Posts Tagged ‘gender and clothing’

There really are many GREAT style resources out there.  This month’s O Magazine has an article on flattering dress cuts.  InStyle has a useful guide to vacation outfits.  Those are written by professional stylists and everyone should check them out.

The Fig Leaf as Minimal Clothing

Fig leaves, symbol of primordial clothing

I am not a stylist.  I’m really as interested in the “why” of getting dressed as the “how.”   I am convinced that clothes matter, and fascinated with how women debate this.  Our clothing is the interface between our private and public selves. It’s the first boundary between our bodies and the world. Clothing is the landscape where we create and express who we are. 

But as soon as I write that, I’m accosted by my own defenses:  Aren’t looks superficial?  Don’t character and personality matter more than appearance?  Isn’t fashion a charade of vanity and arrogance? 

Style is the tension between conformity and self-expression. Clothes are the first social contract an individual enters into upon leaving a State of Nature, if you buy that kind of thing.  Being dressed is what sets us apart from animals, and from God.

But current Western style has a complicated heritage.  Our society is sexist (becoming less so), exploits women’s bodies, and controls us by telling us — literally or figuratively — what to wear.   Many — most — independent and educated women rebel against that, in some way.  High heels are oppressive, women need to run and move as functionally as men do.  Screw the ideal of an hourglass shape, with all its fertility and weight drama, I’m going to be comfortable.  The “Looking Your Age”  thread quickly got to the heart of this: Infantilization of young women into hypersexed girl-nymphs? Devaluation of older women into frumpy crones wearing embellished denim visors?

It’s not surprising so many of us give up trying and go grocery shopping in our pajamas.

Keira Knightly as the Fabulous, Influential and Quasi-Feminist Duchess of Devonshire

Keira Knightly as the Fabulous, Influential and Quasi-Feminist Duchess of Devonshire

It’s critical to reject exploitation. Calling bullshit on fashion and body stereotypes is a big part of this. More importantly, at some point we’re responsible for more than reacting against it all.  We can’t just focus on what we don’t want to wear.  We each need to develop our own genuine voice.

This won’t be effective if we completely reject all Western style norms.  We cannot fully recreate the language of  clothing any more than we can create a new spoken language.  We would give up communicating altogether and risk being totally misunderstood. We have to transform and translate existing forms — tops and bottoms, skirts and shoes — into forms that express what we want to in the language spoken around us. 

If we live and dress in the Western World, we’re faced with the question: Really, what do we want to look like? And why?

Why get dressed?


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Trying to look young can backfire

Trying to look young can backfire

Growing older is great. You start to command authority from young people.  You can run for Senate without being mocked for your youth.  You did not die young.  So I’m not down on age, but I do want to look “good for my age” – and that means “not older than.” The right clothes can keep you from looking frumpy and even take about five years off. But be careful aiming lower than that, because trying too hard backfires.  It’s easy to spot when other women make this mistake, but it’s a trap any of us can fall into. It’s the same trap that seduced Ponce de Leon to his death by the poisoned arrow of the Calusa  in his search for the Fountain of Youth.  And it can seduce any of us into looking desperate and . . . middle-aged.

This is a reason for anyone over 30 to avoid the Juniors Department, or any stores for teens (you can tell by the odd-number sizing).*  I am often tempted: the clothes are cheaper. They look cute on the hanger and they carry an imprimatur of “current fashion” (teenagers wear them!)  It’s a risky shortcut: the clothes are cheaply made and too trendy to stay in style for long.  They’re cut for young women with immature hips, so the pants don’t fit and the skirts end up short in back.  The tops tend to be tight or don’t have room for real bra straps, you will be annoyed because the XL is too small for you, and you risk showing too much boob.  Not in a cute way.  In a Blanche Devereaux kind of way. 

And don’t think you’re better off shopping in the men’s department.  A Tomboy Teen look (baggy jeans, old tennies, logo T’s) doesn’t do a woman any favors, either.

If you gravitate toward teen clothes, figure out why and go find those elements in age-appropriate fashions.   If you crave a bargain, do some research and wait for a sale.  It’s actually easier to focus on shopping when you’re not distracted by the nagging thought that the Fountain of Youth is right around the corner in the Brass Plum.

I’m sure not everyone agrees, but I will argue for avoiding these if you are over 35 (this includes “Looking good for 36 = 36-5= 31”)

Troiing too hard

Troi'ing too hard


  • Mini-skirts
  • Spaghetti straps and tube tops (you probably need a supportive bra)
  • Slogans on your shirts
  • Words on the seat of your pants
  • Actually NO ONE should wear words on the seat of their pants
  • Ripped jeans
  • Pants with a rise so low in front that you must give specific waxing instructions
  • Your boyfriend’s sweater on purpose (not just if you get stuck somewhere cold — I won’t deny the timeless romance of that).
  • Platform shoes
  • Cleavage that exposes actual sides of actual breast


After thirty, it’s time for classy, it’s time for chic (yes even in jeans and yes even on a budget).  It’s time for elegant and confident.   It is time to find your personal style.  It is not time for what dmama calls “hootchie cougar.”

*And I can only quote from Nora Ephron: “If anyone young is reading this, go right this minute, put on a bikini, and don’t take it off until you’re thirty-four.”  Also, never show your bra straps.  Also, Sunscreen!

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After too many Facebook statuses that started with “I hate to be a fashion critic,” a few of us have been called out. We are fashion critics.

We are also in-between sizes; agonizing over the loss of our favorite maternity skirt; trying to rationalize more premium denim purchases. We are conflicted about sandal weather.

We also might be: 30-somethings, moms, reformed schlumpy-sweater-slobs, born-again handbag lovers, dress-avoiders, thrift store addicts, Nordstrom divas, or some combination of all of the above.

We are not wearing our pajamas outside.

Stay tuned.

Cole Haan Tortoiseshell Peep-toe with Nike Air insert. Comfortable -- really!

Cole Haan Tortoiseshell Peep-toe with Nike Air insert. Comfortable -- really!

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