The Balancing Act of Being Female; Or,
January 22, 2013 8:21 PM   Subscribe

Why We Have So Many Clothes
posted by eviemath (186 comments total) 61 users marked this as a favorite

 
She's got a good point, but mostly I was thinking, wow, apparently I often go past prudish and matronly into burka-territory, considering prudish is awfully high there at the calf.

I have to ask as well: do men on average have less clothing? because my anecdotal experience of hetero couples is that they tend to be about equal. Certainly my male SO has more jackets, ties and hats than any one person really needs...
posted by jb at 8:36 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Men can certainly get by with fewer clothes. If a man has a suit, khakis, jeans, shorts, a selection of shirts, t-shirts and sweaters, a few ties, and a pair of brown leather loafers, a pair of black laceups, and a pair of runners, he's prepared to dress appropriately for any occasion. Women's clothing is far more varied and nuanced and even a capsule wardrobe for a woman would require about three times as much clothing if she's to look just as well-dressed as a man with the items I've listed.
posted by orange swan at 8:42 PM on January 22, 2013 [16 favorites]


What gets me are how arbitrary some fashion rules are, even setting aside that fashion itself is arbitrary (a completely rational wardrobe would be, what, jumpsuits?). But sometimes it just doesn't seem like it follows any rules at all; there's not even any internal consistency.

E.g., black shoes with navy pants = staid, conservative for men; apparently a no-go for women. Why? No reason, it just is. Presumably that rule didn't exist before it became common for women to wear long pants, but diverged from the men's rule apparently apropos of nothing.

do men on average have less clothing?

Have less clothing? I suspect it's about the same, because the amount of clothing a person can own is governed mostly by storage space, and that's limited by closets and drawers and while women on average might have a few extra drawers or feet of closet space I suspect it can't be orders of magnitude different.

But there are lots of statistics demonstrating that women buy far more clothes (both in number of items and dollar value per year), and the women's clothing industry is correspondingly larger. In general, it seems as though men replace clothing when it is either worn out or no longer fits, while women are encouraged by social convention to replace clothing far more frequently in order to appear similarly well-dressed.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:45 PM on January 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


I wonder if it's not the amount of clothing men have vs women, but rather the volume of space that the clothing takes up. For example, my wife requires a huge section of the wardrobe for her things, whereas my clothing just takes up a bit of floorspace.
posted by Metro Gnome at 8:46 PM on January 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


I've always found it interesting the way that slacks, collared shirts, crew socks and loafers are physically repelled from women's bodies, how they literally, physically can't wear them. If that weren't the case, I guess we'd just have to invent these rules about what women can wear! That would be the true oddity, I guess.
posted by gurple at 8:49 PM on January 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


For men, it's almost a binary choice - wear a suit, or wear "casual Friday". Of course, a "suit" could be khakis and a blazer, but at least where I live, a blazer has the same signal as an actual suit - formal. It's actually difficult to dress down, but not be too casual.

At the end of the day though, most men don't know how to wear a tie end up looking gauche or mismatched or extremely conservative.

But we don't get called "slut" or "whore" if we make the wrong choices. I think the range goes from "metrosexual" to "IT guy".
posted by KokuRyu at 8:49 PM on January 22, 2013 [45 favorites]


But there are lots of statistics demonstrating that women buy far more clothes

I think women probably do have more stuff on average — that's been my observation with every couple I know (though I'm sure there are exceptions). My dad claims he's lost an inch of closet space every year since he got married (in 1962, heh). Women also throw out/give away items more often because our clothing goes out of style much, much faster.
posted by orange swan at 8:50 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


When I was pregnant, my clothes consisted of two pairs of pants (convertible from capris to full length with a button tab), two pairs of shorts, four T-shirts, two long-sleeved shirts, a cardigan, and a dress. That was it. That was all I owned that fit. It was incredibly freeing, and I decided to live that way all the time.

Then I gave birth and realized that society holds you to very different and much looser rules when you're pregnant. Now I'm back on the "gaaah I have so many CLOTHES" horse, and I do not like it, but I don't see a way around it if I continue to need the respect of my peers.
posted by KathrynT at 8:51 PM on January 22, 2013 [3 favorites]



I've always found it interesting the way that slacks, collared shirts, crew socks and loafers are physically repelled from women's bodies, how they literally, physically can't wear them. If that weren't the case, I guess we'd just have to invent these rules about what women can wear! That would be the true oddity, I guess.


What does this mean?
posted by sweetkid at 8:52 PM on January 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


I think the range goes from "metrosexual" to "IT guy".

Unfortunately, "fag" still flies in a lot of places.

Still, it's unlikely that a guy who wears brown shoes is going to get raped, so I am not equating the two situations. Women definitely have harsher gender policing. But there's still some nasty stuff that goes on among men, and when it gets nasty it's almost always subtle allegations of homosexuality rather than promiscuity that get hauled out.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:53 PM on January 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


What does this mean?

Just that I find this whole conversation surreal and damned odd. I'm not disagreeing with any expressed viewpoint, in the article or in comments. But it'd be nice if women could just, you know, wear slacks and a button down if they wanted. Which they could. Except for these invented rules.
posted by gurple at 8:54 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wear slacks and a button down on a regular basis. I also don't wear make-up. And I'm fat.

Invisibility is my superpower.
posted by meese at 8:56 PM on January 22, 2013 [40 favorites]


But the thing is, the rules are invented but they sure as shit matter. Also, button downs look ridiculous on me because I'm short and have a Brobdingnagian rack.
posted by KathrynT at 8:57 PM on January 22, 2013 [17 favorites]


This is a very interesting claim. Is there really no most-purpose female clothing?

For example, here's an outfit I wear most days of the week: a deep solid button-down shirt, grey V-neck sweater, black wool trousers, black leather shoes. I've worn this to class (middle school through undergrad), to work, and to dances; while grocery-shopping, walking in the park, drinking champagne out of goblets and box wine out of red plastic cups; at all sorts of restaurants, in the lab, in front of classrooms. I put on a tie when I interview at a hundred-year-old firm and I take off the sweater and roll up my sleeves when I work in the back of a bike shop. I'm sure I'm over-dressed sometimes and under-dressed at others, but nobody's called me names yet or suggested that I should be raped.

Is there a similarly bland, unremarkable, unobjectionable outfit for women?
posted by d. z. wang at 8:58 PM on January 22, 2013


I like the colour pink, and had a great pink Arrow shirt, a pink polo shirt, and a great casual pink button-up shirt from the Gap. People were always making funny remarks in this provincial corner of Canada (Vancouver). Weird.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:58 PM on January 22, 2013


But it'd be nice if women could just, you know, wear slacks and a button down if they wanted. Which they could. Except for these invented rules.

Achievement unlocked! You have discovered societal pressure!
posted by ocherdraco at 8:58 PM on January 22, 2013 [49 favorites]



Just that I find this whole conversation surreal and damned odd. I'm not disagreeing with any expressed viewpoint, in the article or in comments. But it'd be nice if women could just, you know, wear slacks and a button down if they wanted. Which they could. Except for these invented rules.


So women should dress like men? According to invented rules for men?
posted by sweetkid at 8:59 PM on January 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm not wearing a thing right now.
posted by parki at 9:01 PM on January 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


But it'd be nice if women could just, you know, wear slacks and a button down if they wanted. Which they could. Except for these invented rules.

Yeah, which is why I found the navy-pants/black-shoe thing alluded to in the article so weird; that's a completely arbitrary rule that exists only for women. The identical items of clothing, worn by a man, are fine together (and in fact are the sartorially safe choice), but when the clothing became socially acceptable for women to wear a bunch of rules apparently got created at the same time just to keep the difficultly level suitably high.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:01 PM on January 22, 2013


Is there a similarly bland, unremarkable, unobjectionable outfit for women?

No. Business and social dress for women diverge more sharply than they do for men. There exists a whole sartorial category called "day to evening" which is supposed to address this, but it doesn't do so very well. I mean, the shoe situation alone is problematic.
posted by KathrynT at 9:02 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I just want a tank top that doesn't show my cleavage. Is that really so hard, low-to-mid-range retailers?
posted by maryr at 9:02 PM on January 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


Achievement unlocked! You have discovered societal pressure!

Ah, yes. But not really. I work in science, where there are fewer rules than most places. We have women who dress to the nines. We have women who dress with a clear eye toward what they're wearing, but not with the male eye (or the female eye embodying the male eye or whatever) in mind. And we have women who dress in jeans and hoodies.

And we have men who dress in jeans and hoodies, and a few in button-down shirts, and there you have it. I have now described the entirety of bodily coverings in my workplace, more or less.

And work gets done. The place doesn't grind to a halt. The people who dress up get respected, and the people who dress down get respected. The people who can't dress up a little bit once or twice a month get looked at a bit oddly, and the people who dress to the nines every day get looked at a bit oddly, and that's the extent of societal pressure.

Maybe I'm wrong. I'm a dude, so I'm probably missing things that go on, subtle pressure. Not much, though.
posted by gurple at 9:03 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, and button downs are a lovely idea and all, but they were not invented (nor are they generally made) with breasts in mind. Unless you are putting down $50+, it's hard to find one that fits in both the chest and the rib cage.
posted by maryr at 9:04 PM on January 22, 2013 [20 favorites]


I'm a dude, so I'm probably missing things that go on, subtle pressure. Not much, though.

It seems to me that you're missing quite a lot, actually.
posted by sweetkid at 9:04 PM on January 22, 2013 [37 favorites]


Gonna copypaste a comment I made on a different forum about this article:

There was some kind of article related to this a long time ago... unfortunately I cannot remember the author/title. But the main point was, there is no such thing as an "invisible" or "average" or "default" look for women the way there is for men. For a man (or at least white men), there are only 2 main looks... casual and formal. Casual is t-shirt/jeans, and formal is a suit. In both of them, you shave your face and have short hair. Adding a beard or doing anything that deviates from that adds a type of distinguishing characteristic, but a man can choose not to have any distinguishing characteristic. Also, if you don't have any distinguishing characteristics, it allows you to be a blank slate--people MUST talk to you and get to know you in order to know anything about you (unless you're being casual in a formal setting, or vice versa).

