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Sep 02 2011

Fashion is a Feminist Issue

Can you be a feminist and still care about fashion?

As some of you may know, I’m pretty interested in fashion. I spend a fair amount of time and energy (and probably more money than I ought) on my wardrobe and appearance. I pay a fair amount of attention to other people’s style: admiring it, analyzing it, deciding if I can steal it. I watch TV shows about fashion. I read books and blogs about fashion. I buy fashion magazines, and even subscribe to a couple. (It would have been just one, but we got a two- for- one deal when we subscribed to Vogue and got Glamour thrown in for free.) At big public events, Ingrid and I will spend many happy hours checking out/ commenting on other people’s outfits. Fashion has become one of my central hobbies.

And in general, I find fashion to be a fascinating form of expression. A language, even. Not in the literal Chomskyan sense, of course — we’re not born with a fashion module wired into our brains, the way we’re born with language modules — but in a metaphorical sense. In the sense that many extremely useful parallels can be drawn between the two. In the sense that different articles of clothes are assigned meaning more or less arbitrarily, in the way words are assigned meaning — not because those meanings bear some connection to objective reality, but because we all more or less agree on their meaning. (It doesn’t matter why, historically, a suit and tie means “I am willing to treat social conventions with some degree of respect, and expect in return to be treated with respect myself” — that’s what it means now, regardless of its history). In the sense that the meanings of these clothes shift over time, the way the meanings of words shift over time, rendering them even more arbitrary. (The meaning of makeup on women, for instance, has shifted over the decades from “prostitute” to “brazen” to “fashionably cutting-edge” to “entirely conventional.”) In the sense that these meanings change depending on how we combine them — the “grammar,” if you will (jeans with muddy boots and a baseball cap from the feed store mean something different from jeans with stiletto heels and a $500 Dior T-shirt). In the sense that these meanings can change depending on context (jeans at a rock concert mean something different than jeans at a funeral). In the sense that different cultures assign vastly different arbitrary meanings to clothing. (A short skirt and stiletto heels mean something different in Manhattan than they do in Cedar Rapids… and something very different again in Dubai.)

In fact, fashion and style are so much like a language, I’m always a bit baffled when people say things like, “I want to be judged on who I am, not on the clothes I wear.” It’s a bit like saying, “I want to be judged on who I am, not on the words that come out of my mouth.” But that’s a point for another time.

Here’s my point for today. Fashion is a form of expression. A language of sorts. An art form, even.

It’s also one of the very few art forms/ languages/ forms of expression in which women have more freedom than men.

There are some very sexist reasons for this, of course. Women are seen by our society as ornamental; we’re valued for our looks more than our accomplishments; blah blah blah. Yes. Agreed. No argument. But the fact remains that, whatever the reasons behind it, women have a lot more leeway in fashion than men do. We’re permitted a wider range of colors. Fabrics. Surfaces. Jewelry. Hairstyles. Makeup. Entire categories of clothing are available to women that are socially off-limits to men. We can even take on masculine clothing styles with little or no controversy… while men who take on feminine clothing styles can expect mockery and scorn at best, hostility and violence at worst. (If you don’t believe me, guys, try wearing a nicely-tailored skirt-suit to the office, with classic pumps and tasteful makeup and one strong piece of statement jewelry, and see what happens.) Again, there are sexist reasons for that fact — masculinity is seen as generally admirable and worth emulating, in a way that femininity isn’t — but the upshot is still that women have more freedom. If fashion is a language, then women have a much wider vocabulary. And we have a wider range of things we can say in that vocabulary.

So again: Fashion is one of the very few forms of expression in which women have more freedom than men.

And I don’t think it’s an accident that it’s typically seen as shallow, trivial, and vain.

It is the height of irony that women are valued for our looks, encouraged to make ourselves beautiful and ornamental… and are then derided as shallow and vain for doing so. And it’s a subtle but definite form of sexism to take one of the few forms of expression where women have more freedom, and treat it as a form of expression that’s inherently superficial and trivial. Like it or not, fashion and style are primarily a women’s art form. And I think it gets treated as trivial because women get treated as trivial.

What’s more, there’s an interestingly sexist assumption that often gets made about female fashion — namely, that it’s primarily intended to get male attention and male approval.

In my experience, this is very much not the case. Female fashion is often as much about women’s communication with one another as it is about our communication with men. More so, in many ways. When women who clearly care about fashion and style pass each other on the street, there’s often a sort of silent conversation: a moment of acknowledgement, a nod of recognition. (And the conversation isn’t always silent — I’ve been known to go up to totally strange women in bars or on the street and compliment them on their outfits. As other women have with me.) At parties, at conventions, at social and professional gatherings of all sorts, if there’s a decent number of women, there are almost certainly women checking out each other’s styles: appreciatively, competitively, enviously, companionably, subtly jockeying for status, in a spirit of co-operation and camaraderie, and in just about every other angle on human connection you can imagine. And it has little or nothing to do with men.

Now, granted: I’m a dyke, a lesbian-identified bisexual, and as such I have a different angle on this issue than many. I do have some interest in whether men find me attractive, but for the most part it’s only a passing interest, and my sexual self-esteem is only tangentially related to men’s opinions of me. (And my attention to other women is often driven by, shall we say, something other than our silent conversations about style.) But I’ve talked with other non-dyke women who are interested in fashion and style, and they say much the same thing: They dress for other women as much as they dress for men — and in many ways, more so. In particular, they dress for other stylish women. And this assumption that women’s fashion is aimed solely or primarily at men… well, there’s more than a little sexism behind it.

If you don’t personally care about fashion and style, that’s fine. We don’t all have to care about the same art forms: I could care less about grand opera, and it’s unlikely that I’m ever going to. I do think people should be aware that what they wear communicates something to other people — something about who they are and how they feel about the world and their place in it — and I think many people would be better off if they made that communication intentionally instead of un-. But again, we all don’t have to care about the same forms of communication. If what you want to say about yourself through your clothing is, “I wear clothes so I won’t be naked,” that is entirely your prerogative, and none of my business.

But if you think other people — especially other women — who do care about fashion and style are shallow, trivial, or vain for doing so?

That is my business.

I’m going to ask you to question that.

And I’m going to ask you to question the sexist assumptions that lie behind it.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go watch “Project Runway.”

105 comments

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  1. 1
    Sergio

    I want to ask you something, reading your piece I found that I had the same arguments defending woman breast implants, do you think the same way about them? Meaning, If you want to have breasts implants is not just because you want to attract men.

  2. 2
    Midnight Rambler

    Very interesting post. It’s things like this that make me feel sort of like an alien looking at humans from a distance and trying to make sense of it. And I mean that in a good way, because I guess I’m someone who “wears clothes so I won’t be naked” – what I wear for the day is mostly determined by what lies on the floor closest at hand and doesn’t smell, and I was very proud of myself for buying a couple of new shirts for the first time in about 3 years. The notion of communicating by what you wear is a very foreign concept. My biggest concern in that regard is that I wish Army-issue pants were made in non-camoflage, because they’re the best-fitting, most comfortable ever, but the camo makes you look like a militia member in most situations.

    One other comment:

    But if you think other people — especially other women — who do care about fashion and style are shallow, trivial, or vain for doing so?

    I certainly wouldn’t argue that this is necessarily so – this post disproves that, and there are a lot of other fashion-oriented people who clearly aren’t like that, even to someone like me who doesn’t really understand it. The thing is, I don’t think you can deny that a significant portion really are shallow, trivial, or at least vain (the definition of which is bound up with appearance). That goes for both celebrities and people in real life. But it’s something that comes out in the person’s personality, not their appearance, so others tend to make rash judgements based on superficial things. As long as that happens, it’s going to be difficult to overcome, sexism or not (and it applies to men as well).

  3. 3
    Musical Atheist

    Thank you! Ok, I’ve been reading your blog and other atheist blogs for quite a long time now without participating, and I’m finally gonna join in. I really enjoy your writing and your well thought-through opinions. And I’m delighted to see someone covering this particular topic. I’ve only recently had a conversation with a male friend (published poet, lefty liberal type) who was making comments to the effect that women were narcissistic and shallow for caring about their appearance. Or rather asking me if I didn’t think so. So frustrating. Thank you for articulating the problem so clearly, I’ll remember your points next time I’m in that situation.

    To be fair, he had just been broken up with by a woman he was in love with. I think it’s possible that ‘women are narcissistic’ should be read as ‘how could she not want me? outrageous!’

  4. 4
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    But if you think other people — especially other women — who do care about fashion and style are shallow, trivial, or vain for doing so?

    Pff, as long as you’re not wearing my clothes without asking (highly improbable), I couldn’t care less about what you wear (exceptions apply. As you said, it’s a way of communication. If you communicate disrespect, I do care).
    There are shallow, vain and trivial people, not because they care about fashion, but only about fashion and think that their personal set of rules must apply to everybody else and feel free to treat people in a condescending, patronizing, superior way for not doing so.
    I’m sure you’re not one of them, so, be hot, be a fashionista, have fun.

  5. 5
    naath

    I think when people say things like
    “I want to be judged on who I am, not on the clothes I wear.”

    They mean

    “I want to change the vocabulary of fashion such that these clothes say something different to what they currently say”

    For instance I personally want to change the vocabulary of fashion such that saying “I am smart and motivated and work hard” does not require me to wear painful shoes (I find wearing heels extremely painful) or to spend hours working on my hair and makeup – because, hey, my ability to get up at 7am and make myself look great is not actually correlated with my ability to write functioning software!

  6. 6
    Nathaniel

    Grr. This is something that really irritates me. Being into fashion doesn’t change one’s view on women’s rights, and the fact I am not interested in football doesn’t make me less of a man.

  7. 7
    Greta Christina

    I think when people say things like “I want to be judged on who I am, not on the clothes I wear.”

    They mean

    “I want to change the vocabulary of fashion such that these clothes say something different to what they currently say”

    I see your point — but I think those are two different statements. I think there’s a difference between deliberately defying standards of dress in order to change them… and rejecting the very idea of standards of dress. (And then being baffled and annoyed when people make assumptions about you based on what you’re wearing.)

