A colleague handed me a sheet of paper on which she’d scribbled notes to herself, turning it over to expose a “fashion citation” card. She suggested I blog about it and I’ve accepted her challenge. It’s a checklist of potential fashion faux pas, which would be funny if it didn’t sit under the heading “Did You Dress In The Dark?” followed by a short paragraph about how fashion infractions are a crime, “remember that the rest of us have to look at you.” I am so over this lookist, women-on-women social violence, that I’m entirely unwilling to have a sense of humor or irony about this small slip of paper. It’s emblematic of the ills facing our society in the current moment, and I want this adult mean girl phenomenon (see: you can’t sit with us) to stop immediately. Women need to be putting other women up, treating each other as teammates, and looking deeper than the surface. Our survival and quality of life depend on it.
Let’s take this negative, filthy little piece of paper line by line and blast it to bits, shall we? Not interested? Pick up an US Weekly or head directly to gofugyourself.com.
I’m going to call myself out and say that some of the items on the checklist are certainly things I’ve noticed about other women’s outfits and thought, “oooh, that’s not great”. Cameltoe. Socks with sandals. Visible pantyline. My issues with these items have more to do with the line and flow of a look being spoiled, than they do with the worth of the person sporting them. Having worked at GAP and Nordstrom for many years, I’m tempted to offer help, but then I check myself, since it wasn’t asked for. Unless I’m working in the profession, and someone’s in my fitting room, I zip it. There’s more to public life than offering unsolicited fashion advice.
The items that blow me up have to do with body shape and size. They are cleverly planted between innocuous-sounding items such as “holiday sweater” (which really shouldn’t be a thing now that everyone throws a bad holiday sweater party each year), “knee socks with skirt” (the 90s are coming back in a fierce way, and the movie Clueless has reached cult classic status, so it’s only a matter of time), or “accessories abuse” (with the ubiquity of Charming Charlie stores, I’m not sure this will last either).
The hurtful, hateful items begin with “inappropriate bulge(s)”. The fact that there’s a plural option seems sick to me, like it’s important to leave room for tallying, because women should be assessing each other for bulges that show through their clothes, counting them and checking the box. Fuck that. No matter a woman’s body mass, there are certain areas where we’re simply naturally more fleshy, for biological reasons. The area between the top of the bra and the armpit. Fleshy and fatty because that’s where our breast tissue begins. That pad between our belly button and top of our thighs, that every women’s magazine ever shares the secrets on how to lose: extra skin to accommodate the stretching that occurs during pregnancy. As long as we continue to foist the unrealistic, mythic ideal body on ourselves and each other, we’ll make ourselves miserable trying to lose parts of our bodies that are critical to our biology.
Next up: “maximization of flaws”. Oh my god, how my blood boils. When I worked in the beauty and fashion industries I made it my business to challenge peoples’ beliefs about their real or perceived flaws (fuck measuring!). Women and girls of all ages would come in with a litany of complaints about themselves and ask me to help them minimize this, cover that, hide, reduce, camouflage, or detract from you-name-it. Some would simply recite a list of everything they believed was wrong with their face and/or body while staring at themselves with exasperation and dislike in the mirror. While women’s insecurities are great for selling products, my feeling that positive face and body image help create a healthier society trumped my paycheck every time. It’s that serious to me. People pointing out, or enumerating in some way perceived flaws in another person’s appearance is a form of violence.
We then come to “stains and wrinkles”, which is extremely touchy. While I agree that wearing clean, unwrinkled clothing to a non-manual labor job looks more professional, this category targets people living in impoverished circumstances and those battling major mental health issues. I’ll illustrate. A friend who is a high school teacher once complained to me about a student in one of her classes who was totally weird and gross because she wore the same clothes day after day, and what was wrong with her? I slapped my forehead at my friend’s blissful ignorance of the way other people live, and her privilege. I wanted to help broaden her worldview to include the signs of kids who might need help outside the lesson plan as I explained that there are many factors why a teenager might not change her clothes. She may be depressed to the point of total inertia, unable to get out of her clothes at night, or change them in the morning. She may be struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder, in her mind the clothing holding some type of special protection against her anxieties. She may live in a chaotic home where her parents are out doing drugs and aren’t home to help her keep clean, or are disorganized to the point where laundry isn’t done. My friend’s eyes widened and she covered her mouth in shock as I piled on more and more reasons. Let’s think twice about this one. Does anyone really want to show up for work or school in stained or wrinkled clothing, given the choice and wherewithal?
Finally, the blatant “wrong size”. Why? We have got to spend our time and energy on things that matter, like taking care of ourselves, being kind to each other and doing our best to create a better world. We’ve all bought a size that isn’t right. We’ve all been sold the incorrect size. When I was fifteen there was a pair of silver platform high heels I could not live without, and my size was sold out. I bought them half a size too small, and suffered like hell each time I wore them. We’re so hung up on a size as a gender it’s become a form of insanity. When I was selling special occasions dresses at Nordstrom, getting a woman or girl to try on what I called the “next size” (never, ever bigger) often created a palpable sense of defeat in the fitting room. It’s purely psychological. Sometimes the number inside the tag is directly connected to our self-esteem to the point that looking great in the next size doesn’t matter. Taking those feelings outside our own closets or dressing rooms, and perpetrating them on other women is wrong. We have got to stop obsessing about size, ours and others’.
I’m going to amend the statement at the bottom of the citation to “It’s Better That You Know You Have Value, Independent Of Fashion”. Let this become a mantra, and I promise next time I see a woman with “peekaboo undergarments” I’ll stop fixating, and think of something kind instead.