Women, on the other hand, do not have that option. They have lots of options, but not the option to become undistinguished. No matter what you wear, it says something about you, whether you want it to or not. If you're a woman and you wear a pantsuit, that says something. If you wear a dress, that says something. If you have long hair, that says something. If you have short hair, that says something. If you wear any skirt, the length of skirt says something. Cleavage/no cleavage, makeup/no makeup, relaxed jeans or slacks or leggings or jeggings or whatever, they ALL say something. But there is no 'default' woman.
posted by picklenickle at 9:04 PM on January 22, 2013 [104 favorites]


I don't think I ever really thought about how lucky my wife is to have a job with a mandatory pants-and-uniform-shirt dress code. The only area where her wardrobe is bigger than mine is in shoes.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:06 PM on January 22, 2013


I've always found it interesting the way that slacks, collared shirts, crew socks and loafers are physically repelled from women's bodies

Interestingly enough, all those things are actually very fashionable for women right now, but they send a completely different message than they do on a man.
posted by sonmi at 9:08 PM on January 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I just want to link this article from the related pages

http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2012/12/04/liu-xianping-doing-gender-and-age
posted by Quart at 9:10 PM on January 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


For a man (or at least white men), there are only 2 main looks... casual and formal

I've seen a couple variations on this claim, and I think its not really true.

I mean, I live in LA so men's fashion is much more of a Thing than it is in most of the country, but there's a pretty big territory between suit and T-shirt. There are at least a couple levels of formality/dressiness in shirts, for example, and you can take those in flashy/clubby directions or conservative directions. Wearing a T-shirt and jeans is definitely making a statement as a guy to me (and in programming/tech industry, it definitely makes a statement vs. wearing nicer clothes).

I would absolutely agree though that the degree/importance is generally much less for men, and that the pressures are less intense.

Also the acceptable range of clothing for men is MUCH larger here than it was when I lived in the South or Texas.
posted by wildcrdj at 9:11 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think as a bit of a counterpoint I've heard plenty of guys complain that particularly at work men are almost confined to a set uniform that allows very little variety and constant dry cleaning and ironing. Not to mention a pretty high barrier to entry for a good suit.

As a woman I can be "dressed up" for work and not be in a suit quite easily, which is a huge freedom. Only the most formal/important occasions do I have to pull out the suit, which usually amounts to every couple months. Most of my male colleagues where a suit several times a week. Also if I'm strategic with my buying I can avoid having to dry clean the majority of my work clothes.

And none of this even touches upon wanting to be able to have a little personality and variety in your life. I already dislike how tamped down my personal style has to be for work and would feel so dull wearing what is essentially the same suit in a slightly different dark, muted color.

This isn't to say that I couldn't see the social expectation put on women to dress for the occasion being a big burden for a lot of women who don't enjoy clothes and fashion or just dont want to put their time and money into it.
posted by whoaali at 9:14 PM on January 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


For a man (or at least white men), there are only 2 main looks... casual and formal. Casual is t-shirt/jeans, and formal is a suit. In both of them, you shave your face and have short hair.

i agree with you but not sure why you are qualifying for white men?
posted by sweetkid at 9:17 PM on January 22, 2013


My experience of gender and clothing is that while women dress for others, men dress for themselves. I'll qualify this with the amazing new edit comment function by adding: in my experience. YkmMV
posted by Samuel Farrow at 9:18 PM on January 22, 2013


Button-down shirts are in fact physically repelled from my body. By my breasts. And no one, that I've found, makes shirts of any sort that are actually cut for a woman with a substantial rack. The best I can do is find shirts with the fewest possible seams and the most forgiving fabric - tshirts, basically - and then layer something over it that I don't have to close across my chest. Probably there are dresses that would work, but wearing dresses is not an option. (Because fuck you is why.)
posted by restless_nomad at 9:18 PM on January 22, 2013 [39 favorites]


d. z. wang: “Is there a similarly bland, unremarkable, unobjectionable outfit for women?”

Hm. I think the question should be: is there a similarly bland, unremarkable, unobjectionable outfit for everyone? There ought to be. Why is there a demand that clothing necessarily be gendered, that women wear this and men wear that?

In answer to your question, though – and mine, I guess – I really don't think there is. I'm friends with a lot of lesbians, and a lot of them wear jeans and t-shirts regularly like I do. (This is not to say that only lesbians choose to dress this way, or all lesbians choose to dress this way – only that lesbians are often on the frontier of the whole women-fighting-for-social acceptance thing. And a number of them happen to be mechanics.) I'm a man, so it flies for me – but they get comments. Annoying comments. Usually not horribly threatening comments – usually – but comments. "You, uh, could try dressing up a little." "You'd probably get more business if you put some effort into yourself." And it's probably worse than I realize. It's actually kind of shocking to me, because they're all wonderful and awesome and nice people, and if I were in their place I would be a bitter, angry asshole who wasn't nice to anybody.

gurple: “Maybe I'm wrong. I'm a dude, so I'm probably missing things that go on, subtle pressure. Not much, though.”

I think you're probably missing more than you realize. Take it from me, as a man who was surprised to hear all of this stuff. I know it can seem like it must be a little thing, but think about this: one friend of mine once told me that she doesn't get comments like this that often, "only about once every week or so." Seriously – once every week or so! That's crazy to me. I don't remember the last time somebody questioned the way I dressed. It must have been many years ago. If that were something I dealt with even monthly, it'd be a lot of pressure.

Another thing to think about: how would we know? The worst guys hardly ever say this stuff when other guys are around – they often believe they're complimenting a woman when they tell her she'd look better in clothing of his choice; and women (for obvious reasons) don't exactly love to go on and on about it. So there's really no reason for us ever to be exposed to it. It's something we're just naturally oblivious to. It's worth asking about, though, if you have a female friend you're mutually comfortable enough with.

wildcrdj: “Also the acceptable range of clothing for men is MUCH larger here than it was when I lived in the South or Texas.”

True – I had a bit of culture shock as a New Mexican when I went to graduate school in Boston and the acceptable range of male fashion shifted toward the, er, less casual – but it's probably worth noting that in both places the acceptable range is much broader. Pretty much anything that isn't feminine clothing doesn't actually draw harassment. I even tried wearing a three-piece suit and tie once at my software developer job in Denver, and people thought it was a little weird but then stopped caring after an hour or two. I get the feeling it's really not like this for women. There is not such a broad acceptable range; as the image in the main link illustrates, there are benchmarks to be met, and implications drawn from various ways of dressing that have very little to do with actual intentions.

whoaali: “I think as a bit of a counterpoint I've heard plenty of guys complain that particularly at work men are almost confined to a set uniform that allows very little variety and constant dry cleaning and ironing. Not to mention a pretty high barrier to entry for a good suit.”

I would guess that the number of employed men in the United States who are expected to wear a suit to work – any kind of suit, good or not – has dropped to about one-half of one percent at this point. I once had a job that required a tie. That was about it, and I got out of that job as soon as I could. Even the lawyers I've known mostly wore ties and sport coats.
posted by koeselitz at 9:19 PM on January 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


I have to ask as well: do men on average have less clothing? because my anecdotal experience of hetero couples is that they tend to be about equal. Certainly my male SO has more jackets, ties and hats than any one person really needs...

This may depend on the job, where they live, and also the activities they participate in.

For example, I once worked with a programmer who literally didn't own a single shirt with a collar because he was good enough and experienced enough to roll into an interview wearing a World of Warcraft t-shirt, cargo shorts, and sandals and come out with a job offer. He also lived in a place where that'd be considered "business casual", which varies regionally and even by company and the department within the company. I've worked at companies and in areas where even if you were a programmer you'd be fired for dressing like that. Or maybe not because they'd assume you were joking and it was some kind of prank.

By contrast, at the time I had a job that required regular attendance at trade shows and media gatherings and other face-of-the-company things so I had a full weeklong "business casual" wardrobe for the office--I had to dress up a bit, which means polo shirt and pants that cover my legs--and then an entirely different week's worth of clothes for tradeshows and events, including suits and clothes to change into after I got off the show floor (because I had to look good and not like I'd been on a show floor for 8-10+ hours), all of which I had to keep clean and ready to go (because at any moment they might've called me and said "Hey we need you to fly across the country and live out of a hotel for a week," which happened 1-2 times/month) so they couldn't integrate into my regular wardrobe. I'm also both big and tall, which means when I find a shirt or pants that I like and fit me well, I tend to buy out the stock of it because clothing companies like to produce 3 of those things and then SHUT! DOWN! EVERYTHING! and I can never find it again. So I had, and have, a shitload of clothes.

By contrast, at the time, my wife had about a week's worth of t-shirts and jeans because she worked a retail job where they just wanted your flesh covered and your clothing unoffensive but otherwise didn't care and she's one of those people that can roll into a store and has a choice of, oh, everything in the store.

She makes fun of me for having more shoes than her, but I do a lot more activities than she does. I have my barefoot running shoes, my old normal running shoes (I run), my basketball shoes (I hoop), my dress shoes (various styles and flavors for various events), my sneakers for every day wear, sandals for every day in summer wear which I know is an enormous faux pas but I also know it's 110 here in summer so eff you, flip flops for the beach, and so on and so on and so on.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:19 PM on January 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


The hands-down BEST THING about working for the state of Alaska in Juneau is pretty much everybody wears jeans and casual shirts. You can dress up if you want but it is totally acceptable for both sexes to show up for work wearing XtraTUFFs. If you see someone in a suit, it is a legislator or one of their lackeys. I tool around town in black long underwear with a knit skirt over it with my winter boots on and I can see about four other women dressed mostly the same. If you want to truly free yourself from the constraints of dress, live in an extreme climate and work in a union shop.
posted by Foam Pants at 9:20 PM on January 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


I work in science, where there are fewer rules than most places.

You've pretty much answered your own question; neither a woman nor a man in a very corporate setting could get away with jeans, hoodies, T-shirts, etc. And while a man in a corporate setting has a very definite suit-tie-shirt uniform, women can add make-up, tights, heels, appropriate jewellery and sometimes "skirts, not pants" to that, and there is an expectation that there will be a bit more variety than just three suits.

I work in an organisation that provides professional information and advice to a huge variety of entities, some of which are very High Corporate, but fortunately I don't have to do the Corporate Look very often. One of the reasons I have not moved into a far better-paid position at one of those more corporate entities is that I'd have to wear the Corporate Look all the time, and I figure that the extra expense entailed in maintaining The Look would eat up at least a third of the pay rise. But if you want to work for the big bucks and pull in the big clients, that's what is expected, and you will get neither respect nor promotions if you don't play along.
posted by andraste at 9:28 PM on January 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wait, the alleged prohibition on black-shoes-with-navy-pants is a gendered thing? Like, if I'm a dude and I wear black shoes with my navy pants, there won't be Men Who Understand Fashion snickering at me as I go by?

Whoa.

This was sort of driving me crazy. Because there are also guys who will tell you that brown shoes don't go with navy pants. But men's dress shoes only come in black and brown, so I never could figure out what the hell I was supposed to do, and so whenever I needed dress shoes I'd just pick something at random and feel vaguely ashamed because it was probably the wrong thing to have picked.