  8. 8
    laxsoppa

    Thank you for this! As a woman working in jewellery with a great interest and emphasis on fashion and style, I am often irritated by the sexism with which my profession is treated – as if it is entirely trivial, regardless of the fact that people have been adorning themselves deliberately for far longer than language as we know it today has existed. This post certainly brings up a lot of thoughts, not the least about how fashion and style actually relate to status and positions of power, and also how they’re distributed between “men” and “women”, since that is how fashion and especially clothing is categorized and coded.

  9. 9
    Ophelia Benson

    In fact, fashion and style are so much like a language, I’m always a bit baffled when people say things like, “I want to be judged on who I am, not on the clothes I wear.” It’s a bit like saying, “I want to be judged on who I am, not on the words that come out of my mouth.”

    But is it, really?

    That claim kind of reminds me of the old Mel Brooks joke. He and Bancroft were having a huge argument and he put a hand on her shoulder or something and she shouted “Don’t touch me! My body is my instrument.” He said “Yeah? Play ‘Begin the Beguine.’” She fell apart laughing, and that was the end of that argument.

    So anyway, is it really? It seems to me that would be true only if the words that came out of your mouth were about ten per occasion.

    I suppose you can and do say something with your clothes, but you can’t say anything very complicated that way, and you can’t alter it much as the minutes pass (unless you dash off to change outfits every 30 seconds). The words that come out of our mouths can do a hell of a lot more than our clothes can.

    Sorry but I just don’t buy it. I don’t give a fuck what you wear, but I do read your words. If I met you for coffee tomorrow I still wouldn’t give much of a fuck what you were wearing; I would want to talk.

    Sure, fashion can be a kind of art; sure, it’s ok to be interested in it; but no, it’s not (even sort of) the same kind of thing as language.

  10. 10
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    Yeah, sure, it’s nice to be allowed more variety. But for some totally mysterious reason, the standards for women are more expensive, more physically damaging, less durable, less comfortable, more time consuming etc etc than the equivalent standard for men. There’s your feminist issue staring you in the face, right there.

  11. 11
    faeriefey

    I’ve slowly been becoming more aware of what I wear, and wanting to buy more than my usual shorts/jeans/teeshirts. I have a strong fondness for bold jewel tones and saturated colors. I’ve found that I adore clothes from India (salwar kameez are brilliantly comfortable). I’ve been slowly adding pieces to my wardrobe. I garner a lot of attention when I’m wearing them, and I kinda like it. :) I do need to do something more with my footwear though (one pair of trainers, one pair of boots, and one pair of ballet flat style just don’t cut it).

    All of this is very alien to me, but fortunately my best friend loves going shopping for clothes. :) Unfortunately the stuff I love most isn’t all that available to me (I live in rural Vermont), so I have to look at a lot of things online and wonder if they’ll fit me or look good on me. Fortunately I found a somewhat local seamstress from India who can sew up suits for me if I get the fabric. :)

    When my husband and I celebrated our 20th anniversary with a vow renewal I wore a gorgeous sari and I dressed him up in a sherwani suit and turban. :)

    Before I lost 100 pounds I wore brightly colored caftans and dashiki pant suits, just as a protest against all the dull, dark colors that most fat women’s clothing are made of. I’m still a fat woman, but I can shop for cheap things at Walmart these days, so I filled out my wardrobe with cheap tops and bottoms, now I’m rebuilding with the Indian clothes. :) I’ve even been known to wear *gasp* make up!

    I appreciate your post and it helps clarify my somewhat confused feelings about this strange thing I’ve been embarking on.

  12. 12
    Monica C.

    @Ophelia Benson: I disagree. I get what you are saying when you are trying to say that fashion is not the same thing as language, but I do think (like Greta) that fashion has something in common with language. Like language, fashion is a way of communicating with the people around you. Like language, fashion is specific to a culture and often geographical location. Like Greta said, a short skirt and heels communicates something very different in New York City, Aspen, and Dubai respectively.

    I would say that fashion, if it is any kind of language at all, is a language with a much smaller vocabulary than any spoken/written language, but it still does allow people to communicate a wide array of things.

    @Greta: *Thank you!* Most of my intellectual female friends think that I am weird because I care about fashion and make up and clothes! What I communicate to people about myself with my clothing has been important to me since I got out of high school and realized the power of it (and how much fun it is, whee!). I was a jeans and t-shirts, I don’t care what I look like kid until I was about 20, but now… Anyway, I definitely agree. Thank you for sharing this.

  13. 13
    Tomi

    Fashion is a form of communication in the same way Big Brother is a form of entertainment: it’s a very shallow and poor form. Sure, people shouldn’t necessarily wear torn jean shorts in every situation, but honestly, closely following fashion trends and shopping for new clothes every few days is somehow not shallow?

  14. 14
    Larry Clapp

    Hi, Greta. New reader here, though I’ve seen your name bandied about on Pharyngula a lot.

    You make some great points about communication media, and how like it or not, regardless of origin, what we wear has become one such. I think if one tries to defend the thesis that women dress nicely solely to attract men, then you must also defend the thesis that men dress nicely solely to attract women. Maybe each began as that, but both have evolved into communication mechanisms.

    I think part of the problem is that men look at how they dress and how it communicates to other men and say “that’s good, that’s okay”, but look at how women dress and how it communicates to other women and say “that’s vain and superficial”. But then I guess that was your point.

  15. 15
    jemand

    This is a very interesting subject for me right now…

    Just this summer I was broken up with, ending a four year relationship (and I’m young enough still that’s very significant for me!) and a major part of his reasoning was that I wore too many “men’s style t-shirts.”

    Since then, oddly, I *have* been more interested in presenting more femme, or at least, playing with it, and I don’t know why. It could be that I had been for awhile picking up on feeling an obligation to, for someone else, present in a way that I hadn’t yet determined I wanted to present, such that instead of it being a “hmmm, lets have fun wearing what makes me feel happy and different today”, it was a “Is this good yet? Have I passed muster as Girl today?” Or it could have been my stubbornness and inclination to stick with what I was used to. Or it could have been holdovers from fundamentalist upbringings that viewed women and “women’s pursuits” as vain, unnecessary, trivial, possibly even disgusting, and unworthy of time or money. Or maybe it was a habit formed from when I needed to wear things that allowed me to be “invisible” even in fundamentalist culture, to fly under the radar and survive some very, very stressful situations before moving out. Or maybe it’s trying to send a giant “f you” to my ex, a “you think I’m not pretty enough? well, SEE HERE, I can master even this foreign world that I knew nothing about.”

    All of those reasons? I’m ok with. If that’s really why I’m exploring, than it should be fun, I should be good, whatever I ultimately decide is my style for now… well sounds good to me.

    But… I was pretty rattled by this experience, and I wonder if all those reasons aren’t my conscious mind trying to rationalize with reasoning that I would find understandable and sympathetic, the internalization of the idea that he is right, that I have to dress differently or I don’t deserve love… That now clothing is something I have to use to *earn* success, in either personal or professional life. And… I just think that sounds very unhealthy. I mean, obviously clothes do communicate certain things… but that doesn’t mean that if I decided I liked men’s style t-shirts best forever, that I would not deserve or could never have a satisfying relationship with *anyone,* or would be unable to hold *any* job I found rewarding.

    Anyway. Sorry for posting something all about me…. it’s just I have been trying to untangle a lot of these ideas in my head recently, and realized that while I didn’t find *other* women who are fashionable vain, (mostly because I honestly don’t notice. at all) I realized that I have probably been constraining my OWN expression because I felt that *I* would be superficial by doing differently.

  16. 16
    rick020200

    Honest question from a guy who honestly wants to know…

    If, as you assert, women wear fashionable clothes in large part as a dialog with other women, why is so much of it so gawd-damned sexy and attractive to men? High heels that make the legs and ass look better; form-fitting tops to make the breasts more obvious; padded bras to make the breasts more obvious; low cut tops to make the breasts more obvious… ok, sorry, I’m fixating here.

    But aside from the more masculine inspired fashions (a la pant suits), it seems to me that women’s fashions are very directly speaking to men. You may appreciate the subtlety of the way the pumps complement earrings, and see a bit of art in the way the scarf is draped, but that to me seems like a secondary effect.

    As I said, I’m a guy, and therefore I’m largely blind to those secondary effects, so for that I say “thanks” for opening my eyes.

  17. 17
    FreebornJayne

    I do agree with you that fashion is almost certainly seen as superficial because it’s primarily associated with women. I wouldn’t consider myself a terribly fashionable person — I wear things I think look nice, without putting a lot of effort into it — but I am really interested in the history of fashion, and people tend to treat that like a very meaningless interest (even though you can learn a hell of a lot about a historical period by the way people dress). I also despise the notion that if I put on makeup etc. I’m doing it to attract a man, which is apparently vain and pathetic, but if I don’t put on makeup, I’m somehow unwomanly.

    However, there is the danger of thinking fashion reveals more than it actually can about a person, which the fashion industry loves to harp on in order to sell more. I have noticed I have to tone down my actual taste in order to get taken seriously as a science student, which I do resent. And for example I have frequently seen the comment that Helena Bonham Carter should hire a fashion consultant — even that she should plain quit her job in the public spotlight — because she looks “a mess”, “ridiculous”, etc (I happen to think she looks awesome, but there you go). I guess this is more like judging someone for their accent than their words — like assuming a guy from Louisiana or Somerset or whatever your regional “yokel” accent is can’t be a genius. (That’s not to mention the fact that poorer people can’t necessarily afford to take these things into consideration, which can of course contribute to keeping them down.)

    I guess as feminists we ought to be conscious of what our fashion decisions mean, why they mean that, and whether that’s fair. And of course, keep a sharp eye on the crap that some fashion magazines love to roll around in. Fashion is fine — the damning message that it’s all women care about, that we all must have the same taste and waste money aimlessly following trends that we don’t actually like, is not.

