Among my friends, I am known for my clothes. I wear things that no one else would. I’ll combine a shirt from Hot Topic with a jacket from Target, a skirt from France and a scarf that some acquaintance saw and couldn’t think of anyone else who would possibly wear it except me.
My clothes are a mix of sale items from random chain stores and items from tiny little clothing stores in out-of-the-way places. This isn’t meant to be pretentious, I just generally avoid any place that could be considered trendy, such as GAP or American Eagle, and out of principle I refuse to buy anything from Wal-Mart.
I don’t care about brand names, expensive designer labels or if some famous person wore something similar; all I care is that it is something completely and uniquely me.
Recently, I wore a skirt with a funky hemline that my flatmates complimented me on. One of them – the other American in our flat – tried to build a sense of camaraderie by telling me I should wear the skirt around a guy that I fancy.
I found this odd. As I’ve never hid my feminist tendencies, I would think it’s fairly logical to realize that one of the things you should never tell a feminist is to dress to suit a man.
My flatmates and I had a fancy dress party for Halloween, to which I wore a black snake-skin patterned dress I found years ago on sale in Sears. Again, one of my flatmates said that it was too bad the young man I fancied wasn’t there to see me wear it.
I don’t understand why the comment couldn’t have been “That dress looks good on you,” instead of, “It’s a shame this male can’t see how good you look.”
I was reminded of my Tarts-and-Vicars theme birthday party a year ago, to which I wore the same dress. The guy I was interested in at the time told me he’d have to leave after dinner instead of staying for the whole party because he had promised his parents and brother that he’d come home that weekend.
The female friend who was helping me prepare for the party said he wouldn’t want to leave when he saw me in that dress. I know this was meant as a compliment, but I found it problematic for many reasons.
The first implication was that I should dress for male approval.
The second implication was that I was vacuous enough to think that wearing a sexy dress would keep this guy from keeping a promise to his parents. Until I meet my soul mate, my family will always come before whomever I happen to be dating at the time.
The last implication was that I would date someone shallow enough to be swayed by a sexy dress. Of course I was disappointed that someone I cared about wouldn’t be able to stay for my whole birthday party, but I found the compromise of his going home later than originally planned, so that he could make the beginning of my birthday party, a perfectly acceptable solution.
We’re supposedly living in a postfeminist era, in which the ideals of equality have already been met, but the truth is that on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, society is dominated by heterosexual standards in which a young woman is encouraged to look good for her man.
Despite the rise of metrosexuals, there is still more emphasis placed on a woman’s looks and her ability to use them to attract a man than there is on a man’s looks.
The conspicuous consumption of the 1980s is supposedly gone, but we are still living in a society that says it’s more important to look good for someone else than to live life according to your own standards.
Even “self-empowerment” has become a catch-phrase used to encourage consumers to buy the latest whatever that will make them attractive and desirable.
Everything we do makes a ripple, so when you dress, dress for yourself and not for some potential mate. And when you compliment one of your female friends, compliment her on herself and not for whether her clothes will attract a male.
R.R.S. Stewart is a University student studying in Scotland. She welcomes comments at [email protected]