On the other hand, nobody's called me a slut yet, or even a fag. (Well, not over the shoe issue anyway.)

posted by and so but then, we at 9:34 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Weirdly, in the ten or so years that I believed in that rule, it never occurred to me to look at the feet of a guy with a blue suit and say "Hang on, his shoes are black...."

Someone must have quoted the rule at me in college — what little fashion sense I've got, I picked up second-hand in college, where basically all my friends were women — and I just never thought to question it. Huh.

posted by and so but then, we at 9:39 PM on January 22, 2013


But men's dress shoes only come in black and brown

Oxblood is the third color, and to the best of my knowledge it is fully approved for wear with navy pants.
posted by expialidocious at 9:43 PM on January 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


There are considerably more than two male dress options, from casual, through work "casual" (slacks and polos), work semi-causal (shirt, sometimes a tie, pressed slacks), work formal (suit, pressed), to wedding formal (different suits, maybe a tux). Lots of guys get this "wrong" or struggle with it when they get their first job. They generally get a quiet talking to about appropriate dress at some point. It's certainly true though that workplaces have acceptable uniforms for men, and that most men dress accordingly and with little variation from that norm.

And there does exist a similar uniform for women, a don't-bother-me, blend-in-the-crowd uniform, for both casual ("mom jeans" etc...) and work (sweater/jacket, high-neck top, slacks). Women do have much wider choices than men, but mostly, in my experience, other women are the ones who remark and pay notice.
posted by bonehead at 9:44 PM on January 22, 2013


Black shoes with navy pants is a faux pas.
posted by dfriedman at 9:45 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


You've pretty much answered your own question; neither a woman nor a man in a very corporate setting could get away with jeans, hoodies, T-shirts, etc.

True. I wouldn't dispute that. I've worked in a corporate environment, albeit a rather relaxed one. I had women coworkers/friends who struggled with the kinds of issues we've been talking about.

I'm not saying that these pressures aren't real. What I'm suggesting is that there are real-world examples of places where these pressures are minimized. Where, by simply dressing down, we take these issues and throw maybe 95% of them out the window. It's a white-collar workplace with no white collars, and work doesn't grind to a halt. We can all interact with each other and respect each other.

It can be like that. There's nothing intrinsic about humans that makes it not possible. That's all I'm saying.
posted by gurple at 9:46 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Black shoes with navy pants is a faux pas.

Oh for fuck's sake. Really? Never mind, I'm just wearing a barrel from now on.

posted by and so but then, we at 9:49 PM on January 22, 2013 [28 favorites]


Gurple, it also depends strongly if you're in a lab coat for much of the day or not. Lab staff can mostly dress down, but the more you have to interact with corporate, the better you need to dress.
posted by bonehead at 9:49 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just because a particular woman's choice of clothing is acceptable or free of commentary and judgment in one segment of her life does not mean this is true everywhere she goes.

I think that's the biggest thing that pisses me off about this whole "the world is watching" phenomenon that women have to live with. I don't know that I can even talk about this topic for very long before getting overly agitated and losing all coherency.

The thing with guys is different, although there is a "fag" line that almost immediately puts the wearer at risk regardless of their actual sexual identification - I've seen friends with perfectly masculine kilt get-ups endure the preliminary stages of this.

I did appreciate the writer's point that it requires class privilege in order to fully participate in keeping the judgment off and otherwise play the game properly. Those who can't afford to play by all the rules get to experience a variety of this craziness that isn't good for anyone.


...yeah, I can't really go any further without losing all semblance of reasonableness. It's messed up out there, y'all. Really messed up.
posted by batmonkey at 9:50 PM on January 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


My wife does have more clothes than I do, maybe twice as much. I think it's because she takes better care of them, and has a better eye for quality. Also, she tends to wear at least two tops, whereas I start sweating just thinking about putting clothes on. I'm a sweaty, hairy barbarian.
posted by Brocktoon at 9:53 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've heard plenty of guys complain that particularly at work men are almost confined to a set uniform

I blame this on the decline of the tie. Guys were hoodwinked into eliminating the tie, and in doing so eliminated one of the ways that you could easily distinguish yourself without much in the way of social risk and for very low cost. With modern "dress casual" or "business casual" clothes, you have to have a much wider range of shirts, the shirts have to be carefully tailored (particularly now that we're also ditching jackets), etc. Or else you don't and you basically get sucked into wearing a uniform every day that never changes.

The current direction of men's clothing seems to be generally more towards women's, not in the sense of particular items of clothing, but in terms of fast fashion, faster turnover in clothes, and having to own more clothes and a wider range of clothes to be well dressed in a variety of circumstances. This is somewhat unfortunate as I've never heard anyone really express that desire, and many women seem keen on going the other way, but it seems to be almost inexorable and driven largely by the economics of cheap clothing.

Wait, the alleged prohibition on black-shoes-with-navy-pants is a gendered thing? Like, if I'm a dude and I wear black shoes with my navy pants, there won't be Men Who Understand Fashion snickering at me as I go by?

Black shoes with navy pants, for a guy, is totally okay, which makes the rule for women particularly strange. It's traditional, certainly not breaking any rules. Some people maintain that brown shoes with navy pants is better, but IMO that's actually likely to get you scowled at in some very conservative environments.* There are lots of threads on specialist forums about this issue; don't feel compelled to take my word for it.

* Really conservative environments. I.e., if you are interviewing for an intern slot at Goldman Sachs. Of course, if you're interviewing for an intern slot at GS and don't already know this stuff unconsciously, you're probably fucked. Thence is the class barrier and IMO the entire purpose for these sorts of "rules."
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:55 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I swear to dog if anyone told me black shoes with navy slacks was a signifier of anything other than the fact that I'm wearing shoes & trousers, I'd laugh right in their faces. Who can be arsed?
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 9:57 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Gang, it's a button-up shirt. Button-up shirts can have button-down collars (which makes it a casual shirt and not a dress shirt). (Alright fine, you got me, you can call a shirt with button-down collars a button-down shirt but I find it unnecessarily confusing.)

So, if you where a button-up shirt with button-down collars, for heaven's sake, wear it with a sport coat, not a suit, and skip the tie (unless you are purposefully going for the casual+tie look, which can be a bit tricky).
posted by oddman at 9:57 PM on January 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


The actual article is interesting, but I think she writes off that some women also seem to like buying (or looking at) clothes as a hobby too easily.
I expect there's some sort of feedback loop where there friends like it, and so it goes. And you
end up in a house with four wardrobes for her. FOUR.
I know several people like this.

I wear clothes until they fall apart, repair them and repeat for as long as possible. Of course my look hasn't changed in decades, and no one has tried to market me the "new season's must have looks" until recently.

You might 'need' certain things for certain outfits, but everything is an excuse to buy a new outfit.

The photo is interesting. It's summer here, and short shorts have been in for about two years now. On that scale, even in winter, I reckon a lot of younger women are falling within the whore/slut marker, so I guess from their perspective it doesn't hold meaning anymore.

The 1990s seems to hang around 'flirty' and 'proper' from memory. I expect it's all cyclical.
posted by Mezentian at 9:57 PM on January 22, 2013


Guys were hoodwinked into eliminating the tie,

The hell you say.

I cannot get that noose off fast enough.
posted by Mezentian at 9:58 PM on January 22, 2013 [10 favorites]


I'm not saying that these pressures aren't real. What I'm suggesting is that there are real-world examples of places where these pressures are minimized. Where, by simply dressing down, we take these issues and throw maybe 95% of them out the window. It's a white-collar workplace with no white collars, and work doesn't grind to a halt. We can all interact with each other and respect each other.

It can be like that. There's nothing intrinsic about humans that makes it not possible. That's all I'm saying.


If that's really all you're saying, then you're in loud and violent agreement with the author of this piece and everyone else in the thread. The whole point of calling out obnoxious socially-enforced pressures and inequalities and privilege differences is that it doesn't have to be like that. If we were stuck with that shit, there wouldn't be much payoff to talking about it. But because change is possible, talking about it is really important.

Academia's a good example of a place where the pressure is somewhat minimized. Now that only goes so far. For instance, basically every academic woman I've ever talked to says that students treat women like shit if they don't dress sharply and professionally — where as a man, I can vouch that my own undergrads don't give two shits what I wear. But yeah, it's a place that does this stuff mostly right. Still — social problems aren't like math problems; you can't just say "this was solved once somewhere so we don't need to discuss its continued existence other places."
posted by and so but then, we at 10:00 PM on January 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


i agree with you but not sure why you are qualifying for white men?

Because, at least in the west, white is often treated like a "default" race. A person's perceptions about a racial minority group will make the race itself a distinguishing characteristic (in the eyes of the beholder), and therefore affect the implications of one's outfit. A simple example would be a non-white foreigner wearing a suit and short hair and shaved face, rather than wearing their home country's traditional outfit/hairstyle (assuming said style is different, and that the country is not westernized). This might send out a multitude of messages to different people, and so that man will be perceived differently than if he were white and native--for example, "this person is a conformist," "this person has rejected his heritage," "this person wants to assimilate with western culture," etc. And, of course, none of those may be true in reality, in the same way that a woman in a short skirt isn't really "asking for it," but that is how this person may be perceived and treated. A white man in a suit in a formal setting may at most be perceived as a conformist by some people, but certainly not as rejecting his heritage or making attempts at assimilation.
posted by picklenickle at 10:01 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Any man that feels confined to a set uniform doesn't know how to dress himself.

Mezentian, if your tie actually bothers you, then you are wearing it way too tight (or more likely your shirt is too small for your neck size). Men's clothing is actually really comfortable, when you've bothered to dress for you size and body type. I am aware that there are people who can't stand to have anything touching their neck, no matter how soft, loose or light.)
posted by oddman at 10:02 PM on January 22, 2013


And there does exist a similar uniform for women, a don't-bother-me, blend-in-the-crowd uniform, for both casual ("mom jeans" etc...) and work (sweater/jacket, high-neck top, slacks). Women do have much wider choices than men, but mostly, in my experience, other women are the ones who remark and pay notice.

That's two different uniforms though, which is exactly the point. Men's dress is distinguished almost entirely by level of formality. Things that work for work will work for social occassions of similar formality. You might not wear your work suit every weekend, but it would be perfectly acceptable for a formal wedding that's not quite black tie.