  18. 18
    Ani Sharmin

    You make an interesting point. I’m rather ambivalent about this issue. I definitely think that being interested in fashion doesn’t mean someone is less of a feminist. I have to admit that I used to be rather hostile to fashion. Of course, I prefer certain clothes, complement others on how they look, etc. but was also frustrated by fashion. I hated going clothes shopping as a kid, partly because I had to shop in the plus section and the clothes I liked weren’t availabe in my size. Moreso than that, I felt like people were judging me and other girls solely based on appearance — like it was acceptable for me to express myself via fashion, but if I wanted to express myself in other ways, they weren’t interested. It felt like it was less about expressing themselves and more about excluding people who wore different clothes.

    I do know lots of people, though, who are interested in fashion but not shallow, and that changed my attitude. It’s extremely unlikey that I’ll read a fashion magazine, but now I see it as an interest, and we all have different interests. I have my own opinions about clothes I like and so on, but it’s not something I’m particularly interested in. I don’t know if it’s language. Maybe it can be symbolic? It’s not something I know a lot about.

    Naath makes a good point about wanting to change the vocabulary of fashion so that expectations aren’t so unreasonable.

  19. 19
    wendy

    The rules of fashion, a lively creative game for some women, just make me tired. Also, alas, I feel like I’m in drag when I dress typically for a woman my age.

    Fashion as art? I never thought of it that way exactly, and it’s a good point. However, it may be the only art that is relentlessly marketed.

  20. 20
    Larry Clapp

    > no, it’s not (even sort of) the same kind of thing as language

    Sure it is, at least sort of, which was all she was saying. What you wear communicates to others. (See her points about jeans at funerals.) It shares many of the same traits of an actual language. Note that it’s context dependent, that is, it depends on to whom you’re communicating. That is, it depends on whether they speak the same language as you.

    > I don’t give a fuck what you wear, but I do read your words. If I met you for coffee tomorrow I still wouldn’t give much of a fuck what you were wearing; I would want to talk.

    I disbelieve. If she showed up naked, if she showed up dressed like a homeless person, if she showed up wearing a swastika, if she showed up in a wedding dress, if she showed up in a burqa, if she showed up dressed like a runway model, I believe that all of these things would communicate something to you and result in at least a raised eyebrow, and if you ignored them, you would be willfully ignoring them.

    If you think clothing doesn’t communicate at all, then you’d be okay going to a wedding in full cammo gear, yes? Or going to a funeral in a wedding dress? Or wearing a white robe and pointy white hat to a predominantly black church in Georgia? Or going out dancing in New York in a bikini?

    (Of course, maybe bikinis are the height of fashion in New York night clubs. But that would just prove my point even more.)

  21. 21
    bb.

    The problem with the “language” of fashion is that it doesn’t have the same meaning for everyone. So you may form an opinion about someone based on what they wear, but you’re quite likely to be wrong. Which is why I tend to refrain from that.

    I’ve met quite a few people whom others might judge to be shallow or vain because of the sheer amount of time invested in their clothes or appearance, but who are nothing of the sort. To them, fashion is a hobby like cooking or photography is to me. I can understand that.

    But I do HATE people who think that just because they value fashion and feel strongly about it, I should as well. Those are the shallow and vain ones.

    Personally, I’m unimpressed by our society’s obsession with constant consumption. I may even be slightly revolted by it, when I consider the environmental impact of it all. But also I simply don’t understand why people need to buy new clothes every few months, the same way I don’t understand why anyone would ditch their old iPad and buy a new one just because the new one has 2.7 extra features and 5% sleeker design. (Or why would they ditch any type of a working gadget to SPEND MONEY on something which is marginally better and unlikely to change their lives in any way).

    And I especially don’t understand when people say “I use fashion to express myself” but then buy clothes that are in fashion that particular season, that everyone else buys, so that they end up dressed the same way as 20 other people that are standing behind them in line at the bank. Or they dress up as goths, or hipsters, or whomever, and then show up on a concert with 500 other people, all of whom look the same. I’m not sure what they’re expressing, but then again, I’m not versed in the language of fashion. :D

  22. 22
    Ani Sharmin

    @FreebornJayne:

    “However, there is the danger of thinking fashion reveals more than it actually can about a person, which the fashion industry loves to harp on in order to sell more.”

    “I guess as feminists we ought to be conscious of what our fashion decisions mean, why they mean that, and whether that’s fair. And of course, keep a sharp eye on the crap that some fashion magazines love to roll around in. Fashion is fine — the damning message that it’s all women care about, that we all must have the same taste and waste money aimlessly following trends that we don’t actually like, is not.”

    I think you just expressed succinctly what I was trying to get at in my rather rambling comment. We have preferences in fashion, and that’s fine, but it’s a problem when we wear what we don’t like just to go along with the fashion industry or when we think appearance tells us more than it does.

    You also made good points about the history of fashion giving us valuabe information and about how the amount of money someone has has an effect.

  23. 23
    Sara K.

    Great post!

    I remember taking a make-up class in college .. and about half of the students were male. The class was harder for the boys than the girls because a) they generally were less experienced with make up in the first place and b) while there were ‘anything goes’ classes, in some classes we did have to focus on what is accepted in society – it is considered okay for women to look like they are wearing make-up, whereas it’s not okay for men to look like wearing make-up. That meant the boys had to walk a fine line between enhancing their looks with make-up without actually looking like they were wearing make up, whereas if the girls were less subtle it was OK. Even though I am a girl, I actually prefer a ‘masculine’ make-up style – adding subtle touches to my face while looking like that I am not using make-up – but the boys didn’t have the choice.

  24. 24
    Sara K.

    Yes, I agree.

    I am particularly aware of the shoes issue because I am a woman with wide feet. Thus trying to find comfortable women’s shoes is extremely difficult … I gave up long ago, and when I buy shoes for everyday use nowadays, I go straight to the men’s section and buy “men’s” shoes. I sometimes even go to the men’s section for fashionable shoes, and pick out something which looks gender-neutral. However, when I want to wear some shoes which look a bit more, shall we say, feminine, I go for dance shoes – they are designed to look good, but also also made to endure a lot of wear and tear as well as support the feet (so they are more comfortable), and it’s also easier to find them in wide sizes. And dance shoes are not more expensive than non-dance “fashionable” shoes.

  25. 25
    Ally

    Great point, Greta! :)

    If I may go on a bit of a fandom squee tangent for a moment, this is precisely one of the reasons why I love My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic so much. The creator, Lauren Faust, says that when she created the show one of the primary goals in her mind was expressing that there were many different ways of being female and none were inherently better than any other, and it really, really shows!

    Apparently, when she was designing the characters, the executives wanted her to include a character who was into fashion. So, rather than making Rarity simply a shopaholic (not that that’s a bad thing!) she Made It Work, and made her a designer – in her words, and artist! And the show always treats her love of designing with the utmost respect! At no point does any other pony look down on her for her love of fashion, and in fact are very supportive. Episodes on the subject emphasise how much hard work goes into what she does, and multiple times we see her having to work for long periods sewing the quota of clothing her clients demand. Hell, an episode revolving around a unicorn making a bunch of pretty dresses for her pony friends is widely regarded – by the audience which includes adults both male and female – as one of the best in the series! If that’s not a good sign for feminism, I don’t know WHAT is!

  26. 26
    Ally

    Why is fashion so sexy if it’s directed towards women? Because sexy looks good! And sexy is confident, and fun, and makes a statement! Women don’t need to be attracted to each other to admit that that’s a good thing! (Although, as a bisexual woman myself, I must admit that I’m also biased…) With men there’s generally a weird sort of Rule that men aren’t supposed to consider each other good-looking, much less sexy, but women on the whole are much less insecure of themselves in expressing things like that. (In my experience, anyway!)

    Good question, though, and I’m glad you asked! :)

  27. 27
    Flimsyman

    I remember the first time I read your “fashion is analogous to language” ideas. My first thought was that my own fashion is “‘normal’ male, casual, relatively young, slightly and comfortably quirky.” I literally do dress in such a way so as to please/attract my preferred romantic and sexual partners. I dress in such a way as to be visually appealing to the majority of persons who are most likely to be attracted to my body type.

    That was my unconscious fashion. My current, conscious fashion … is exactly the same, with the caveat to my partners that my “style” doesn’t mean anything to me, and they can totally dress me however they want. Which brings me to my point …

    I suppose it’s cultural programming that I don’t relate to style and fashion in that way. I don’t feel like my clothes are a reflection of who I am or what I’m trying to say at all. My wife and girlfriend built me an outfit to contrast my usual “shorts and quirky t-shirt,” consisting of big boots, kilt, and black leather vest. I don’t feel like I’m playing a different role, I don’t feel like I’m making a different statement. I just feel like I’m wearing different clothes. Probably, this just means that I don’t “speak” fashion very fluently.

  28. 28
    Flimsyman

    Well, as Greta acknowledges straight out, women’s fashion HAS come about though patriarchal society. Meaning, a reasonable explanation of why fashion has become, by and large, an expression of women, is because women are viewed as ornamental. It seems to me that this could easily entail both having grown out of the approving gaze of men, but also growing into communication that can now be used between women, regardless of male attention or not.

    I can see where women’s fashion can evolve both in a context of pleasing men, and communicating with women. A guy’s baseball cap might signal to (possibly, mostly) men, while signalling to (possibly, mostly) women that he’s a casual, laid-back sports-enjoying dude. I don’t think that the two are mutually exclusive.

  29. 29
    JT

    I’m surprised that no one has yet addressed what I think is the most significant–and objectionable–aspect of “fashion”–the fact that it is largely imposed by fiat, for the obvious purpose of guaranteeing designers a continuing source of income.

    I used to wear acid-washed jeans; now I don’t. Why? Because a coven of wealthy, jaded people in London, New York, Paris and/or Milan decided that it was no longer appropriate for me to do so. I was obliged to change the style of jeans I wore, or be labeled “clueless.” Ditto for any number of other styles of jeans, jackets, ties, eyeglasses, etc. that have come and gone throughout the years. “Fashions” often obligate people to wear clothing styles and colors that don’t flatter them.

