A sociology textbook that I used in college in the 80’s had a whole section on clothing choices. It stated that throughout history, dominant groups could be emulated by less powerful groups, but that it was always culturally frowned upon for fashion to go the other direction. That has stuck with me over the years, because it’s still true. Once you start looking for it, you see it everywhere.
For example, you rarely see city dwellers dressing like backwoods folk. And colonizers tend to avoid dressing like indigenous people. And while women are “allowed” to wear pants these days, there’s gigantic blowback if a man wears a skirt.
But heaven forefend you imitate your “betters” too well. Oh, my goodness, no! We can’t have that. Be careful who you flatter with your imitation. People will think you’re arrogant, or that you’re assuming you have power you don’t actually possess.
A friend of mine in the 80’s was a substitute teacher for a time. Once, she went to a school wearing a suit and a big floral tie. She was told to take it off and never dress that way again. People would think she was “funny”, and she would be warping young minds.
And when Hillary Clinton was running for president, she was often described as dressing in a manner not feminine enough, and yet at the same time she was accused of not looking presidential. She couldn’t win, and she didn’t. No one wasted time talking about how her male competitors dressed.
And while political women these days are wearing colorful pantsuits that often send a message about the causes they are trying to promote, it wasn’t always thus. As recently as 1993 a female senator showed up to work in an Armani pants suit, and you’d have thought the world had come to an end. It just wasn’t done.
I still look back with horror at the office jobs I had that required that I wear pantyhose. I hated every second of it. I can’t imagine a scenario in which I would wear pantyhose ever again. And I can’t remember the last time I saw a woman wearing them. Maybe I just travel in the wrong circles. I suppose you still wear them with high heels if you’re stupid enough to destroy your back and feet in that manner. I don’t know. My finger isn’t exactly on the fashion pulse. I can’t for the life of me understand why the tie is still a thing.
Even though it’s irritating how often women are scrutinized for the way they dress, I still feel rather sorry for men. Their options are a lot more narrow if they want to be viewed as socially acceptable. I have much more leeway.
But I do tend to push it a bit. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been told that no one would ever describe me as a girly girl. I’ve even been discounted as potential partner material because of it. It’s all so absurd. I’m judged for preferring comfort and utility over style. Oh, well.
As long as we don’t cross that invisible line, all’s right with the world. But ever since my sociology days, that invisible line is more visible to me. And it sure looks silly.
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