Woman's clothing has two axes: formality and sexuality, for lack of a better term. Work wear is supposed to be utterly unsexy (at least for most women), whereas social wear is expected to have a hint of sexuality, unless maybe you're older when the rules seem to change again. A young woman who wears a pant suit to a formal wedding would not be considered appropriately dressed. Her level of formality is right but she's not dressed sexily enough, at least not by societal norms. It gets a bit tricky since greater sexuality usually signals greater formality, even if the clothing hasn't changed, ie a v-neck showing a bit more cleavage can seem nicer/fancier than a regular t-shirt, even if they're made from the same material.

The distinction gets further blurred a little with casual wear, because it tends to be less blatantly sexual to begin with. But I work in an environment similar to the one you describe gurple, and there are tops that I do not wear there, because while they are completely casual, they are too sexual. Which is fine and I'm not complaining. But it's not true that lack of formality eliminates the need to not dress too sexy.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 10:08 PM on January 22, 2013 [32 favorites]


Because, at least in the west, white is often treated like a "default" race. A person's perceptions about a racial minority group will make the race itself a distinguishing characteristic (in the eyes of the beholder), and therefore affect the implications of one's outfit. A simple example would be a non-white foreigner wearing a suit and short hair and shaved face, rather than wearing their home country's traditional outfit/hairstyle (assuming said style is different, and that the country is not westernized). This might send out a multitude of messages to different people, and so that man will be perceived differently than if he were white and native--for example, "this person is a conformist," "this person has rejected his heritage," "this person wants to assimilate with western culture," etc. And, of course, none of those may be true in reality, in the same way that a woman in a short skirt isn't really "asking for it," but that is how this person may be perceived and treated. A white man in a suit in a formal setting may at most be perceived as a conformist by some people, but certainly not as rejecting his heritage or making attempts at assimilation.

You're not wrong but your point is a little overdone. I don't think it's a given that only for white men casual equals jeans and tshirt and formal = suit and everyone else is assumed to be playacting. It certainly can be true especially in the foreigner example you are using, but it's still overdone to me.
posted by sweetkid at 10:09 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had a job interview today. The weather has been weird, and I've had a lot of job interviews lately, and I'm interviewing for some positions that are a little outside my wheelhouse, so I don't have a great idea of what's appropriate (or frankly, an entire extra wardrobe of Job Interview Clothing in various gradations, from "web series production coordinator" to "assistant to the CEO" to "barista").

I left the house feeling totally normal, maybe a little fancy. I drove to the interview. I parked, and then, realizing I had a little time to kill, I went into a nearby cafe to use their restroom.

Whereupon I discovered that the skirt I'd chosen went well north of "proper" (which I kind of knew) and flagrantly into "flirty" territory.

"Nooooooooooo!" I thought to myself, not wanting the staff of the cafe to think I was having a psychotic break in their bathroom. Now I will never get this job, no matter what I say or how perfect a fit it is. Now I will be that trampy girl who came to a job interview in a miniskirt.

I wonder how often this happens to dudes.
posted by Sara C. at 10:17 PM on January 22, 2013 [33 favorites]


I think it is notable that this changes a lot based on where you are, what industry you're in, what social crowd you run with, etc. I'm in New Mexico, and it's casual as hell here-- you can tell because people go to the theatre/the opera and you see them all dressed up next to people going to the same thing in jeans and t-shirts. There's like 2 bars in town with dress codes and I'm pretty sure they're full of douchebags. You still have to do the nice shirts and non-denim pants if you work in some offices, but you can get away with jeans and a t-shirt a lot more easily. Also, bolos are acceptable tie substitutes pretty much everywhere for men.

Still, women tend to be a bit more dressed up and put together than their male counterparts, at least in places I've worked and spent time in. Also, skirts are a bit more memorable than pants, so it's a lot harder to get away with owning three skirts and switching them out regularly than doing the same thing with pants. And you still have the issue of what you're wearing send a message about you: a woman in jeans and a button-down shirt is going to get a different read than a man in a similar outfit, even if both are tailored to fit their frame.

Woman's clothing has two axes: formality and sexuality, for lack of a better term.

Yes, this! And it's hard for a lot of women for different reasons, especially when they have bodies that are (more) inherently sexualized; you get the issues where women with big breasts are seen as wearing work-inappropriate clothing when the same outfit on a less curvy women would be thought of as totally demure. Same for women in social outfits that are supposed to be "flirty" if they are supposed to be excluded from sexuality for any reason (age, disability, weight, etc); outfits on them that would be seen as totally appropriate a woman who it is societally appropriate to see as sexual are seen as obscene, attention-grabbing, over the top, etc.
posted by NoraReed at 10:17 PM on January 22, 2013 [16 favorites]


One day I will completely give up on this 'fashion' business and spend my time outside wearing a giant blackened plastic rolling bubble with exterior speakers and cameras for communication.

Bonus: inside the bubble, I can eat borscht-flavoured potato chips while not wearing pants in public and no one will judge me.
posted by zennish at 10:20 PM on January 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


...and then there's the whole issue of where, if in a corporate environment I decide I'd like to make things easy on myself and wear a nice plain white collared button shirt, oxfords and dress slacks (with maybe a cardigan or blazer if I'm feeling extra dressy) in an attempt to dress neatly and conservatively without hassling with skirts, heels or hose (because fuck that), I am guilty of crossing some weird genderqueer barrier and get called out for being "too dykey".

not to mention there hasn't been a decent, well-made, properly fitted collared (women's) button up shirt/blouse available in, oh about a decade. seriously FUCK YOU you frilly bullshit overly-sheer polyester printed "shells" that refuse to go out of style and fall apart on a whim :P
posted by lonefrontranger at 10:23 PM on January 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


women with big breasts are seen as wearing work-inappropriate clothing when the same outfit on a less curvy women would be thought of as totally demure.

ugh this times a million.
posted by sweetkid at 10:28 PM on January 22, 2013 [14 favorites]


oh and pants. jesus don't get me started on the pants rant. Pants that fit my shape (small waist, big thighs) have not existed in roughly twenty years. I'm cautiously optimistic about the return of wide-legs but then I remember that I'm also short and in them I resemble nothing more than a dwarf dragging a curtain.
posted by lonefrontranger at 10:29 PM on January 22, 2013 [21 favorites]


Still, women tend to be a bit more dressed up and put together than their male counterparts, at least in places I've worked and spent time in.

This is my current sartorial feminism pet peeve. When I'm in an airport and feeling peevish about a delayed flight or something, I like to look for couples and see whether they are dressed congruently in terms of formality or if one member of the couple is dressed up more than the other. I do it other times, too (not just airports), and a lot of the time I just notice it, whether I'm people watching or not.

I have never seen a couple out and about together wherein the dude is dressed more formally than the woman. Ever.
posted by Sara C. at 10:32 PM on January 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm sorry, hold the phone.

BORSCHT FLAVORED POTATO CHIPS?

This exists?
posted by Sara C. at 10:33 PM on January 22, 2013 [9 favorites]


The actual article is interesting, but I think she writes off that some women also seem to like buying (or looking at) clothes as a hobby too easily. I expect there's some sort of feedback loop where there friends like it, and so it goes.

Well, that and we stereotypically condition girls and young women to view "shopping" as a recreational activity and appropriate use of discretionary income, and boys and young men to view it as a chore and imposition on income that they might otherwise spend elsewhere.

Shopping-as-hobby (or its evil twin, shopping-as-therapy) don't just come fully formed out of nowhere.

Retailers encourage this attitude but it's clearly not solely a product of corporate PR, because otherwise they'd doubtless sell men on the process of clothes-acquisition more thoroughly as well. But for men, the emphasis in retail has mostly always been on streamlining, making it faster and more painless the more you're spending.

Any man that feels confined to a set uniform doesn't know how to dress himself.

I don't know if this was in response to my earlier comment or not, but if it was, my point was that through the elimination of the tie as a normal garment we've reduced the possibilities for creating unique combinations given a fixed number of clothing items. You can view it, at its core, as a math problem: if you wear suit+shirt+tie and have 3 suits, 5 shirts, and 5 ties, then you have 75 combinations (or more; my math is a bit rusty, but it's enough that nobody'll catch you repeating), or you have the option of having some really varied ties that it's OK to use only occasionally while still preserving a few weeks of unique combinations and not inflating your closet. In contrast, if you only have pants+shirt to work with as is the case with modern business casual attire (for both men and women actually), then you have to have more of each to get the same level of diversity in outfits, and you can't be lazy with the shirts because they'll actually be seen, and they're at greater risk of becoming ill-fitting than ties.

To look good and not get repititious is harder the fewer items of clothing you have to work with, and the tie -- for all its faults -- was a cheap way of injecting "interestingness" without buying additional expensive tailored main garments. It doesn't seem to have a modern equivalent that I can think of. (Some people go for crazy socks, but I don't think that's exactly well-accepted.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:34 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


This post -- especially its framing as "Why We Have So Many Clothes" -- introduces some odd and unhelpful gender essentialism. It erases the countless women who aren't part of the "we" who have "so many clothes" (many of them not middle class and white). And it seems to forget about the sizeable proportion of men (many of them non-white and/or gay) who do have lots of clothes.

It also strips women of their agency. Women who own a dozen scarves or necklaces or pairs of sunglasses aren't buying them because they need items that convey a dozen different degrees of demure. They're buying them because they like scarves or necklaces or sunglasses.

Perhaps they enjoy using clothing as a form of self-expression, just like some men buy dozens of trainers or t-shirts or ties. And that's OK.
posted by dontjumplarry at 11:02 PM on January 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


I mean, I live in LA so men's fashion is much more of a Thing than it is in most of the country, but there's a pretty big territory between suit and T-shirt.

You've got to come out to the provinces. Semi-formal means wearing shoes like this.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:04 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


This, more than any other, is the reason we need to realize 2013 is The Future and adopt universal shiny metallic jumpsuits.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 11:07 PM on January 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


For a man (or at least white men), there are only 2 main looks... casual and formal

Yeah, not quite. Looking at work around me there are plenty of variations: 1) full on suit, 2) suit, but lose the tie 3) suit like, but without jacket or tie 4) decent trousers, shirt 5) desk clerk (formal on top, jeans below as you only see the former anyway), 6) lifer (comfy trousers, possible jeans, with a pullover or similar rather than a shirt) 7) jeans and t-shirt 8) worn jeans and t-shirt -- even apart from all the people stuck in overalls and such.

And neither are you invisible in a suit either; depending on who wears it, a suit tells a story. Frex, anybody under thirty wearing a standard office suit? Brown noser, clueless, especially in IT. Anybody working a dark suit with brown shoes? Inattentive, probably unmarried, or Dutch.