    But the thing that bothers me most about “fashion” is its obvious bias toward the wealthy. Changing fashions provide the most benefit to those whose primary occupation is spending their money on things they don’t need. People who work for a living can’t afford to replace their entire wardrobes every time Calvin Klein–or whoever–says they should. So “fashionable” clothing becomes a badge differentiating “better” people from the hoi polloi. That, in my opinion, is what fashion is primarily designed to communicate–not who you are, or what you think, but how much you have available to waste.

  30. 30
    Michael Fisher

    Fashion = $$$

  31. 31
    Felix

    Firstly, it is unfortunate that in our culture it is the women who pay more attention to fashion since it makes what I want to say potentially sexist.

    However, I believe that even if that were reversed it would still be the case that fashion is fundamentally trivial.

    It seems to be limited to saying (1) how wealthy a person is and (2) how much effort they put in to learning the language of fashion and (3) how much effort they put in to expressing themselves ion the language of fashion and (4) to what extent they wish to adopt a ‘conservative’ form of dress or the alternative.

    It is not going to tell you whether a person is humane, intelligent, moral, interesting, good at their job etc etc.

    In fact since the ‘message’ can be changed by changing the outfit (and can be purchased) it is inherently unreliable. The ‘language’ of fashion says “This is what I want you to think about me.” but it is a constructed message that is only as true as the dresser wants it to be (i.e a psychopath can dress as a priest).

  32. 32
    Ophelia Benson

    But I said I agreed that clothes communicate a little. I just don’t agree that they’re really meaningfully comparable to language.

    Yes, you’re right, I was exaggerating a little about not giving a shit what she was wearing. (The only one of your possibilities that seems at all likely is the last one, the runway model, and you’re dead right, I would find that hugely offputting, because of what it would seem to be communicating. But even then – the communication would be pretty minimal.)

  33. 33
    Janee

    Fashion itself, and the interest in it, aren’t in themselves anti-feminist, but a certain statement you made stuck out to me. “I pay a fair amount of attention to other people’s style: admiring it, analyzing it, deciding if I can steal it. ”
    That becomes a problem when you are interested in fashion and are insecure and so begin to judge based on appearance in a negative way. It goes from that statement to “degrading them for it, scorning them for it, and wondering what trash bin they got THAT out of.” It goes right back to treating women as if they are the clothes, or lack there of, on their bodies and their physical appearance alone. That becomes a feminist issue.

  34. 34
    Ophelia Benson

    I find that sad. I’ve been watching with near-horror as what I just think of as T shirts get pushed out of women’s clothes altogether. I hate it that women are all but forced to wear tit-display shirts.

  35. 35
    DTrevor

    Greta,

    Great topic, but I think you’re just scratching the surface. This is a rich vein to mine. To begin with, I think there’s some confusion between “fashion”, and “style”. I’ve always gone with the working definition that fashion is what they give you, style is what you choose. There’s a lot to be critical about the fashion industry, but that’s a different subject from spending time and energy on how you choose to dress and present yourself, and what are the societal forces at paly. And I agree that clothing most certainly is like language, in that you are sending information, which is still quite open to (mis)interpretation. I think you should write more about this subject.

  36. 36
    Ophelia Benson

    I on the other hand think so much of it is so sexy and attractive to men because that’s what it’s designed to be.

  37. 37
    Ophelia Benson

    How odd – all my comments go into moderation. Is that because my first one said “fuck” a couple of times? But – but –

    Ah well.

  38. 38
    Qwerty

    I guess even nudity could be considered a “fashion statement.”

    And even those who are anti-fashion are still saying something about themselves in their choice of attire.

    Yes, a very interesting post.

  39. 39
    John K.

    A very thought provoking post.

    If all that is happening is an artistic expression and appreciation of creative talents, I can see no conflict with feminism.

    However, tying self worth too closely to your appearance does not strike me as a feminist idea at all. I think many people use fashion as a means to judge the worth of themselves and others, which is in fact shallow and vain. Again, this does not always happen, and if it does not happen there is no feminist conflict. Yet, there are many other forms of artistic expression that do not seem to suffer from this. The picture displayed in your house can make a statement about you, but it does not seem to reflect your value as a person quite so often.

    It is also a bit curious to me that men are seldom bothered by women’s opinions that an interest in sports or video games is silly, trivial, or pointless. Yet the opinion that men find fashion trivial or pointless is a “subtle but definite form of sexism”. Why the difference? This seems to be tying your fashion and appearance too closely to your self-worth.

    I realize I am being critical of some cherished ideas here, and just want to say I am doing this to get a rational discussion on my thoughts. I am not out to provoke or upset here.

  40. 40
    Larry Clapp

    Folks that are unhappy or even disgusted with fashion have made some good points about fashion, but not about Greta’s essay. If you want to be off-topic, that’s fine, but I think you should at least be aware that you are.

    To recap, she restates the topic in the last 6-odd paragraphs, starting with

    “If you don’t personally care about fashion and style, that’s fine”

    and ending with

    “But if you think other people — especially other women — who do care about fashion and style are shallow, trivial, or vain for doing so? That is my business. I’m going to ask you to question that. And I’m going to ask you to question the sexist assumptions that lie behind it.”

    Here’s a question for Greta, though: Say I agree with you: Fashion is like a language and you should speak it deliberately rather than accidentally. Fine. What if, after due consideration, I think fashion as exhibited in modern “western” society is more like a limerick than a sonnet, more like a bumper sticker than Shakespeare, or more like extortion than cooperative play? So if we agree that we shouldn’t dismiss involvement in fashion on sexist grounds, would you agree that it’s okay if we dismiss involvement in the (current) language of fashion for creative, egalitarian, or economic reasons?

    (I stress “modern western” and “current” fashion because, hey, if we all wore gray suits everywhere, well, that would be fashion, too, wouldn’t it? We have to wear something. :))

  41. 41
    Greta Christina

    Ophelia: Your comments are going into moderation because all comments are going into moderation. It’s a problem I’m aware of. I’m managing it as best I can from a phone while
    on vacation.

    Will reply to actual ideas tonight, if I’m not too fried.

  42. 42
    wendy

    Aaaah….fashion vs. style. I can work with that.

  43. 43
    Pen

    Being into fashion when you’re genuinely into fashion is completely unproblematic. Fashion becomes a feminist issue when a woman who isn’t much (like me) feels pressured to spend disposable income on clothing when she’d really rather not, when she feels pressured to communicate through clothing that she is ‘lite’ and unthreatening, or to dress in particular ways because she’s dependent on the approval of other people, for example to get a job, or clients.

    On a slightly unrelated note, women in Europe are increasingly adopting a dress + pants mode of dress that’s associated with Islamic cultures (because that’s where it comes from). I really like this. It’s comfortable, you can do anything in it, it suits my figure (and everyone else’s), it doesn’t require constant attention to unwanted body hair (!) or sun burn, you get to play with fabrics instead of cuts and styles. Now, a beautiful fabric is something I do consider worth paying for. But I don’t feel free to dress that way in the US. Apart from the vilification of muslims in this society, if I looked too muslim, would I be communicating the message that I’m unfeminist, even though my reasons for preferring that style of dress concern my own comfort and pleasure?

  44. 44
    flynn

    >In fact since the ‘message’ can be changed by changing the outfit (and can be purchased) it is inherently unreliable.

    A linguist might call this “code-switching.” I’d see purchasing as requiring more commitment than words or behavior do.

    Your four points seem like a good summary. I especially like point 4, which could have rolled into it the decisions we make about what to look like when we want to get and keep a job, or attract/deflect attention.

    I’d argue that there is more depth in personal adornment (to drop the term “fashion” which contains the implication of trendiness) than in forms of expression that men are commonly supposed to be interested in, such as which car you drive–something much more dependent on wealth than clothing is.

  45. 45
    Mattir

    It might be nice if the world of what most people consider fashion (the Vogue/Glamour world) were actually accessible to women like me – perhaps I should move to San Francisco to hang out with the Pharyngulistas and Greta and her crowd. Living in a conservative Christian world, I learned that fashion was a game with winners and losers, that I somehow missed learning the rules of femininity, that I’d be laughed at if I tried to play. The range of play that was safe for me is pretty restricted as a result, and I assume that women who want to play fashion don’t want to play with me because (gasp) that’s most often true.

    But this article has led me to suspect that I probably could play fashion in the right social setting and that I *do* communicate with my daily wardrobe – I’m a masculine looking, heterosexually married bisexual woman who wears jeans, hiking boots, one particular type of slightly form-fitting t-shirt, and handknit shawls everywhere. I don’t wear makeup, have a very plain hair style, and wear a lot of baseball hats. It’s a language, and the thing it says to most women is “leave me alone, I don’t want to play this game with you. Unless you want to talk about fiber arts, that is…”

    So thanks for the essay – in the course of writing this response, I’ve realized that it’s not the fashion per se that I think is vain and stupid, but the particular women and community in which I’m located. Now I’m off to think about how to dress for Skepticon…

  46. 46
    MarinaS

    I agree that language is a kind of language with a limited vocabulary; if you like, it has semiotic value. But the real limitation of fashion is not how little it can say, but on what a limited range of topics.

    The words that come out of my mouth are capable of describing almost every mental state that I go through, and to express my genuine and authentic subjectivity; but the words that my clothes speak are limited to describing me as an object of other people’s perceptions:

    - Level of attractiveness
    - Level of wealth
    - Crude tribal cultural associations that can be signalled with one or two items (vintage dresses, punk t-shirts)
    - Some tribal political associations (hemp jeans, preppy chinos, Birkenstocks)
    - Limited information about ethics (brands with “bad” ethical reputations)
    - Limited and potentially misleading information about sexual orientation or interests

    And other such pieces of information that make it easier for people to pigeon hole me. Yes, on some level it is informative to allow people to neatly and quickly slot me into pre-existing and widely recognised stereotypes before I ever open my mouth, but in other ways it’s a complete barrier to genuine communication, because their impressions colour their understanding of what I say.

