The Fashion of Vulnerability

Yesterday, I went to the mall with a couple of my friends. We shopped for a little while and then went to see Catching Fire (greatest movie ever, oh my goodness). While we were there, I bought a hoodie and a pair of sweatpants.

When I met my friends there, I was feeling a little self-conscious–I was in a pair of jeans, boots, and a sweatshirt with my hair up. When I saw them, I felt relieved. Laurie had her hair up in a messy bun and was wearing an outfit similar to mine, and Anne had just come from dance so her hair was also a disaster, and she was wearing a pair of spandex leggings. We were all appropriately comfy and ready for a chill day of buying Christmas presents.

“Guys, I’m so sorry,” Laurie said jokingly when I saw her. “I probably look like crap today, sorry you have to be seen with me.”

“Oh,” I said, laughing, “me and Anne look awful too.”

And it got me thinking–why did we look awful? We just wanted to be comfortable for a day where we’d be constantly on our feet, why was that so bad? What’s wrong with sweats and a hoodie, anyways?

On one hand, wearing comfortable clothes signifies a sort of deviance from the gender binary. My usual outfit, gray sweats or leggings and a dark blue sweatshirt (my friends say I dress like I’m always on my period!) is about as un-“feminine” as you can get. Women in general are held to a much higher standard than men. It’s not that I don’t care about my appearance, I just care about comfort more. The only jeans I wear are Super Stretch jeans, because they don’t cut off the circulation to my legs.

Being comfortable signifies that you’ve given up–all the sweatpants in the world, whether they’re from Hollister or Target, don’t add up to one single pencil skirt or a blouse. My boots might be Uggs, my jacket might be a North Face, but if I’m not freezing my little butt off on the way up to school, I can forget about getting attention from any man–I can forget about getting attention from anyone at all, because who would want to talk to me with my hair in a bun and my legs in sweat pants.

God, the nerve of some people. Being comfortable at school. Who would ever do that?

As I was getting my outfit for Speech and Debate together (a long pencil skirt, a cami, and a blazer) I was wondering what it is exactly that makes fancy clothes, well, fancy. At first, all I could come up with is the fact that my fancy clothes really aren’t the most comfortable things in the world.

But “fancy” clothes are uncomfortable for men, too, right? It would take the fingers and toes of everyone in the world to count the number of times I’ve heard a man say “Get me out of this monkey suit!” And I’m not denying that men have fanciness issues as well–I’m a firm believer in the idea that the patriarchy harms the men involved just as much as the women–but for women it’s a lot more complicated.

Why?

Because women are meant to look vulnerable.

In the Western World, we are culturally inclined to believe that a woman in heels signifies a woman with power. If you don’t hear the menacing click of her footsteps on the floor, you shouldn’t have to take orders from her! How dare that woman speak to you while standing with her natural stature? How dare she be comfortable and how dare she save her spine?

But really think about it. Imagine a woman in high heels, whether she’s at work or at a school dance or at family dinner. Imagine the uncomfortable curvature of her spine, her aching feet and legs, her body a second away from collapsing. Heels, aside from pushing out your boobs and butt, are meant to make you vulnerable. That way, when you inevitably fall over due to walking around on tiny points for the past six hours, a man will be there, ready to catch you when you fall.

(((Personal Aside: I have a thing about heels. It doesn’t even have anything to do with being a feminist, I just despise them. They hurt, they make me uncomfortably taller than everyone else, and they make it impossible to get from place to place in a timely fashion. I don’t have any issue with any other woman wearing heels, but if I hear you complain once about it during the entire night, I will lose my mind and start yelling at you. If they hurt, then don’t wear heels to a school dance. . . . .Aaaaaaand end rant.)))

Skirts are the same way too, especially pencil skirts. They serve a primary, more noticeable function: making your butt look big, but somewhere subconsciously (or consciously, depending on the person) they signify something else. You are one layer of clothing away from having sex with her! Look at her shaking, uncovered legs. Look at the flimsiness of that piece of cloth she calls clothes. She’s practically begging you to rip her clothes off of her and start doing the deed–you might not even have to take off the skirt! How could she?! That slut! This is a place of business!

Okay, obviously I’m being a little too intense, and I’m probably exaggerating. But next time you’re at a fancy restaurant, or at work, or even just out in public, take a look at what people are wearing. Try to separate the clothes themselves from your perceptions of them, and just try to imagine which you’d rather be wearing–the heels and the pencil skirt, or the sweats and a hoodie.

Think about clothes in the media. When Barney Stinson wears sweatpants, you know something’s wrong. When Naomi Clark is in a hoodie, the world must be ending!

But anyways. Being the consumer-culture-ingrained girl that I am, I really enjoyed shopping with my friends. We might not have looked our best, and maybe we didn’t get any looks from passing boys, but at least we were comfortable.

What do you think your clothes say about you? What about your friends? Leave an answer in the comments.

Disclaimer: There is nothing wrong with a woman who wears clothes traditionally seen as “fancy.” Gender identity is a broad and complicated spectrum and wearing a pencil skirt and heels doesn’t make you any more anti-feminist than the next person. It’s not like wearing traditionally feminine clothes makes you a traitor to womankind. The issue here is that when women wear something comfortable, they’re often shamed for it. It would be wonderful if we lived in a world where anyone could wear whatever they want and not have their merits judged on their clothes alone, but alas. That world may never exist. I’m not trying to say women shouldn’t wear pencil skirts, heels, etc. But it’s a personal choice that all women have to make.

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