Anecdotically, it does look like there's a much wider range of acceptable clothing for Dutch women for going to work in then there is where y'all are commenting from, as the majority of women in any office I've worked in, as well as the ones I see on the way to work, clearly dress more for their comfort than as presentation. Otherwise surely none of them would wear those hideous three quarter length trousers that end just above their boots?
posted by MartinWisse at 11:20 PM on January 22, 2013


students treat women like shit if they don't dress sharply and professionally —

I'm a 5' female academic, and this hasn't been my experience. I wear jeans and a solid colored long-sleeved t-shirt every day, on days when I'm teaching and days when I'm not. And this time of year, mukluks instead of hiking boots. On the other hand, I'm teaching in a math department (not known typically for sartorial splendor) in Alaska. It seems like everybody wears jeans all the time. I dressed better (I wore slacks and dressier boots, and slightly nicer shirts) and definitely felt more pressure to care about how I dressed when I lived on the east coast.
posted by leahwrenn at 11:21 PM on January 22, 2013


adopt universal shiny metallic jumpsuits

I have a lovely/slightly ridiculous shiny metallic jacket that says ATARI up one sleeve (because I am a fucking hipster or something I guess) and it is one of those articles of clothing that is hot, but not warm. Not hot in a sexy way. Hot in the way that the seats of a car are when you sit down. Shiny metallic jumpsuits will make us sticky in all the worst ways.

Also, American Apparel stopped manufacturing the gold lame dog shirts, so we will not be able to dress to match our pets.
posted by NoraReed at 11:22 PM on January 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Unfortunately, "fag" still flies in a lot of places.

Still, it's unlikely that a guy who wears brown shoes is going to get raped, so I am not equating the two situations.


Wait, brown shoes are gay?

(Looks in closet)

Man, I'm going to have some explaining to do to my wife...
posted by madajb at 11:23 PM on January 22, 2013


BORSCHT FLAVORED POTATO CHIPS?

Come, friend, let me show you the magic that is Calbee Borscht Potato Chips. SO GOOD.

other favourites include honey-bbq chicken wing chips. NO SHAME.

Pants that fit my shape (small waist, big thighs)

I don't have a small waist, but as a rectangular-shaped woman with thumpin' quads, sometimes buying men's jeans and getting the waistband tailored works. Haven't a clue what to do with business slacks, though. If I go up a size to fit my legs, the band/hips are really, really big and getting everything tailored down properly usually costs more than the pants. Buying the band to fit means my thighs look shrinkwrapped and usually means seam-busting down the road.

and adopt universal shiny metallic jumpsuits

Unless those jumpsuits come with venting systems, down that path leads to overly-sweaty-crotch-and-buttcrack syndrome. But put in for a venting system and I'm down.
posted by zennish at 11:25 PM on January 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


If you've ever looked appreciatively on a well-dressed woman, especially one who is wearing makeup, smells nice, has stylish hair, is wearing "sexy" shoes, is wearing any jewelry, who has soft lotioned hands, who is wearing any accessories...if you've ever looked upon such a woman and admired her, then you can't turn around and say that she, or women like her, have too much stuff.
posted by DisreputableDog at 11:35 PM on January 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


Women who own a dozen scarves or necklaces or pairs of sunglasses aren't buying them because they need items that convey a dozen different degrees of demure. They're buying them because they like scarves or necklaces or sunglasses.

Hahaha lol no

Look, I'm a middle class feminine-conforming white woman who actually, for the most part, enjoys clothes. I've spent my entire adult life in large cities with uncountable retail options, including fast fashion and vintage places that keep everything very affordable. I can have as many scarves and necklaces and sunglasses as my closet will hold.

And yet, for a lot of it? Especially the less fun and more expensive stuff, like garments and shoes? It's mostly to have plenty of options to cover every sartorial eventuality, from "work party" to "spring wedding" to "picnic in McCarren Park" to "dinner with grandparents". Because for women, we can't just decide whether an occasion is "formal" or "not formal" and pick one of a few general options. Everything exists on multiple vectors of not only formality but function, sexuality, trend, socio-economic class, age, and professional status. In a way that just isn't true for men, and in a way that very seriously penalizes us if we get it wrong. And you have to have something for any eventuality. And if you don't, you have to go out and get it, and in doing so you deal with another whole set of vectors for what is actually available on shelves right now, and what physically goes on your body, and what you can afford, and what other people will be wearing, etc.

All of that exists independently of whether a given women likes fashion or not.
posted by Sara C. at 11:40 PM on January 22, 2013 [16 favorites]


Sara C.: "I wonder how often this happens to dudes."

Not exactly a corollary, but the worst part about being a Boy Scout was the shorts. I've never lost a job interview for wearing them, because the shortest leggings I own these are 40 inches.

I guess what I'm saying is, the male version of this infographic features "boy scout" instead of "asking for it".
posted by pwnguin at 11:46 PM on January 22, 2013


Wearing a T-shirt and jeans is definitely making a statement as a guy to me (and in programming/tech industry, it definitely makes a statement vs. wearing nicer clothes).

I moved from the midwest and adopted the casual culture in LA, so I've been a programming/tech industry guy for over a decade here, and generally speaking have been doing jeans/t-shirts or similar the whole time. So, uh, what statement have I been making, just so I know?
posted by davejay at 11:46 PM on January 22, 2013


I wonder how often this happens to dudes.

Guys can't wear a light skirt to an interview or work, even in the oppressive humidity of the American south.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:00 AM on January 23, 2013


sup dudes i worked from home today totally nude and still wrote like three press releases

dress code win
posted by klangklangston at 12:11 AM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


klang, did you end all your press releases with "p.s. i am naked?" Because if not, you missed a real opportunity there.
posted by Scientist at 12:20 AM on January 23, 2013 [10 favorites]


Pics or it didn't happen.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:39 AM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


There is a school of thought that Navy is an inappropriate color for men's trousers full stop. Too suit like.

Additionally in the UK historically the idea of a brown shoe in the city was not appropriate. In fact it was consider a cliche that in of the ways Americans working in The City showed their inherent lack of taste was by choosing to wear brown shoes with a suit.
posted by JPD at 1:07 AM on January 23, 2013


"They should put expiry dates on clothes so men know when to stop wearing them."
- Garry Shandling

It really is so much easier for men to wear whatever they want.
posted by marienbad at 1:52 AM on January 23, 2013


Women have to constantly figure out where in that space they’re supposed to be. Too flirty at work mean’s you won’t be taken seriously;

Yes, but men require all the same options for relaxing, exercise, work, interviews, funerals, etc., except ..

too proper at the bar and you’re invisible.

Why do you need to be visible at the bar? Why not replace the extra clothing with being more agressive about hitting to males?

In fact, one might expect that males who dislike agressive women might believe unpleasantly old fashioned gender roles or even cause more domestic violence, so dumping the clothes for more agressive behavior should help women enormously.

As I understand it though, women are not primarily dressing up to impress males, but instead trying to negotiate a social order with other women. In other words, women are basically the only ones enforcing all the dress codes that increase a woman's wardrobe over that required by men.

Is it self-indulgence or narcissism to impress your own gender in casual social situations? Imho no, indulgence doesn't bother me. Yet, doing so does not rise to the level of importance that impressing mates or dressing for work does either. It's a choice, buy the clothes if you want, but accept that people who notice the purely social utility might mock them.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:32 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have to ask as well: do men on average have less clothing?
posted by jb at 4:36 AM on January 23


Well, this meaningless anecdotal data point does not have a lot of clothes. Basically, enough socks and underpants; three still-wearable pairs of black jeans, one good suit, one good jacket, couple of coats, couple of pairs of grey trousers, about eight T-shirts, maybe half a dozen regular shirts in wearable condition, a bunch of ties I don't need any more, couple of sweaters, three pairs of shoes (Two of which are in dire need of replacing)... that's about it. I'm not counting work uniform.
posted by Decani at 3:14 AM on January 23, 2013


I am not permitted to wear skirts at work. I think I look damned good in my skirts, and not at all feminine (other than the obvious exception to a cultural norm). I enjoy wearing them immensely.

I find it annoying that women can wear thongs (flip flops) to work as "smartcasual", but I could not. I am not permitted to colour my hair, despite it being acceptable for women, and makeup on men would invite dirision.

I find ways to make what I wear interesting, and make the effort required to find interesting clothes. Men are extremely conservative dressers.

But I can still put on something conventional without being judged for my weight, or not wearing makeup, or wearing too much, or my accent, wearing too many colours, that don't match, or last seasons dress, the same one she wore last week.......
posted by bigZLiLk at 3:41 AM on January 23, 2013


Clothes are not my favorite subject. Things have changed over the decades. But imagine being a bright guy, often enough homeless, but trying hard to remedy that crap.

So you want a job that isn't manual labor? Sorry kid, you gotta wear a suit. Imagine you're welfare poor, and yea, there's a program trying to help, but gee wiz, they only buy work clothes (as in, overalls). Suits are too fancy for poor boys!

So you wrangle the system and you find and buy what you think of as a "decent looking" suit. Never mind the polyester, this was in the Midwest, where that shit was acceptable. (And then it all turns out to be a complete waste of time cuz no one where you live is going to give a job to a young guy that doesn't own a god-damned car). Oops.
posted by Goofyy at 4:21 AM on January 23, 2013


I thank all the gods that I seem to have been impervious to the worst of fashion pressure for the most part.

I do wear slacks, cardigans, and shirts/blouses to work. I look in the basement-end of corporate-dress appropriate, but I do not care because it is a day job anyway (one I'm trying to get out of) and I already know I would never be able to get away with my preferred "boho/neo-hippie/vintage inspired" attire anyway (jeans, tunicky tops, knit vests, long sweaters, maybe a swirly-skirt peasanty dress if I feel like it).

And I never got into shopping - my mother actually confessed to me a couple years ago that she was secretly really disappointed about that, because she'd spent my entire girlhood waiting for the day I'd hit my teens and be all excited about clothes so we could have some mother-daughter bonding shopping trips. There's just....too much else I'd rather be doing and too much else I'd rather spend that much money on.

My attractiveness to men probably suffers as a result of all this. But on the other hand, the men I do attract, I am confident they are attracted to me.

So yeah, somehow I exist in this weird sort of charmed bubble, and there have been trade-offs, but none I have regrets about, and I wish I knew how to bottle this and sell it so people could get over that nonsense.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:29 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wear clothes until they fall apart, repair them and repeat for as long as possible.

This is another problem with women's clothing. I do this. I wear most of my clothes into the ground, not throwing them away until they are total rags, unacceptable to even be given away, and the MOST I have gotten out of a single item of clothing is three years. And that was pushing the "acceptablity" pretty damn hard near the end.

