The deeper I get into the fa(t)shion world, the more I come across examples of fashion judging and policing, even within spaces that are explicitly body-positive.
It pisses me off immensely. First, because one person’s style is no one’s business but their own. Period. Second, because it’s inextricably tied up with pretty much every prejudice under the sun: sexism, ableism, ageism, racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, fatphobia…
Warning: epic rant ahead.
A few examples I’ve come across recently:
1.) Sal at Already Pretty did an interview with three women who dress within a defined aesthetic. I found it interesting, especially since I, like Sal, enjoy dabbling in many different styles. Some days I feel goth, other days pink bubblegum with a touch of fairy kei. Sometimes I just want to be Effie Trinket, or a flapper, or a slightly more sophisticated version of my seventh-grade self (Nirvana t-shirt and wide-leg jeans represent!). And my favorite outfits tend to involve combining multiple styles. So it’s cool to read about people who approach fashion differently.
But this statement, from Candice of Super Kawaii Mama, set my teeth on edge:
And the other thing that I feel very strongly about is raising the bar for the next generation. As a society we have never been so well off (historically) or had such ready and cheap access to good clothing and beauty options. We spend billions on advertising in these markets, spend our pay-checks on magazines of celebrities looking fantastic, and yet never as a nation have we been so poorly dressed / presented. It is a maddening irony and one that will only change if people are brave enough to challenge that status quo and raise that bar.
ARGHHHH NO. Just no.
I like glamour. I really do. But it’s only fun when it’s optional. Sometimes I don’t need or want to be glamorous–like when I’m on my way to go hiking, or sick, or dealing with shitty New England weather, or just in a yoga-pants-and-T-shirt-and-no-makeup mood. I don’t expect anyone else to prioritize glamour or any other aesthetic, or to justify their clothing choices to me.
And I certainly don’t define bravery as “dressing in a way that I like.” You want bravery? Try the NYU Hospital nurses who carried ICU infants down nine flights of stairs in the dark, manually providing them with air and ventilation.
If you find other people’s outfits “maddening,” that’s your problem, not theirs. No one has a responsibility to dress in a way that you like. And the very concept of “poorly dressed” is completely arbitrary. One person’s “eww” is another person’s “awesome.” One person’s clashing is another person’s oh my God your coat is so amazing, I almost want to go to England and steal it from you.
Also, just because we’re well-off overall as a society doesn’t mean we don’t have poverty. It doesn’t mean that everyone has access, financial or otherwise, to the clothing they would like to wear.
Especially if they wear plus sizes, and even more so if they wear a size above 22 or 24. Especially if they lack reliable transportation to stores that carry their size, or the money to pay for shipping. Especially if they have a disability that makes getting dressed difficult, or sensory issues that make certain fabrics uncomfortable. Especially if their weight has changed (for intentional reasons, or due to childbirth, aging, medications, post-diet rebound, health problems, stress, etc.), and they haven’t had the time or money to assemble a new wardrobe. Especially if they’re busy and overworked, or un(der)employed and searching for a job–both of which are currently huge problems in the US and many other countries–and don’t have the energy to put into caring about clothing. Or some combination of these things.
As just one example, if you saw me on the street today, you might think, “why is that lady wearing a lovely goth-meets-business-casual outfit with butt-ugly running sneakers?” I hate how these sneakers look too, believe me. But I’m wearing them because I have plantar fasciitis in my left foot, and sneakers are the only footwear that doesn’t exacerbate it. I can’t even wear cute sneakers, like Converses–my feet are both wide and flat, which makes finding shoes that fit nearly impossible. I take what I can get, regardless of whether they fit my style. And if people want to judge me for it, that’s their problem.
2.) I don’t normally read MSN Style, or other mainstream fashion sites/magazines/blogs. But I happened to come across this article somehow, and it’s a perfect example of everything I hate about fashion policing.
In the slideshow “8 Fashion Mistakes Men Make,” two fashion “experts” criticize various men’s outfits.
The female “expert” says: “Oh, I see. Those don’t just look like lady’s [sic] capris… they fit like them too. The cardigan, shades and even the black case are so sleek, but the pants need a do-over.”
Maybe they are womens’ capris. So what? Some male-bodied people like to wear women’s clothing. Maybe they’re transgender or genderqueer. Maybe they subscribe to Kate Bornstein‘s philosophy: “I think love, sex and gender are like Pokemon, and I want to catch ’em all!” Or maybe they just like to wear dresses, like Michael of His Black Dress.
The male “expert” says: “I’m sorry, but I could never take anyone seriously if they walked into a room wearing those pants.”
Fuck that noise.
I doubt it’s a coincidence that gay and transgender people face high rates of workplace discrimination and harassment. Contributing to a culture of gender-policing has real, harmful consequences.
3.) A while back, there was a Fatshionista thread about whether there are age cut-offs for cutesy accessories. The original poster mentioned that she will soon be working in museums, and I think it makes sense to tone down your look for work. But what you wear at work is one thing, and what you wear during your free time is another.
In comment thread, one person said:
If I saw something like this http://virtualneko.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/kawaii-girl1.gif on a person older than 15, I’d judge.
She went on to say:
In my opinion the key is not to look like someone who desperately tries to look way younger than he is.
I hate the assumption that wearing certain clothes or accessories means you’re trying to look younger. I don’t wear Hello Kitty stuff because I want to look younger–I wear it because I like it. I’ll probably still be wearing HK when I’m 80, and I’m ok with that. (Also, I’m kind of looking forward to the day when my hair turns gray/white, because I’ll finally be able to dye it pink without bleaching it first.)
If you like it, and enjoy wearing it, you’re not too old for it. Period.
The same commenter mentioned that she is a huge Dr. Who fan, but limits her fan needs to small pins, socks, and bookmarks. Which is her choice to make, but she’s missing out on some pretty awesome stuff–like the amazing TARDamask shirt one of my coworkers wore recently.
4.) I like Trystan’s blog, CorpGoth, where she writes about keeping a goth edge while dressing appropriately for an office job. So I was disappointed to find two posts in which she makes privileged pronouncements about how people should dress.
In one, she repeats the popular meme that leggings are not pants. Which is so tied up with judgment about women’s bodies–especially fat women’s bodies. With the belief that we need to hide our shapes. With disdain for one of the cheapest and most comfortable clothing options.
In another, she declares:
Let it be known that I am firmly in the camp with those who believe that the casualization of clothing in the U.S. in the late-20th & early-21st centuries is the first step to the downfall of our civilization & that wearing pajamas in public is a sure sign of the coming apocalypse.
I know it’s hyperbole. It’s still not funny.
I feel that people are allowed to wear PJs outside the home exactly three times in their lives: (1) once when you have the flu & need to make a trip to the drugstore for tissues & meds, (2) once when you’re miserably depressed & need chocolate &/or booze between the hours of 2am and 6am, & (3) one additional time to be used judiciously, carefully, not in broad daylight or among more than a dozen people, & it can only last for no more than 10 minutes.
Thanks for deciding what other people are “allowed” to wear. You do know that people have the right to wear whatever they want, right? And that there are a million factors that affect what people wear, and judging them for it is an assholey move?
I could rant more, but instead, here’s a picture of me wearing pajama pants.