with some of the issues you face about harassment, having Existed While In Pants in rural south India, but the consequences were external, not internal, if that makes sense. D: And I was never at risk of violence. Groping, sure, but not violence.

    And not to mention most of the shoes I want don’t even exist in the men’s section.

    Whereas my struggles have been more about finding women’s clothing and shoes that isn’t all pink and red and yellow and orange (the last colour is actually triggering for me to wear). >.<

    (Fuck, if I were tempted to be one of those paranoid hysterical feminists (TM), I'd say that it's almost like only those women who conform absolutely to kyriarchal ideals of gender expression and identity, size, shape, cut/make/skimpiness and colour preferences have their tastes catered to by The Industry! Of course, I'm just a lady with silly ladybrainz, so I'll just feel terrible and insecure and ashamed of existing instead. It's so much nicer to be this way, you see.)

  35. Li says:

    LotusBecca, you have my sympathy. I’ve taken to going on shopping trips with a transmasculine friend of mine. I give them cover for shopping in the men’s section and they give me cover for going through the women’s section for tights and shirts with floral prints. Not to mention it’s much easier to deal with the internalised shame of shopping in the ‘wrong’ section (which I still feel quite strongly) when you’ve got someone to laugh at the ridiculousness of the gender binary and compliment your choices.

  36. PrettyAmiable says:

    You have to get dressed, for starters; you don’t walk around displaying your coin collection for the world to see.

    I don’t know if this is the right parallel. For me, it’s “you have to get dressed for starters” and “you have to have coins to buy things.” Both are about utility. You can then elevate each to a hobby.

    Also, on the Albright quote above – what a fucking badass she is. So many hearts.

  37. LotusBecca says:

    I’ve taken to going on shopping trips with a transmasculine friend of mine. I give them cover for shopping in the men’s section and they give me cover for going through the women’s section for tights and shirts with floral prints. Not to mention it’s much easier to deal with the internalised shame of shopping in the ‘wrong’ section (which I still feel quite strongly) when you’ve got someone to laugh at the ridiculousness of the gender binary and compliment your choices.

    That sounds like fun! I generally prefer shopping with a friend of whatever gender as it eases my anxiety also. There were so many times when I was younger that just walking past the cosmetics aisle or through the women’s clothing section would practically give me a panic attack. “Won’t people wonder why I’m really here? What if I’m looking too interested at the products on display?” The idea of actually buying something would have been unimaginable. But constant baby steps and the desensitization that come with them has eroded most of that anxiety, and now if I’m with a friend I can buy most anything–from lipstick to a sundress–without feeling that self-conscious at all. Still often challenging to find stuff that fits though.

    Fuck, how do you even navigate that bullshit?

    I don’t know. I find my way through it the best I can. I suppose it’s similar for other women and all oppressed people. We’re put into these intractable double binds. The claim is that we are being mocked, harassed, discriminated against, beaten, raped, or killed because we didn’t make the appropriate choice. . .and if we could try a little harder or conform a little better we’d be spared. But the truth is we are being abused for who we are, and that the kyriarchy is built upon this abuse and requires that it happen, and that this abuse will continue for as long as the system we live in exists.

  38. karak says:

    how people with bodies outside of what is socially desirable are also pressured into wearing ill-fitting or unfashionable clothing whether they want to or not.

    I have one of those bodies, and my clothes still often don’t fit right, because apparently tall, lanky, ciswomen shouldn’t actually have long legs or long torsos. I sure as hell have an easier time than my plus-sized friends, but buying clothes is still like some sort of dreamy, twilight punishment where everything is “made for me” but still doesn’t fit right.

    I firmly believe that whatever goddamn mannequin designers are using is some sort of grotesque non-existent person.

  39. mxe354 says:

    @LotusBecca

    I don’t really think so. I think by far the greatest oppression around clothing has always been around forcing/pressuring people to wear certain types of clothing and oppressing them when they deviate from clothing norms. I’ll stand by that. And I’m including in this people being denied access to sufficient clothing due to income, which is another way of pressuring people to wear clothes (sometimes merely rags) other than the ones they want or need.

    I pretty much agree. In fact, I think that the forced conformity to fashion standards can be analyzed under the theory of intersectionality: I mean, consider how often it ties with, for example, misogyny and cissexism. It’s actually an axis of oppression when you really think about it.

  40. LotusBecca says:

    Yeah, I definitely agree with you there mxe354.