Mid-price range women's clothing will last you one year (or really season if we're talking temperate climates, so by "year" in New England clothing terms, I mean four months for summer, six for winter, and eight for anything that can be worn Sep-May) of regular wear. Low-range, less that. The number of clothes I had to throw away due to holes/structural defects in the past two years is staggering. I didn't want to buy anything high end because I'm with this baby all the time... but it turns out that he wasn't the one ruining my clothes - they were ruining themselves.
posted by sonika at 4:34 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, one exception. My black wrap dress that is the mythical "day to night" black dress. This unicorn is going on seven years and you'll have to pry it off my cold, dead body.
posted by sonika at 4:36 AM on January 23, 2013


I like having lots of things to choose from and ways to combine things. I don't like wearing the same things over and over. It's as simple as that, for me.
posted by h00py at 4:47 AM on January 23, 2013


This is also why it takes women so long to get dressed. You have to try on all the permutations of an outfit and try to gauge the impression each gives off in order to make sure it's the one you intend to give off.
posted by bobobox at 4:52 AM on January 23, 2013 [8 favorites]


Women who own a dozen scarves or necklaces or pairs of sunglasses aren't buying them because they need items that convey a dozen different degrees of demure. They're buying them because they like scarves or necklaces or sunglasses.

Hahaha lol no

posted by Sara C. at 2:40 AM on January 23 [+] [!]


Hahaha lol yes

You know, as long as we're doing "focus group of 1".

I *make* necklaces for myself because I like them so much. I just carried home a sack full of scarves from TJ Maxx because they're *pretty*, and I did not give thought ONE to "plenty of options to cover every sartorial eventuality". They're pretty and I like them.
posted by ersatzkat at 4:57 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Ah, yes. But not really. I work in science, where there are fewer rules than most places. We have women who dress to the nines. We have women who dress with a clear eye toward what they're wearing, but not with the male eye (or the female eye embodying the male eye or whatever) in mind. And we have women who dress in jeans and hoodies."

Oh you have no idea.

The sciences, by pretending so hard to have fewer rules, only becomes that yet more complicated and impossible to manage. For men you only really have the spectra of formality and age/quirky to dress to, where male graduate students would look odd dressing like a professor and vice versa. However women in the sciences have both of these spectra, only the expectations are less clear, while at the same time needing to manage the sexiness spectrum and how close one is to dressing like a school teacher while teaching undergrads, while at the same time the more subtle and successful one gets at all of this the more one needs to deal with being perceived as a fake geek because of course real geeks arn't actually good at any of this.

Teaching undergrads as a man you can just wear a button down collared shirt with pants that arn't jeans as well as shoes that arn't sneakers and suddenly your tapping into all of the convenient operant conditioning they've been put through since they were toddlers without really needing to think about it. How dramatically this just works, even if you're just a first year grad student who is one year older than them, is consistently shocking to new male instructors. For women though, this magic just doesn't exist. Where not only do those operant conditioning buttons not really exist in the same way but the closer you get to them the more of a 'bitch' you come across as. While for men there is a correct and simple answer that is easy to arrive at and near 100% effective, for women its like a pick your own adventure of how, mostly male, students will challenge you.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:05 AM on January 23, 2013 [24 favorites]


What has happened to the MeFi I know and love? Where are the women raging at men for daring to share their experience, and denouncing mansplaining?

Men's fashion is far more rigid than women's and the levels of social acceptability are more closely defined. You can ignore this and that in itself is a rigid position on fashion, with easily foreseeable consequences. So boo hoo cry me a river about rigid social conventions. Now excuse me, I must go dress for work, where I am considered an eccentric fashion rebel for wearing a pocket square in my jacket pocket, in an office where Business Casual is often interpreted as Bathing Optional.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:06 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ah, yes. But not really. I work in science, where there are fewer rules than most places. We have women who dress to the nines. We have women who dress with a clear eye toward what they're wearing, but not with the male eye (or the female eye embodying the male eye or whatever) in mind. And we have women who dress in jeans and hoodies.
That is not my experience with academic science. As a female graduate student in a science, I scrutinize every piece of clothing I wear in order to make sure I'm sending the right signals. There's the level of teaching appropriateness. There's the fact that I'm only three years older than most of my students with a young face. There's the level of formality relative to my department's general personality. There's the level of "don't look like you're trying too hard." There's also the fact that it's freaking cold outside, and overheated indoors. And believe me, students comment. When there's a little chili pepper on your ratemyprofessor page, and tenured female faculty get "She dresses like a frump" on their course evaluations, you know that everyone else is doing the scrutinizing too. I don't want to send the signal that I'm too fancy to work in a field science. I don't want to send the signal that I'm so casual I don't take my teaching seriously. I don't want to send the signal that I'm young and immature. I don't want to send the signal that I put my femininity above my research, but I also don't want to pretend to be genderless, and I like wearing pretty things sometimes. It gets complicated.

Blasdelb's point about the difference in acceptance of male vs. female grad students is not overstated. Just last week, a male student offered to give me some tips on how to make my class run smoother. If I were a male instructor teaching terribly (and I am neither of those things), I can't imagine that happening. So I'm not going to give my students any extra ammunition to think of me as young, incompetent, or lacking in authority. Everything I choose to wear has that sort of exchange behind it.

I would be willing to bet that every woman in your science has put thought into what they're wearing. The gamut of clothing and formality that you mention is probably because people put value on different things and use clothing to express that, in relation to societal expectations.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:20 AM on January 23, 2013 [12 favorites]


Yes, but men require all the same options for relaxing, exercise, work, interviews, funerals, etc., except ..

I have literally seen my partner wear the same base outfit (he took the sport coat off at home) for four of those options. If you hand him a sport coat and pretend like you can't see the work boots, he is golden. He's embarrassed at how shoddily-made a lot of women's clothing is, because he can buy tough Dockers in bulk that actually look like real pants. He doesn't understand why he can essentially wear the same thing day after day, whereas I really can't.

As I understand it though, women are not primarily dressing up to impress males, but instead trying to negotiate a social order with other women. In other words, women are basically the only ones enforcing all the dress codes that increase a woman's wardrobe over that required by men.


Yeah I mean so here's the thing, I think more women notice the details of what I'm wearing. But men, especially professional men, will note/judge/whatever the overall appearance, and hey, even at, say, a women's college, there are a lot of men in important positions. And boy, do they often have preconceived notions on appearance! I was at a student student symposium last week in formal heels, black hose, a dress, and a blazer. I am not a student. The assumption was still made by multiple men, because most of the discussants and speakers were upper-career-level-men, or ambitious young political men, that I was a sophomore in college. So on the same day, I fielded comments at work (a building away!) about how unusually formal and fancy I was, and also got told I look like a 19 year-old. So that's another perfectly good outfit that I'll have to rework and reconsider the next time I have a reason to be business formal, because I can't rework and reconsider my face. Do I have to have my resume woven in cashmere, and worn as a decorative accent?

I like the freedom I have in dressing for work, usually. I love scarves. I love shoes. I love fine wool and tailoring. I can wear sweatpants to work. But I hate, hate hate, the stupid balancing act outside that says this much skin is too much and this much skin makes you look frumpy and old and this is too much black dress for a happy occasion.
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:40 AM on January 23, 2013 [12 favorites]


Men's fashion is far more rigid than women's and the levels of social acceptability are more closely defined.

This, for me, is the main difference between the systems of men's and women's clothing. Between what you wear to the beach and what you wear to a state dinner there's probably fewer than ten tiers of men's clothing. On the one hand, this is good because it means that there's not a whole lot of thought required. For work, I've got basically three types of outfits, dress shirt and slacks with tie, dress shirt and slacks without a tie, and suits, and I just have to select one of those options then implement specifics according to some fairly simple color matching rules. On the other hand, there's less chance for making individualized choices and making those choices tends to be policed a fair bit. I've got a ton of ties because ties are pretty much the only interesting choice I can make. I also wear a fair number of sweaters, but even that once elicited a comment from a boss who was confused to see people wearing something other than blue oxford button downs and red ties..
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:48 AM on January 23, 2013


There are two wildly unrelated tracks here.

1) Women's bodies and wardrobes are heavily policed. Heavy social pressures bear down on some for making mistakes or unacceptable choices. At the extreme end of that, you're going to find all kinds of violence.

2) People have opinions about what they enjoy wearing, and a lot of the time they enjoy wearing the socially appropriate articles of clothing. Women are taught from birth to enjoy dumping all of their money into clothes and makeup, just like men are taught whatever we're taught. A great deal of women enjoy fashion and there is nothing at all wrong with that.

Those two things are happening at the same time, and #2 does not cancel out #1.
posted by Stagger Lee at 5:55 AM on January 23, 2013 [13 favorites]


I'd agree that "guys were hoodwinked into eliminating the tie [which] eliminated one of the ways that you could easily distinguish yourself without much in the way of social risk", Kadin2048, except that $40 for a completely non-functional garment sounds excessive imho.

I've therefore begun experimenting with screen printing onto ready made neck ties, either grandpa's old ties or ebay's $3 solid color silk-like ties. There are always errors in screen printing of course, so you must plan an entire run, which probably still costs about $30-50 and a couple hours, but you're left with many ties to gift, destroy, etc. I'll happily wear nothing but a tie and kilt for certain occasions though, probably should gift several to naked guys so I can call them tie cockers.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:58 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]



This article is about women, so talking about how clothing interacts with maleness isn't entirely appropriate. It would seem innocent if us dudes weren't trampling over every single feminist topic with discussions of our maleness. Talking about masculinity is fun and we should do it sometime. But this may not be the place.

If that really must happen, it should probably be grounded in third wave feminism. There is room for a conversation about constructions of gender and sexuality. I think that most people would agree that it would be desirable to broaden the range of acceptable behaviour and give individuals more choice about how they express sexuality and gender. On a fairly superficial level, I guess we'd therefore agree that men and women should wear whatever the fuck they want. But if men are going to enter that conversation, they really need to be aware that their situation is, while at times unfortunate, largely not comparable to what women are putting up with. If nothing else, maleness is considered positive and normative, and the largest mistake we can make is to be seen dressing in a manner that's considered to be feminine. That must inform complaints about restrictions on male fashion.

Guys, we need to stop talking about how hard men have it in every discussion about feminism. Yeah, yeah, we have it hard too. But this isn't our space, and when people talk about privelege part of it is about the sense of entitlement that allows men to run into a conversation about women and shout "what about me?" without even thinking we''re doing anything wrong.
posted by Stagger Lee at 6:01 AM on January 23, 2013 [21 favorites]


except that $40 for a completely non-functional garment sounds excessive imho.