    When I say that I would rather not be judged by what I wear, I don’t mean I don’t care about style (a better term in this context than fashion I think), but that I want my personal style to be so bland as to prevent people from having the illusion that I have “told” them something about myself before I open my mouth.

  47. 47
    Bruce Gorton

    Speaking as a semi-amateur photographer the way I parse this is:

    Fashion is an art form, but it more illustrates than communicates – a bit like a picture on a news story. The story itself is the meat and the important bit, but a good enough picture can enhance or even change how a story reads.

    For example I was putting up a story about our ANC Youth League calling the the disciplinary comittee their bosses were appearing before a “kangaroo court” today.

    The rest of the team stopped me adding a picture of guys dressed in red kangaroo suits hopping around a fair ground. It would have changed the tone a bit.

  48. 48
    wendy

    I wish you lived in my town; I’m pretty sure we were separated at birth.

  49. 49
    Zaka

    Sergio, I cannot think of a reason women want implants other than for mens’ attraction. Of course, those who’ve had breasts removed due to cancer and opt for this make sense. But implants reduce sensitvity of the breast area…why would a gal want that? Also, they are almost always reminiscent of *Tupperware* bowls…hence the term, “Tupperware tits”. If someone with implants can answer your response, I’d be delighted to hear it. Some men just slobber over huge tits. Usually my gal-pals have had breast REDUCTION due to numb arms & shoulder pain from the weight of huge breasts.

  50. 50
    onion girl, OM; social workers do it with paperwork

    Yeah, sure, it’s nice to be allowed more variety. But for some totally mysterious reason, the standards for women are more expensive, more physically damaging, less durable, less comfortable, more time consuming etc etc than the equivalent standard for men. There’s your feminist issue staring you in the face, right there.

    With the analogy to language, I can’t help but draw a connection to ‘reclaiming’ language–adding to/altering the meaning of queer in the gay community, for instance.

    Fashion is born of the sexist concept of women as ornamental, so Cath is exactly right that currently it’s more expensive, difficult, and physically damaging for women. But if women begin ‘reclaiming’ it as a form of art/expression, maybe it can move away from that.

    One of the commenters mentioned a European trend towards more Muslim fashion, where the expression is in fabrics and colors rather than focusing on sex appeal. That type of fashion that focuses on emphasis, not alteration–not trying to straighten naturally curly hair, but instead develop multiple ways to style and enhance the curls, for example.

    High heels that don’t damage the feet would be a great start. ;)

    (first post here–I haven’t always kept up with this blog, but I’m hoping I’ll be able to now that it’s here. :) )

  51. 51
    onion girl, OM; social workers do it with paperwork

    Lovely–first post and I screw up the blockquote. This paragraph is Cath’s, of course:

    Yeah, sure, it’s nice to be allowed more variety. But for some totally mysterious reason, the standards for women are more expensive, more physically damaging, less durable, less comfortable, more time consuming etc etc than the equivalent standard for men. There’s your feminist issue staring you in the face, right there.

  52. 52
    feralboy12

    As always, Greta, the clarity of your writing is impressive and enjoyable.
    But I have one question: what, exactly, is the meaning behind wearing my mother’s glasses from 1970?

  53. 53
    Ani Sharmin

    @JT:

    Didn’t include it because I didn’t want my original comment to go on forever, but I totally agree with your points. The “fiat” always really annoys me. The way Great is describing fashion, as a way to express yourself, is the kind of fashion I can like; it reminds me of how my friend made her own prom dress. That struck me as very creative and impressed me, especially because I’m not good at that sort of thing. However, I think fashion’s too often done by this “fiat” and not about individual creativity. (Who decides what’s “in” right now, anyway?) It bothers me that we live in a society in which people are considered clueless if they don’t know about fashion…but when people don’t know about other stuff, like science, history, literature, etc. that’s considered okay, for some absurd reason.

    On fashion being biased towards the wealthy, that’s an excellent point. It seems like stuff that’s in fashion is more expensive for the sole reason that it’s in fashion. When I look at, say, the jeans I buy and the ones that are the fashion/popular right now, the price difference is huge. (The ones that are in fashion usually don’t fit me, anyway, but’s a whole other issue.) There’s no way I can go shopping every time fashion changes, and I don’t want to; why buy stuff that’s popular right now if it looks bad on me, is uncomfortable, etc.?

  54. 54
    Nice Ogress

    Fashions is a language in the same way kineaesthetics (lawz, i’m probably misspelling that)is a language – in fact, you could probably class it as a subset of kineaesthetics.

    I find this discussion thread intimidatingly long already, so it’s back to lurking for me.

  55. 55
    Kate

    Thank you for this article! I’m an avid feminist–I majored in Women’s Studies, and I volunteer at a Women’s Center now–but I also love fashion. I admit it, I get really excited when the September issue of Vogue arrives in my mailbox. I have fun picking my outfit in the morning and I have a weakness for shopping trips. But I feel like I can’t speak about any of this to my feminist friends, because they would think less of me for it. I think you need to approach fashion critically as a (especially when it comes to how it is marketed), but I think I should be allowed to be both a feminist and a fashionista!

  56. 56
    Dhorvath, OM

    Can you be a feminist and still care about fashion?

    Got hung up right off the bat. I think I find this question very interesting because of what it doesn’t ask: Is an interest in fashion affected by being a feminist?
    I would argue that it is deepened, giving a better understanding of the cultural pressures that drive fashion, whether as an industry or on a more personal level. In that sense, I think it is pretty much necessary to be a feminist to have a full appreciation of fashion. Without that context, one is only scratching the surface of many aspects of the idea of fashion.

  57. 57
    Mattir-ritated

    How do you know we don’t? The number of real-life friends I’ve made through Pharyngula (and now FtB) is quite high…

  58. 58
    Deen

    In fact, fashion and style are so much like a language, I’m always a bit baffled when people say things like, “I want to be judged on who I am, not on the clothes I wear.”

    As someone who prefers jeans and (geeky) T-shirts, my guess is that most people who say this don’t reject the notion that your clothing can be an expression of your personality or your mood, but that they reject fashion as a status symbol. With that I don’t just mean the status that comes with wearing designer clothes or brand name clothes, but also the status that comes with always being able to keep up with the latest fashion trends.

    In that sense, I’d like to make a distinction between “style” and “fashion”. I don’t think being aware of style, or being a stylist, or wanting to explore new styles is shallow. It’s not an interest of mine, but as you say, we don’t all have to like the same things. However, staying “in fashion” often seems to have less to do with expression your personality and more with following the herd, so in that sense – and in that sense only – I suppose fashion can be shallow. I don’t think this has anything to do with “fashion” being a stereotypically female hobby, though. I consider always wanting to own whatever gadget or car is fashionable to be just as shallow.

    But like I said, this doesn’t reject the notion that your clothes will still communicate something about your personality – if only “I don’t care about keeping up with fashion”.

  59. 59
    s

    Sergio, if you think about breast implants as just another form of body modification, I think that might help come up with other reasons. Like, if a woman gets implants *or* a reduction, she might be thinking “this is how my body should look; this is the body that I think most represents my concept of me”.

    Actually, all our forms of modifying our appearances (from tattoos to surgery) might be a subset (superset?) of fashion, in the vein of expressing a certain aesthetic and/or identity.

  60. 60
    dean the bean

    Great points, JT.

    Fortunately you can always buy un-trendy clothes. If they are never “in style” they are also never “out of style.”

  61. 61
    Theoretical Shopaholic

    Yes! Thank you! I think I have said every word in this essay at some point, little by little, but reading it all together, and in such a clear way, feels very validating. I think people who think fashion is trivial are the types who swear advertising doesn’t affect them.

  62. 62
    badandfierce

    “I want to be judged on who I am, not on the clothes I wear.”

    Well, I’m one of those, and I think I can explain it quite easily using your language analogy.

    First, learning a second language is really hard. I certainly don’t take to it. And when it comes to clothes, I have no idea how it’s supposed to work. I can’t put on makeup or do hair, I have no idea what clothes you’re supposed to wear on what ordinary occasions versus what other clothes, and I really have no energy or enthusiasm for learning. I have a lot of things that interest me a lot more to put effort into than learning which skirt you’re supposed to wear with which shoes, especially when all the approved skirts and shoes look completely identical to me.

    That green one that’s an inch longer? Oh, no, can’t wear that. It does not suit the prescriptions of the all-powerful gnosis. Wooo. You must wear the blue-green one of the appropriate length. These are the laws.

    And of course there’s the nasty classism and sexism that goes into women’s clothes. To be dressed properly as a professional woman, you need an expensive suit and shoes and earrings and all that nonsense, and you have to simultaneously look just like every other serious professional woman and completely unique. A serious professional man should remember to grab a tie off his dresser, if he remembers.

    And lastly, what if I don’t want to talk to you? I do have clothes that I like and that I wear to make a specific statement. The statement is generally, “Hello! Hail fellow and well met! I am one of you! Can we be friends?” I wear knee-high patent-leather boots, a suede riding habit, a top hat, and bat earrings if I’m off to a goth club. A cloak and bodice and velvet skirt to a renfaire. A tattered trench coat and creepy scarf to a vampire LARP. These are my people and we are well garbed.

    So I don’t disapprove of fashion; I indulge in it. (I really don’t grasp it WELL. Nerds in herds have very decided statements to make. I don’t know any more about what makes a proper moccasin boots/fur mantle combo than I do about blazers and pantyhose. Thank heaven for a total lack of subtlety.) I communicate gladly with other inhabitants of my subculture and can gladly, when signaled by an opera cape, spend hours in gleeful conversation with a stranger about shared interests. And that’s where I’d like my resources to go. I have fairly little in the way of means. I’d like to reserve my fashion conversations for the people I want to talk to. And when I’m at work or somewhere else where actual self-expression is discouraged? I don’t know how to say “I am a sensible and professional person, as you can see by my shoes.” I don’t even know how to keep my metaphorical mouth shut, and I don’t have any special urge to learn.