  41. Caperton says:

    I completely agree that clothes are a) essential, in almost all cases, and b) a vehicle for self-expression. But I don’t think they have any inherent value, any more than a canvas has inherent value for anyone but the artist who’s about to paint on it. And because the value is imbued by the wearer, we shouldn’t try to make value judgments about a person based on her clothes or whether or not she chooses to participate in “fashion” (as distinct from simply “clothes”).

    In a community where women are expected to wear skirts and pants are deeply subversive, what can we infer about a woman who continues to wear skirts? It could be that she’s conservative and looks down on women who wear pants, or it could be that she’s afraid to wear pants or that the penalty for stepping out of line would be too great. Or, as LotusBecca and macavitykitsune were discussing, take trans women–you could have a woman happy to be wearing women’s clothes, a woman who feels uncomfortable in women’s clothes because of the shape of her body, and a woman who would rather wear her old clothes but fears she wouldn’t be respected as really trans if she did, all wearing the same dress.

    Or, for that matter, think about the Catholic schoolgirl outfit vs. the “naughty” Catholic schoolgirl outfit: One is a subversion of the other, but both are objectifying in different ways.

    Or, for that matter, the summer vacation I spent more or less entirely in a Beverly Hills Polo Club t-shirt. It had nothing to do with giving a rat’s ass about polo and everything to do with the family car getting robbed in a motel parking lot at night. When you don’t have clothes, you do with what you can put your hands on. And wearing a t-shirt and shorts to a church where dresses and shirts and ties were the order of the day as a sign of respect and reverence was uncomfortable for me, because I wasn’t trying to project disrespect or irreverence; I just lacked other options.

    I actually enjoy fashion. I’m in a privileged position to be able to look at it kind of like art–seeing the different collections, what each designer is doing for the same season, what’s interesting/aesthetically pleasing/derivative/wackadoo. I like seeing items arranged in combinations I wouldn’t have thought of and occasionally thinking, “Huh. Enormous scarf wrapped around my entire upper body. That looks really cuddly.” I have no illusions that I’d ever be able to afford any of the clothes, but most of the time, I wouldn’t want to. (I also don’t take pictures of my outfits and put them online, because I can’t imagine a single person who would care.) So I do my bicep curls in preparation for the September Vogue, and then when it’s in the recycling bin, I hike up my Levi’s and get on with my life. And maybe keep my eyes open for an enormous scarf and wear it to work, and if someone gives me lip, say, “UM, MARC JACOBS*, FALL 2012 RTW, HELLO.”

    But I also have no illusions that the industry itself and the pressure it places on women to conform aren’t deeply problematic. It would be great if we really did have the freedom to just put on clothes, period, and leave fashion as an uncomplicated hobby. But since that’s not likely to happen anytime soon, and we’re stuck with it as a complicated and loaded hobby, the least we can do is draw attention to that pressure and drag it out into the light, so at least people are forced to acknowledge what they’re doing when they perpetuate it.

    *who can suck my left one, seriously

  42. samanthab says:

    Uh ohs, you used the word “problematic!” I actually think it’s a really useful word, and I’m bored of the mockery. (But my attention span is like a hummingbird’s- I get bored easily.)

  43. samanthab says:

    Pretty Amiable, except that coins aren’t about utility once they are taken out of circulation for collection. Yet even the least functional piece of clothing has some degree of utility. People can collect fashion as a hobby, but that piece of clothing comes mostly out of circulation. You can’t, however, wear fashion as a hobby. You’ve put a piece of clothing into a different domain once you’ve put it on.

  44. LotusBecca says:

    Caperton, I agree with most everything you say @41. It amazes me the assumptions people will come up with just by looking at what someone is wearing. But, as you point out, people wear different things for different reasons. . .so you really can’t assume.

    Oh and godspeed with tracking down that enormous scarf!

  45. I really like this post and the metaphor of how everyone has to use both clothes and coins, but clothes-as-a-hobby are treated differently than coins-as-a-hobby. There’s one part that’s bugging me, though:

    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.

    Actually, for that metaphor to work, it would have to be a dominant gene on the X chromosome… and even a “dominant gene” metaphor wouldn’t work that well, since it would still assume that liking fashion is fairly common in men as well–in order for men to like fashion “only” half the time, women would have a 1-in-4 chance of not liking fashion, and if men liked fashion only 1/3 of the time, women would have a 44% chance of not liking fashion. See here for an explanation of this. I guess not liking fashion could be a Y-linked trait, but that might imply men were the weird ones rather than the default, and we can’t have that

    Better to just say, “Pleistocene! Evolutionary psychology!!!” Oh wait, except that women dressing up to compete for mates contradicts the whole polygyny narrative that evo-psych people seem so fond of…

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