I think the non-functionality only stands out because men's clothes are almost entirely functional in a non-decorative way. Women wear tons of stuff (all jewelry, for starters, the kind of scarves that don't keep you warm, plenty of other stuff) that's also entirely non-functional, and that's a huge part of the reason women have so many clothes (to use the article's language). The disparity would seem to be between whether or not pure decoration is considered an appropriate function for clothing; for women it's basically required to wear some amount of purely decorative clothing or accessories.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:25 AM on January 23, 2013


My grandfather, who owned a haberdashery through the depression into the 1950's, always said that a well-dressed man's clothes are never noticed. I think that still holds true and has some pretty inequitable implications.
posted by klarck at 6:36 AM on January 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


Another thing I can't believe no one has mentioned yet: for buying men's clothes, the size you wear is, well, the size you are.

In women's clothes the size you wear is based on the position of Neptune in your birth chart divided by the exchange rate of the yen into rupees. Seriously it makes EXACTLY that much sense and I don't wear the same size in different clothes in the same store let alone from store to store - thus necessitating trying on every item and shopping takes too much time!

I can't even count the ways I've been burned by online shopping and clothes not fitting as expected. Never again.
posted by sonika at 6:42 AM on January 23, 2013 [14 favorites]


"Another thing I can't believe no one has mentioned yet: for buying men's clothes, the size you wear is, well, the size you are."

While this used to be the case, 'vanity sizing' is unfortunately something that has gotten a lot more democratic over the last decade or so.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:49 AM on January 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


I remember reading this article about the time costs to women of looking "presentable" during the 2008 election, and it really changed the way I think about some of this stuff. In a universe (political campaigning) where everyone is running on very little sleep and has next-to-no free time, women get even less, because the time it takes to maintain an acceptable appearance eats into what little personal time you get.

That's a very real cost. And while it accrues more acutely to people in very public, very time-sensitive professions, it accrues to all women to some extent. Most of the women I know get up about a half-hour earlier than most of the men in order to get to work on time. These aren't women who are especially fashion-conscious. These are women who understand that they're going to be treated markedly differently, in a negative way, if they show up to work with wet hair or unshaved legs or no makeup. No, it's not likely that she'll be fired for coming to work in simple khakis and a button-up shirt, or in a skirt that's the wrong length, or with unpainted nails. But it is likely that at some point, she'll be deemed not "professional" enough to be the public face of the company, or not "serious" enough to be promoted, or not "polished" enough to win the big new account.

The price women pay for miscalculating or for not putting in enough effort on their looks can be really subtle, and it's easy to overlook from the outside. It won't always be public gossip or a talking-to by a boss. It'll often be a missed opportunity that can easily be explained away by non-sartorial factors, just like racism or sexism or heterosexism often plays a part in work-related decisions, but there's always some professional, innocuous excuse. But the number of stories about whether Michelle Obama's inauguration coat was too sedate or not fancy enough or too expensive, or whether her effing bangs are too shocking, should prove that these choices really matter in terms of how a woman is perceived and whether she's taken seriously. I have seen not one single article dedicated to analyzing what the President was wearing.
posted by decathecting at 6:54 AM on January 23, 2013 [39 favorites]


The sciences, by pretending so hard to have fewer rules, only becomes that yet more complicated and impossible to manage. For men you only really have the spectra of formality and age/quirky to dress to, where male graduate students would look odd dressing like a professor and vice versa. However women in the sciences have both of these spectra, only the expectations are less clear, while at the same time needing to manage the sexiness spectrum and how close one is to dressing like a school teacher while teaching undergrads, while at the same time the more subtle and successful one gets at all of this the more one needs to deal with being perceived as a fake geek because of course real geeks arn't actually good at any of this.

Jesus, this 20000000x.

I am a woman, I dress casually because that's how I want to dress... or at least I used to. I've posted before about my whole experience with fashion and what I'm expected to wear here but I'll do a recap.

I'm 28, I've been a graduate student for the past 5 years, and only last year realized/found out that I've been doing it wrong. I'd been going to conferences and such, and I'd been paying attention, but I'd mostly been paying attention to what the men wore to these supposedly-somewhat-formal events. Men of ALL ages (not just the 'distinguished scientists') could wear whatever the hell they wanted and did with no apparent repercussions. I guess I thought that it was the same for me. It wasn't.

I have been blatantly told (but more often gently mocked as though it weren't offensive and COMPLETELY frustrating) that I should be dressing at a higher standard. I don't know why, except that obviously I do: I am a woman. The men in my department at the same level as me dress in cargos or jeans and t-shirts. After getting a ridiculous number of comments about my clothes, often what seems to me like stupid shit about how my sandals didn't match the level of formality of my dress, I started paying attention and started trying to dress more appropriately.

First and foremost, the women as a whole dress more up-scale than the men. Period. Any event, any duty (class, invited talk, dinner with a speaker, national meeting, etc. etc.). Second, I never know what to wear to these varieties of things for exactly the reasons stated above and I have largely given up. I have about 5 options in my closet: total slob, casual, sort-of-nice-I-guess, 'flirty', and fancy. And I can't wear the slob clothes anymore (jeans and loose-fitting hoodie) unless I want to get comments, which I am fucking sick of. The 'flirty' is really dangerous territory. So in reality I have three options, I guess.

As a side-note, I also have to plan in whether or not I'm doing acid work in the lab and how much risk I want to take potentially ruining a pair of pants. Do I wear the slob pants? Do I wear the nice pants? I wear scrubs now that I've realized this is a potential issue but if you don't notice that you've dripped it'll make it through.

I get comments no matter what I wear ('why are you all dressed up?') , and although I know part of it is that I am indeed somewhat fashion-illiterate (which seems to be a thing that is mostly just for women as we've discussed men have two very simple options), some of it is that I've clearly misjudged what exactly I'm supposed wear in a given situation, or more accurately, that I've fucking given up.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 7:05 AM on January 23, 2013 [15 favorites]


... I forgot to mention the makeup angle but I am not even going to get into that because I am too fucking tired.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 7:10 AM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think one of the things touched on in the comments, but not made as blatantly clear re: the differences between men's and women's fashions, is that while the 'rules' are also complex for men, they're not nearly as damning. A woman daring to be in public and NOT be attractive makes some people straight up angry.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 7:10 AM on January 23, 2013 [10 favorites]


Now I will never get this job, no matter what I say or how perfect a fit it is. Now I will be that trampy girl who came to a job interview in a miniskirt.

Well, that really depends on the interviewer. Of course then the fun question is, "why did I get this job?"
posted by chundo at 7:22 AM on January 23, 2013


Can any women speak to whether this is different in male or female dominated work environments? I know the typical narrative is that women are more forceful gender police than men, but my only experience with how women dress for work is that my mother and wife both work in education and there's generally a lot of latitude in clothing there. No one's dressing like a total slob, but "basically presentable" seems to be the norm for both sexes. I'm wondering if that has to do with the utilitarian needs of the job or the fact that it's a traditionally female environment.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:27 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I work in a male-dominated environment.

Things that have been said to me about my clothing by coworkers (including managers and bosses), the vast majority of whom I consider friends who respect my work:

"Whoa, got a date tonight?" (whoops, apparently too sexy)

"Sure, I'll do [x] for you if you wear that dress again. Yeah I probably shouldn't have said that. It's just that you look really nice and you don't normally dress like that" (Okay, definitely too sexy, and let us both never speak of this again)

And my favorite, when I was still wearing jeans and hoodies, from a manager (who was taking a lot of pain medication at the time and I think had also just had some booze at the airport on top of it): "Olinerd, 99% of the men in this office think you're a very attractive woman. But you need to make them think you're an attractive woman who's going to tell them what to do. So go to the store, buy yourself some nicer clothes, and start dressing like you're in charge of something."

The only comment I have ever heard any man at my office get from any other man about his clothing, in the case of showing up wearing a suit: "Where's the interview?"
posted by olinerd at 7:35 AM on January 23, 2013 [12 favorites]


I was at a student symposium last week in formal heels, black hose, a dress, and a blazer. I am not a student. The assumption was still made by multiple men [...] Do I have to have my resume woven in cashmere, and worn as a decorative accent?

I think this brings up an interesting point, which is that it's probably possible to take some of the pressure off of clothing-as-signaling by creating other channels for the same signals.

While you can't walk around with your resume hanging around your neck, there's no reason why -- in the context of something like a symposium or conference -- everyone can't have nametags that clearly identify their role. It's my experience that most people (most men, anyway; I don't know whether women typically have as much conditioning in this regard) will nearly always defer to explicit rank/status indicators over implicit ones. By making it explicit you take the "is this person a student or professor or...?" judgement call away.

Ideally, signals that are functionally important (student or teacher? IT or management? subordinate or superior?) would be communicated through explicit, standardized channels, leaving clothing choices as a vehicle for personal self-expression. That takes a huge amount of the pressure off clothing choices, and at least removes one dramatic failure case of clothing-as-signaling.

It's been my experience (admittedly not a broad study, but I do visit a lot of different offices) that workplaces with explicit status indicators, e.g. color-coded ID badges or functionally similar stuff, tend to have more relaxed dress cultures than ones that don't. Overall this seems like a Good Thing for everyone.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:46 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


It will (probably) not assuage anyone, but I judge men for not dressing well, not just women.
posted by oddman at 7:51 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I (female, techie) quite recently went from working in a male-dominated sports media office to a female-dominated fashion media office. I was worried about being judged more harshly here when I started for my general tendency towards scruffiness and lack of makeup, but I've actually found that I'm much more comfortable dressing however I like here and no one has been judgey or policey at all. This is the first female-dominated workplace I've been in, professionally, and the one where I've felt the least self-conscious about what I wear. It's nice, and it's given me more confidence to branch out from my usual t-shirt/jeans uniform (I'm not so worried about being too sexy, even though today my skirt is well into 'cheeky' territory). The women here wear anything from maxi dresses to skirt suits to high-waisted tartan short shorts. The (few) men seem to tend towards casual button shirts and jeans/slacks.

Related: I make a point of wearing skirts to interviews because it's uncommon to be a woman in my field and I think it helps me stand out, especially so when I was less experienced. I don't think I've had an in-person interview yet where I didn't get the job. I'm not entirely sure what this says, in the grand scheme of things.
posted by corvine at 7:52 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Another woman chiming in about getting dressed in science. I'm in a traditionally male field, although the greater field is now women-dominated so now I have a crazy balancing act. I have meetings with state employees where I have to try to look like one of the guys; meeting with higher mucketty-mucks that require me to look like a professional; and meetings with fellow academics where I have to look like I'm not trying too hard. I normally (outside of work) dress kind of funky and a little fashionable but I don't get to do that at work. I have all these other roles to perform. I think I actually get more snobby comments from male colleagues when I'm dressed up (i.e. wearing a skirt) than I do in fleece pants and a quick-dry field shirt. I've been told I look like a lab biologist (i.e. too fashionable) or like I'm from the east coast (i.e. too much black).