  63. 63
    Ani Sharmin

    @Theoretical Shopaholic:

    “I think people who think fashion is trivial are the types who swear advertising doesn’t affect them.”

    I always had the opposite impression — that people who think fashion is trivial and/or just aren’t interested in it think that advertising affects us/society too much, by making people think badly of themselves if they’re not following the fashions or don’t look like the people in the ads.

  64. 64
    Dhorvath, OM

    Sounds like you speak fashion just fine, you just practice a different dialect. Wouldn’t it be nice to bring your accent to work?

  65. 65
    thedudediogenes

    Not really related to anything, but the song is about fashion…if you’re not yet a fan of Flight of the Conchords, you have to check this out! Flight of the Conchords – Fashion is Danger http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BO85zSh_Wp0

  66. 66
    artdyke

    [Insert overlooked class issues here]

    But from a middle- or upper-class standpoint, I absolutely agree.

  67. 67
    Anya

    “It is also a bit curious to me that men are seldom bothered by women’s opinions that an interest in sports or video games is silly, trivial, or pointless. Yet the opinion that men find fashion trivial or pointless is a “subtle but definite form of sexism”. Why the difference?” –John K.

    Oh, easy. Because men don’t have to care about women’s opinions; their interests and hobbies have the validation of the entire culture behind them (entire culture= “other men.”) Women, on the other hand, kind of *do* have to care about men’s opinions. Especially if the man is a boss who’ll have power over them. And we’ve been pretty well programmed, as a gender, to care about pleasing others as well.

    Just my cynical two cents.

  68. 68
    Anat

    To Greta:

    You already accept that there are those who dress in order to not be naked. These are the people who don’t want to express anything in particular with what they wear, and therefore don’t want to be judged on what they wear but on other things such as how well they perform their jobs or their sense of humor or their contribution to society or whatever.

    If one assumes clothes always express something there is no escape from ‘talking’. I dress as close as possible to ‘remaining silent’ – I’d say that in the west that would be some non-descript jeans and unadorned, unprinted sweatshirts.

    (BTW at least in Israel jeans would not be inappropriate for a funeral – I suppose that’s because funerals are usually held on very short notice – often the very day of the death – and people come in what they happened to be wearing that day.)

  69. 69
    thedudediogenes

    Fashion vis a vis class would be a very interesting post.

  70. 70
    MyMelody

    “I want to be judged on who I am, not on the clothes I wear.”

    When I would say that in that past, I usually meant because I would wear really cheap, worn clothes because I was poor. :P

    I think that there should also be mention of miscommunication, if we are to make the analogy of clothing being like language.

    I wore a top one day because I thought it was really cute. V neck ( because I have big boobs and wearing anything other than a v neck looks really weird on me), simple white breezy, kind of had a peasant top look. I thought I was communicating, “look at me, I feel so cute and fresh and summery!” But some one let me know quickly that they interpreted it as “look at me! I’m a whore! I want sexual attention. I’m easy.” :/

  71. 71
    Musical Atheist

    @artdyke: The way the different concepts of fashion and style intersect with class is interesting. The Burberry label has been looked down on by young people of a middle class, left-leaning artsy disposition, for two reasons. First, it is marketed as a very conventional upper class commodity, and second, it has been widely adopted by working class youth. The classic beige check has the ‘chav’ association attached to it because it has been adopted and copied by kids on council estates.

    Burberry is reputed to be frustrated that its signature check is now socially associated (in Britain that is) with a particular subset of the working class, and has apparently sought to discourage this by limiting the check to the interiors of bags, coat linings etc. The first I knew of this was when I wore a (non-label) pair of beige check trousers I’d had for years to university and scorn for the label and its associations were conveyed by a classmate.

    So in Britain that’s an example of a specific fabric design acquiring a set of social meanings that weren’t originally intended by its creators. Like words that change their meanings maybe? And it’s so tied up with class, as a lot of things in Britain are. It’s group identification – attached to the ‘wrong’ group! Gasp!

    See: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/4381140.stm
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/2903392/Burberry-admits-chav-effect-checked-sales-over-Christmas.html

    There may be a better way of including links in a post, but I’m new to commenting.

  72. 72
    SallyStrange

    And I especially don’t understand when people say “I use fashion to express myself” but then buy clothes that are in fashion that particular season, that everyone else buys, so that they end up dressed the same way as 20 other people that are standing behind them in line at the bank. Or they dress up as goths, or hipsters, or whomever, and then show up on a concert with 500 other people, all of whom look the same. I’m not sure what they’re expressing, but then again, I’m not versed in the language of fashion.

    Duh. They are expressing that they are a member of such-and-such group. Fashion slaves, hipsters, goths, or whatever.

    Expressing oneself does not automatically entail expressing individuality. It also entails expressing group membership.

    This is not fashion, just basic reasoning.

  73. 73
    SallyStrange

    What if, instead of boots and kilt, they had brought you saggy jeans, gigantic white t-shirt, a cap proclaiming allegiance to some basketball team or hip hop group, and expensive sneakers–i.e., the uniform of a young black man in an economically depressed urban setting?

    Still the same “meh” reaction?

    Sounds to me like your wife and/or girlfriend was helping you express “you” better. A kilt and boots definitely say “quirky” to me, and that’s the adjective you used to describe your former uniform.

    Think about it.

  74. 74
    SallyStrange

    That’s not just a Muslim thing, it’s pretty much the uniform in mostly Hindu India as well. There’s a bit of coding going on there as well–saris are worn more by older, married women, except on special occasions, when all the women get dressed up in them. Saris are beautiful but so difficult to put on, at least when you’re unfamiliar with it–the draping is an art form. Salwar kumeez is so easy and wonderfully comfortable. Now you’re making me think I should get some salwar kumeez’ for myself.

  75. 75
    skeptifem

    Say what? More clothes that can be worn as socially acceptable =/= more freedom. The types of roles that can be conveyed by clothing shows the lack of freedom that women have. Why so much fuss over what female politicians wear? We don’t have an official uniform like the dudes do (a suit and tie), women have a bunch of “freedom” to try and find the outfit that doesn’t make anyone call her a slut or a prude (PROTIP: this outfit does not actually exist, you will be called one or both no matter what you wear). You know what I wish I had? The kind of clothes men get to wear, the kind that makes people take them seriously in society. I could wear the same clothes as a respected man but my femaleness would override any status that the clothes would ordinarily give a dude. So, in a system where the clothes matter a lot less than who they are on and their political status, how much freedom do my clothes really give me? Sounds to me like I get the illusion of freedom without any actual freedom, and dudes automatically benefit from it.

    Also, why post a fashion magazine when you talk about fashion? It is all well and good to post “fashion is self expression!” when you don’t think about where clothes come from, right? From what I recall sweat shop workers are disproportionately women and children, and that is the kind of crap that mainstream fashion magazines push. They also push a capitalist over-consumption of clothes, wasting tons of resources and that affects people outside the west to a much greater extent. To answer your question- it is gross to buy expensive new clothes. Dollars are a life or death issue to many people in the world, wasting them is a shitty thing to do. It is something we should ask ourselves when we spend on luxury items of any sort- “does someone else need this more than me?”. There is a great resistance to this idea, people don’t want to feel icky or conflicted about their shopping, as if the level of bravery needed to confront consumer choices wasn’t completely trivial compared to what the affected people go through.

  76. 76
    becca

    Damnit skeptifem, you got here before I did.

    Anyway, for somewhat similar thoughts but with my personal twist:

    “(And then being baffled and annoyed when people make assumptions about you based on what you’re wearing.)”
    I, for one, tend to be baffled and annoyed with the particulars of the assumptions people make about me, whatever I wear. This could relate to two things
    1) I am grammatically illiterate, in the fashion sense (quite possible, although for the record I am quite good with fibers and making clothes)
    2) I am in a male dominated field. Ergo, there is no combination of grammar by which I can express “take me seriously as a professional”.
    All this writing about the ‘freedom’ of women to choose what to express frustrates me. I can’t express the one thing that is important to me, why do I care if I can use makeup to say “I’m a prostitute” or “I’m someone conventional”.

    In addition, it is foolish to react with frustration toward those who reject your preferred art form- not out of differences in taste- but in meaningful differences of accessibility. If you could care less about grand opera because you’ve been to a variety of them and found them lacking, that is very different than if you say you could care less about grand opera because the groups you belong to have historically been driven out of ‘high society’ in a classist way, and you’ve never actually seen an opera and the only involvement you had was a forced exposure in school (if that).

    There’s also the problems with the philosophy of conspicuous consumerism and the fact you can’t currently practice ‘fashion’ as described in magazines without excessively exploiting humans in faraway lands. When clothes stop being made by girls who can’t go to school, it will be feminist to buy clothes. But ultimately, those are probably just my righteousness post-hoc rationalizations for never being able to express what I want to.

  77. 77
    Dhorvath, OM

    Bit of a vicious circle there, it’s sexy to men because women wear it and women wear it because it’s sexy to men. I am left to wonder if there is some degree of heterogeneity that would cancel the association of fashion markers solely with women. If fashions become more varied, will not men just follow suit and muck that up too?

  78. 78
    erinaceous

    Fashion has always been a feminist issue, largely because fashion is another way in which women are oppressed. Foot-binding, corsets, burkhas, high heels….

  79. 79
    kagerato

    If what one wears is always an expression of some idea, that means that there is no equivalent in fashion to saying nothing. It’s impossible not to be judged, and that is unfair as well as counterproductive.

    I would also like to second the points others made about fashion being essentially dictated by a small number of producers, and much of the world’s clothing being produced by poorly paid workers in countries where the alternative is typically an even worse agricultural job.

  80. 80
    estraven

    My clothing says that I can’t stand spending time or money on clothing. I can admire style, to a degree, but it’s not important to me. I’m happiest in jeans, a t-shirt, and possibly a flannel shirt thrown on if it’s cool out, and it shall be ever thus. (I could afford to dress differently, I just don’t want to.) Of course I can and do dress appropriately where called for, but I just buy the first thing that fits and seems like it would do. I don’t “get” fashion. I guess I view clothing as utilitarian, even though I know it can be, and for many people is, much more than that. Do I think fashion is trivial? Honestly, yes, I guess I do. Sorry! What I worry about is were my clothes made in a sweatshop? What about the workers where I buy my clothes? and so on. No one but my spouse will ever admire my clothing (he happens to love me in flannel shirts and work boots, which is just a happy accident).

  81. 81
    spulido99

    Well, thanks god than that you “cannot think of a reason women want implants other than for mens’ attraction” is not a good argument for someone else having a reason; I think you are not taking into account that not everybody is getting a boob-job just to have big teats and attract men. I have heard the reason of 3 person for having breast implants, one of them my mother who had breast cancer and her tits were cut out, the other 2 friends of mine who happened to had really small tits. First some background, I am from Medellin, Colombia, a city -sometimes- called Silicon Valley (Medellin is a valley) not precisely for microchips; having a boob job there is like having an orthodontia, pretty much everybody does it.

    So my argument was this:
    1. This is a city where there is no taboo for breast implants, meaning, nobody (like, probably, you) would judge you for having one
    2. You have a girl with really small tits who does not feel good about it
    3. You can fix it, not by adding 1200cc but 350cc implants that will just make you look normal with beautiful breasts

    So, there is a person that do not feel right with her tits and have a way to fix them, is exactly the same reason I had an orthodontia, WHY would anybody judge a person for that? Why would that imply that they only want to attract men? Feeling right with your body image is not enough reason for doing that?

  82. 82
    Midnight Rambler

    Sorry to hear about your experiences. But FWIW, I can tell you with 100% certainty that some guys think high heels and other girly crap are hideously ugly, and prefer women in men’s style shirts.

  83. 83
    Mattir-ritated

    Humans communicate visually as well as verbally. Clothing is part of that, so if I want to interact in meatspace, I will communicate with my clothing, the same as I communicate with my body’s movement, my grooming, the tone and speed of my speech, and a million other things. Just like every other human being who lives in meatspace has to do – there is no “non-communicative” way to go out in public and interact with other people. There never will be. Get over it already.

    So if I enjoy the ways in which cloth can cover the human form I’m an oppressor? It’s problematic to notice how other people cover their bodies with cloth? The fashion that Greta was describing was more about clothing as art and self-expression than about following rules concocted by advertisers, not about buying the latest sweatshop product just because it’s required for the current season.Nothing makes me want to declare my interest in style and clothing more than hypercritical scolds who tell me that I can’t be a feminist and be interested in those things.

    The best that one can do, if one is interested in self-expression via clothing, is to be aware and careful about where one’s clothing comes from, to support workers’ rights via advocacy groups, to make some of one’s clothing oneself, to purchase used, to wear clothing until it’s worn out, and to recycle/donate it when one gets rid of it.

  84. 84
    blueworld

    Interesting. As a female programmer, I get weird looks if I wear high heels or a lot of makeup. I think that people seeing me in the hall will assume I’m a receptionist or admin assistant rather than a developer. I get the best response dressing in gender neutral business casual with minimal makeup.

  85. 85
    Tussilago

    If you don’t want to contribute to the problems of overconsuming, waste and sweatshops connected with clothes, you could buy second hand clothes. (That is, if you’re interested in style rather than fashion trends!) I often do. It also has the advantages of saving money, not having to worry about the chemicals used in manufacturing the clothes, and not having to worry about how much they will shrink the first time you wash them (never again will I buy a new pair of jeans and then have to give them to someone else after I washed them…)

  86. 86
    demonhellfish

    No. A lot of people who participate in a subculture have no desire at all to bring it into their workplace. And I think most of them would be pretty offended if the workplace either required the kind of non-professional investment we put into our subcultures or if the workplace tried to co-opt the memetic spaces that subcultures construct.

    If I’m willing to learn “O Silent Night” in Klingon, it doesn’t mean I’m a christian, and it certainly doesn’t mean I want to sing christmas carols at work. (I have no idea if people have actually translated christmas carols into Klingon.)

  87. 87
    demonhellfish

    I really wish that people interested in art would stop trying to steal the word “language”. Whatever the communicative capacity of fashion as art, other forms of art, or fashion as a non-artistic way of indicating things like social status, that communicative-ness does not make it a language.

    Sure, language is fundamentally about communication, and a lot of that communication is through implication, but language goes about that implication by actually explicitly denoting something. If I wear green socks, what does that explicitly denote? If I wear a black shirt, what does that explicitly denote? Moreover, if I wear both of those, how do the two denotations combine? And if I ask ten people who know “the language of fashion”, will they all agree that the direct, explicit “fashion statement” is pretty much the same, and will it me the same as what I meant it to be?

    I’m pretty sure the answer to these questions are “nothing” and “no”. Maybe the could all infer something very similar from my fashion acts, but that’s no more interesting then the fact that we all know that “Sarcasm. That’s original.” doesn’t mean that being sarcastic is original.

    In part, “I want to be judged on who I am, not on the clothes I wear.” means “stop pretending that there’s an objective truth about what my clothing choices mean; there isn’t, and the meanings that people make up for it are wrong.” And if fashion were really a language, you could actually get somebody to translate “fashion statements” into English, with intersubjective agreement. You can’t; try it.

  88. 88
    CW

    I think an interesting issue here is why and how fashion became a “primarily a woman’s art form” – for most of history, men’s fashion has been equally if not more varied than that of women; and men have dressed to impress other men (as well as women) with their taste, style (and wealth). Is it just a coincidence that this has changed over more or less the same time period as women’s equality (in legal terms at least) has increased?

    I think denouncing fashion as a trivial concern also goes back a long long way – probably to the Greeks at least!- so I’m not sure ‘trivialized because it is a female thing’ really holds.

  89. 89
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    As a transgender, I find fashion to be a very hard nut to crack. While I can’t quite go to work in a skirt-suit and pumps for fear of losing my job over the issue, I still imagine what it would be. I’m quite fashionable when it comes to women’s clothing, but as soon as it comes to men’s clothing, I tend to wear the same sort of stuff.

    I don’t dress to impress anyone except myself. It makes me feel good. I could care less about what anyone says or thinks about what I wear, as long as it makes me feel attractive in the end. If my boyfriend likes it, I’m happy.

  90. 90
    Dhorvath, OM

    demonhellfish,

    No. A lot of people who participate in a subculture have no desire at all to bring it into their workplace.

    I can’t say as I follow you here. Why would it not be nice to bring some of your self into working life? Why would a culture of acceptance result in ‘co-opting memetic spaces’?

  91. 91
    Classical Cipher, Murmur Muris, OM

    I think denouncing fashion as a trivial concern also goes back a long long way – probably to the Greeks at least!- so I’m not sure ‘trivialized because it is a female thing’ really holds.

    From what I know about ancient Greece and especially Rome, it did hold in those cultures, in a certain sense. Women were frivolous and silly because they cared about fashion; men who cared too much about fashion and appearance were derided as feminine. Of course, as you allude to, there was complexity at the intersection of class and gender, since fashion was also a status marker, so upper-class men (alas for them) had to navigate a bit of a double-bind in that regard.

  92. 92
    Herp N. Derpington

    Why is sexy good? Really, I’m not being glib. I’m honestly wondering what value being sexy imparts as opposed to being funny, or generous, or considerate.

  93. 93
    Herp N. Derpington

    I don’t think there’s any deeper meaning to that, I think your SO just punked you good.

  94. 94
    CW

    Women were frivolous and silly because they cared about fashion

    But this is not quite the same thing as “Fashion was frivolous and silly because women cared about it” which was the claim about the direction of causality being made in the OP.

    Men who cared too much about fashion and appearance were derided as feminine

    Yes, at least sometimes (though male fashions were often hyper-masculine rather than feminine, at least to contemporary eyes), but this is still consistent with the sequence of reasoning: “fashion is frivolous”, “frivolity is a feminine trait”, therefore “males interested in fashion are feminine”, rather than a direct association “fashion is feminine and therefore frivolous”.

  95. 95
    Colleen

    I think this article brings light to something that is often overlooked, by even the most astute of feminists. Fashion should not be belittled, but should be celebrated. It is a tie that binds many women together. Let’s try to think of it that way.

    Thank you for sharing.

  96. 96
    Megan

    I am so happy to have read this. For a long time I have felt that being interested in fashion would be a trait that would cause other feminists to ostracize me. And reading the comments here, I’m sure some still would. Whenever someone says that fashion is merely the realm of the wealthy I have to roll my eyes a little. So is buying art. So is attending performing arts performances. And yes, many clothing manufacturers exploit workers, but that includes inexpensive clothing that people who don’t care about fashion buy. It also includes electronics, and many of the people who roll their eyes about fashion are doing so while hammering away on their iPhone that could very well have been manufactured by an overworked, undercompensated worker in China. Are there aspects of fashion that are problematic? Yeah, of course. But there are very few perfect industries.

    I also think it should be noted that style =/= fashion. A person can dress in an interesting and well-presented way without necessarily prescribing to fashion trends. Many of the sleek, widely admired women in Paris or Milan are wearing tailored pants, a silk blouse and a black pump, all of which are classic items. Yes, fashion magazines, retailers and designers promote certain trends. I personally appreciate seeing new and interesting styles and designs, and if I like them I would gladly incorporate them in to my wardrobe. And no, I’ve never worn dropcrotch pants or ripped jeans. I’m not a robot.

    Clearly some of the commentators here think that people interested in fashion are shallow and vapid. But I would probably say the same thing about people who jump to those conclusions without taking into account any other aspect of a person.

  97. 97
    Jia

    “…Fashion is one of the very few forms of expression in which women have more freedom than men.”

    I’m not sure i can fully agree with the above quote. Correct me if I’m wrong but aren’t most designers in the fashion industry male? Isn’t it mostly men (gay or straight) who are dictating the rules and ideals of fashion and the appearance of women’s bodies? The criteria for feminine beauty is extremely narrow and really only those who adhere to them are allowed to enjoy the “freedom” of expression through fashion. Those who don’t conform to beauty ideals (those who are fat, gender-nonconforming etc) but dare to enjoy them risk humiliation and discrimination by society.

    As women we may think we have more choice than men with regard to fashion, but sometimes it feels like we’re merely choosing variations of the same piece of clothing that’s already been pre-selected by male designers to favour a narrow standard of beauty that they themselves established.

  98. 98
    padremambo

    Smart, subtly sophisticated post.

    Perhaps “religion” itself is like fashion or a language. ;)

  99. 99
    Luna

    I feel that something is missing in this commentary – the fact that many women (and men) dress a certain way for themselves and what others think is just an aside. I’ve always been very artistically minded and, while some people sniff at it, I very much feel my fashion is a form of expression. Perhaps I put some thought into what a certain look “says” to other people, but overall I find judging what people intend by their fashion as quite silly unless it is something very obvious (“I’m up with the trends,” “I’m part of this subculture,” etc). When I say I’m intersted in fashion people immediately assume I mean “trendy fashion” – what is hip right now. I don’t mean that at all. I mean the concept as a whole is fascinating – why do we wear what we wear? Why do some people like one thing and not another? Why are most people slaves to what is popular? Playing with style – with color, texture, shape, size, etc – is extremely artistic and satisfying to me. Also, humans have been adorning themselves for aesthetic, artistic, ritualistic, cultural, etc etc purposes for thousands of years. It is only in modern Western culture we see this strong emphasis in simplicity equaling masculinity in men’s fashion. I find this not only sexist but homophobic – men don’t want to appear to put too much effort into their look or to wear something out of the norm for men because they will be seen as gay or effeminate, and sadly being gay or a woman is still seen as degrading by most men. Men from non-Western cultures find it shocking to move to the states and see the treatment they receive for their traditional clothing (such as the Burmese men who wear a sarong-like wrap skirt item of clothing for daily wear) because it doesn’t fit into Western ideals of masculinity.

  100. 100
    Normandie Wilson

    OMG I have been searching for this article for FOREVER… Thank you for writing it… I am a hardcore fashionista and this is totally relevant to my life and my interests… and also i am mostly ANNOYED when I dress up and it’s MEN who give me attention. I am in a happy relationship with a man but I don’t even dress up for him. When men assume that I’m dressing up for them it is ANNOYING! I am definitely dressing up for other women that I find stylish and fashionable! And I’m also dressing up FOR MYSELF because it makes me feel good… I would love for more people to understand and appreciate this… I love the feminine artforms and expression present in fashion and love this article and your take on it… thanks so much!!

  101. 101
    dif

    I think it’s great right now that women have the choice between skirts or pants without being looked down on in either. We have a lot more fashion luxuries – accessories like scarves and purses and headbands and all kinds of stuff. Men don’t have that extra choice. I like having the extra options. It’s just an extra fashion choice and no one really prefers either way how women dress right now. Where I live at least, there is no pressure for women to dress up any fancier than the men, and if they do dress up fancier, they are not treated like floozies for wanting to do so (unless they go overboard with the way short skirts and having boobs hanging out of their tops).

    So in summary, extra clothing choices are good (in my experience, maybe depends where you live).

    BUT What I do care about, though, is makeup. I mean, a boy will totally go for the tomboy girl who only wears jeans, but from my own experience, I know as a fact they are a lot less likely to want to date a girl who doesn’t wear makeup. This is where fashion for women is the most sexist right now. At my university, I get people in class almost every week telling me that I’d be so much prettier if I wore some foundation and mascara. I feel like I’m in the 1% of women there that don’t where makeup. And guys more often date the makeup girls. I shouldn’t have to wear any makeup if I don’t want to, but then I know if I don’t, it will be harder to attract a man.

    Basically what I’m saying is, is that there’s not a lot of pressure for women to dress fancy in skirts or whatever, BUT there IS a LOT of pressure for women to wear makeup. And it makes me sick.

  102. 102
    Jennifer

    How about the assumptions that are made of women who don’t care about fashion? Who wear clothes simply so they won’t be naked? What I take issue with is those who judge me on my clothing choices before they even get a chance to hear what I have to say.

    *THAT* is shallow, and wrong.

  103. 103
    Carrie

    I love this. So very true. I do think fashion is a language, it is a way of speaking about your personality before opening your mouth. I don’t think you have to be rich to care about fashion, as a few visits to thrift or consignment stores can produce really awesome pieces for your wardrobe. I am an utterly broke college kid and I care about how I dress a lot, I think it says a lot about me. I don’t really understand how people can just not care about it… humans have been decorating their bodies for thousands of years in various ways. Fashion isn’t something we suddenly care about now in the information age: it has always been a way to speak for ourselves. So when people write off women for caring about how they look, it’s like writing off women for caring about how they speak, or even writing off women for caring about who they are.

  104. 104
    ayar

    “…there’s a sexist assumption about female fashion — that it’s intended to get male attention and male approval.”

    Bingo. Getting male attention with fashion is easy–just show off your tits. Getting (positive*) female attention from fashion is an art form and as much as it’s fun to get attention by showing off my tits, getting ogled doesn’t mean as much to me as when a random woman on the street comes up to me and compliments my outfit. She’s appreciating the artistry in my self-expression, whereas a man typically only appreciates it in the context of how I’m packaging the goods he’s interested in. I don’t denigrate the latter–the future of the human race depends on men and women finding each other attractive. But I do look at fashion (in the sense of style) as a form of artistic self-expression and any artist loves to be truly appreciated for her work by others who genuinely understand the medium.

    *Re the positive attention: it’s as easy to get negative fashion attention from women as it is to get positive from men, and usually for the same reasons. If you dress too much to appeal to men, women will usually react negatively to it. This is an argument against the idea that fashion is purely for the male gaze–if it were, women wouldn’t self-limit to avoid the disapproval of other women.

  105. 105
    David Jones

    we’re valued for our looks more than our accomplishments; blah blah blah. Yes. Agreed

    Absolutely. I value Dorothy Hodgkin so much more for her looks and completely disregard her Nobel

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  19. 124
    Fashion Friday: Age and Sex | Greta Christina's Blog

    [...] written before about how I see fashion and style as a sort of metaphorical language, in which different [...]

  20. 125
    Link Love: Wear-it-now Jewellery | YouLookFab

    [...] Is a passion for fashion an unhealthy obsession and a frivolous pastime, or is it a legitimate form of self-expression and means of communication? Goldenpig is struggling with this question, and in that light recommends reading this interesting piece.  [...]

  21. 126
    Imaginary Fashion Bloggers « alicke

    [...] On the other hand, I can feel uncomfortable about super-glorified consumerism and the thought of taking so many pictures of myself every day makes me cringe. There’s also the whole issue of fashion and lifestyle blogs portraying yet another idealized image to compare oneself to, and the homogeneity that can emerge, which was thoughtfully covered in Bitch magazine a little while back. However, whenever I start getting nervous about fashion as a superficial pursuit, this quote Morgan pointed me to is a really great check: Fashion is one of the very few forms of expression in which women have more freedom than men. And I don’t think it’s an accident that it’s typically seen as shallow, trivial, and vain. It is the height of irony that women are valued for our looks, encouraged to make ourselves beautiful and ornamental… and are then derided as shallow and vain for doing so. And it’s a subtle but definite form of sexism to take one of the few forms of expression where women have more freedom, and treat it as a form of expression that’s inherently superficial and trivial. Like it or not, fashion and style are primarily a women’s art form. And I think it gets treated as trivial because women get treated as trivial. —Fashion is a Feminist Issue: Greta Christina [...]

  22. 127
    Fashion Friday: Transformation » Greta Christina's Blog

    [...] written a lot about seeing fashion and style as a metaphorical language, a form of expression: a way of [...]

  23. 128
    Loads of Links 4/3/13 | Reading in Skirts

    [...] + “Like it or not, fashion and style are primarily a women’s art form. And I think it gets treated as trivial because women get treated as trivial.” [...]

  24. 129
    They say such or such thing a woman is wearing is vulgar | Psychotherapy at 15

    [...] very often it is used as an oppression « backup ». I read an article by Greta Christina called Fashion is a feminist issue, which I found interesting and quoted here. And indeed clothing and adornments are a big part of [...]

  25. 130
    “Fashion is one of the very few forms | whatbrow

    [...] Fashion is a Feminist Issue: Greta Christina ( [...]

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    tumblr backups

    [...] Fashion is a Feminist Issue: Greta Christina (via tinybows) [...]

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    Fashion is a Feminist Issue | Beauty Along

    [...] friend over on Facebook posted this excellent article by Greta Christina recently. Here are some key [...]

  28. 133
    Vulgaire. | Topographier la pensée.

    [...] very often it is used as an oppression « backup ». I read an article by Greta Christina called Fashion is a feminist issue, and found this quote enlightening [...]

  29. 134
    The Perfect Essay To Go With That Little Black Dress (Or Whatever Else You Want To Wear)

    [...] From Greta Christina‘s Fashion is a Feminist Issue: [...]

  30. 135
    Special Feature: I Occupy Vancouver | Crommunist

    […] will benefit all of us. I am not usually one for dressing to explicitly send a message (although I tend to agree with Greta Christinathat fashion does communicate information, I usually dress for comfort and ignore whatever signals […]

  31. 136
    Fashion Is Feminist | Finding My Feminist Voice

    […] away from the outdated cliches, women will continue to remain oppressed. Fashion is an overt art form of expression and is a means of communicating with others without the use of words. The fashion industry is […]

  32. 137
    Welcome to Fashion Thursday! ~ 17th October 2013 | feminaust ~ for australian feminism

    […] Greta Christina says Fashion is a Feminist Issue! […]

  33. 138
    5 Thoughts about (Australian) Fashion Bloggers | Antwerpsex

    […] I mentioned earlier, fashion, which is a women’s art form, just isn’t given the same level of attention and respect that sport gets in the country. For […]

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