Don't even get me started on interview clothes.
posted by hydrobatidae at 7:56 AM on January 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh, yeah, trust me, I judge men on their clothing too, but it's just sort of abstract judgment. (really, learn what size you are so that every time you put your hands behind your head to lean back and say something you think is smart, I don't have to see your big flabby hairy belly, kthx). It doesn't have to do (for me at least) with how much I respect what they say, but it can be distracting. And when I judge other women at my office, it's not for how I plan to respond to/respect them, it's more of an "Oh honey, if you do that these guys won't take a word you say seriously." It's more that I'm worried for them and how they may be perceived by people, and as a fellow woman in tech, I want us all to be wildly successful and respected. When someone comes in with knee high stiletto boots and a miniskirt, I know she's not any less smart than she was yesterday, but I know that today the men in our meetings will be paying slightly less attention to the brilliant things she says and what they say amongst themselves after the meeting may be colored by "hey she looks pretty good today, yeah?" Which is not the goal.
posted by olinerd at 8:20 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Trying to negotiate this in tech when I was a tech writer and had to work with both the suits and the programmers was so very difficult. I finally settled on a sort of uniform of jeans/casual trousers and either a cute top (not too sexy, especially with the boobs) or a button-front shirt with a vest that split the difference between a jacket--too much like a suit--and looking like one of the dudes on the tech side and getting no respect from management.

Getting your signals right is hard.
posted by immlass at 8:40 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the judgment of men is also more reserved in that a man is basically only judged for being really badly dressed; it's basically pass/fail and a lot of stuff passes. Women are judged for failing to hit the precise right place on a scale that has a hundred different increments. That picture in the article with the ten different places a skirt can fall? That doesn't really exist for men.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:40 AM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


I admit, I'm rather baffled reading all these fashion rules that I don't follow. I hate button downs, since they don't fit right with my fat neck, neither do turtlenecks, so I never wear them. I wear black shoes with blue all the time...never gave it a thought and after I post this, never will. I used to wear more blousy, stretchy, elastic waistband clothes that were very matronly, but since I lost weight, I wear more fitted things because I think I look better in that style. The only thing I notice about what people wear is whether it FITS them. Men, as well as women, often wear things that are too tight, too loose, not flattering to a short waist or a long waist, or short legs or long legs and it would be nice if people felt comfortable wearing things that fit and were flattering to their body type.

I think it's harder for women, because WOMEN are more judgmental about what other women wear than men are. I put more emphasis (and have a tendency to judge your intelligence and sincerity) on how women speak and how they present themselves than what they wear.
posted by Kokopuff at 8:44 AM on January 23, 2013


Guide to men's shoe colors. Worth noting that a lot of these cases are borderline, and tend to be contextual based on where you are, what time of day it is, or what style of men's clothing you're evoking. Black and brown is pretty much a no-go. Everything else is a bit up in the air.

This problem feels for me like a pretty good microcosm for gender issues generally. Historically, and presently, men have the social power and the social cover to "get away" with a lot more than women do, and women have been held to much higher and sometimes contradictory social standards. The true compromise on those standards, I'd argue, is somewhere in the middle.

Everything we wear sends a social message. Jeans and a t-shirt send a message. Tuxes send a message. Being conscious of these things is part of what we should all, men and women, do as part of our courtesy for others and how we respect ourselves. Somehow, we've got to master a set of aesthetic standards that give everyone broad berth to express themselves in ways that comport with their gender and social identity (including letting men dress in traditionally femininine clothes and women dress in traditionally masculine clothes) while still understanding that sloppy, lazy dress is only really appropriate for certain settings. Some of the best dressed menswear wearers I've ever seen have been women who get that the color and texture of a tie, the fit of a jacket, the kind of shoes you wear, all these things can and do contribute to how you express your individuality.

Then again, this is coming from a guy who has a dresser drawer earmarked for pocket squares, so...
posted by Apropos of Something at 8:53 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


And no one, that I've found, makes shirts of any sort that are actually cut for a woman with a substantial rack.

I have a pink and green striped Ben Sherman button up shirt that I got on clearance at Marshall's and IT FITS MY (DD) BOOBS. Mostly. Heaps better than any other button shirt I've ever owned.

Of course, it retailed for something over $130 which is absurd for a shirt and Ben Sherman doesn't even make women's clothing anymore, but I can tell you--someone, somewhere, once upon a time, made a shirt that works with tits.
posted by phunniemee at 9:05 AM on January 23, 2013


Well, shit. This comment scares the hell out of me.

I still wear clothes I got from those Christmases when a few churches would get together to hand out random gifts to all us poors in the projects (from: Santa! to: FEMALE CHILD AGE 9+). I'd estimate that at least 50% of my wardrobe consists of hand-me-downs that I received between the ages of 12 and 14, which still totally fit because I am nothing if not hopelessly diminutive, and have forever remained blessedly flat-chested.
Sometimes my nicely kempt friends will roll their eyes at me and tell me that I can't possibly think about leaving the house wearing that, but as long as the holes are stitched or covered up and it isn't a garish tropical muumuu, I'm left wondering why the hell not? Shopping makes me utterly insane, I just want to get in and out as fast as humanly possible, so fashion procurement is just beyond my ken.

Fortunately, I've managed to shed every last bit of the ill-advised goth gear acquired during my "yes, leather pants and feather boas look great on you" phase, but nearly everything else in my closet has remained static for a decade or more. Two skirts, two pairs of work pants, one pair of jeans, one formal dress for weddings, a dozen button-down work shirts, and... uh, upwards of 150 band t-shirts. My only shoes are a pair of snow boots and a pair of decade-old Doc Martens, and I can count on one hand the number of sartorial choices I have made outside the confines of my local Goodwill.

Still, just like in the makeup thread, this thread has brought about a brand-new set of realizations that I have utterly failed as I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death female beauty compliance standards.
posted by divined by radio at 9:13 AM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Your uniform declares who you want them to think you are. You sometimes must guess what the rules are, and nothing stops them from making up rules as they go along. When they don't pay your wages or compete for your bed you don't have to pay them any mind.

I wore several uniforms, all more or less situationally appropriate: evolving child, soldier, laborer, farrier, student, and so on. It was easiest when I was a soldier, because even if nothing was ambiguous, many of the details were optional, and the details were thematic, therefore functional.

Nowadays I have a closet filled with polo shirts (of course, I've never played polo), some Aloha shirts (well, I used to live in Hawaii, but I got these when RedBud and I went back for a visit a few years ago), some cotton slacks that I hardly ever wear, and a stack of Jeans and Levis. Four pairs of dress socks lie mostly unworn in the back of the sock shelf, and the white socks, which I wear daily, folded and stacked in front. They are thicker, and go with my canvass boat shoes. I wear the boat shoes until the tops separate from the bottoms, then go get another pair. I actually own two pair of black dress shoes and a pair of brown ones, which I wear maybe twice a year. My hiking boots and packer's boots remain unworn in a shoe bin. I look at them now and then and sigh. Oh, and the T-shirts. When you go to the reunions, you get T-shirts, and I have a couple dozen hanging in the closet. And hats. Most of them have a Ranger or 173'd patch on them. You know--old fart in a gimmee hat, walks with a cane and barks.

I have somewhat backed off my distaine for what I used to think of as "Max Factor Junkies". Still, I view as pathetic women who can't appear in public until they put their faces on. Do you dress for men or for other women?--or is it more subtle? More subtle, I think. As described so well in this thread, you dress for effect. Me too, when it comes right down to it. Back in the day mine was a love me uniform, but nowadays it's a beware of the oldfart uniform.

Most of my residual disgust is pointed at the fashionista whose judgement is bound by superficiality. Giving in is selling out, but hey, a guy's gotta eat. Opinion is a motherless tide, and you can't hold back the tide. James Dean died a long time ago, and the hippies went all New-Age. We laugh at their naive presumptions of individuality, and prefer the anonymity of the herd to the off-the-grid-madness of the doomsayers. You know. Stuff like that. This is sort of like the fifties, but The Beave has two mothers. Or dads. Anti-commie vigilanties have given way to Fashion Police and Thought Fascists: can't wear this, can't say that. Nobody cares why the rules are as they are, and, to be fair, probably nobody ever did.

The proposition was: Resolved: that women have more clothes than men. This turns out to be not quite the case. Maybe it seems that way, though, because the costuming reuirement for women has some sort of referent that distinguishes it from the costume requirement for men. I don't for a minute believe that men's rules are any less binding than those for women.

Good luck with those brown shoes.
posted by mule98J at 9:17 AM on January 23, 2013


somewhere, once upon a time, made a shirt that works with tits.

Coincidentally, I just bookmarked this list of designers/stores that claim to do just that. It seems like the UK/Europe has figured this out in a way the US has not caught onto.
posted by acanthous at 9:17 AM on January 23, 2013


Well, crap. Just yesterday I commented on one of my (female) coworker's outfit in a teasing way. I kind of feel like a heel now. Although on the other hand: I work in a legal clinic helping low-income people, so the policy is very clearly not to dress up* - my standard as a guy is slacks and a button-up shirt, no tie. The women in the office have equivalent-formality clothes (although there is additionally the discussion above of multiple-vectors and problems with that, which I definitely agree with). And my coworker wore essentially a pantsuit - much higher in formality than what we all wear and what she normally wears. I managed to be the third person in our office to comment on it. We have 5 people in the office. The other two commentors were both women, which doesn't change much I know.

I'm torn. I was definitely only talking about the formality axis, and expect that she would make the same comment to me if I had on a tie / blazer / suit, which makes it more reasonable, more "fair game". But I hope it didn't subtly come across as more of the same judging women for their clothing crap. Navigating that minefield is complicated.

*Dressing up has a strong chance of putting our clients off-balance - that we're trying to assert social dominance, that we can't understand the problems they go through dealing with social assistance, etc. There is a very real reason we don't go formal daily.
posted by Lemurrhea at 9:41 AM on January 23, 2013


As someone whose career path has required wearing shapeless surgical scrubs and a ponytail to work every day for the past decade or so, this thread makes me realize 1) how goddamn lucky I am 2) how terrifyingly out of the loop I am with what constitutes 'presentable' clothing these days. I'm slowly realizing from this thread that my personal standards for style and quality are pretty embarrassing for a 32 year old woman, and that sucks a lot.
posted by makonan at 9:41 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Coincidentally, I just bookmarked this list of designers/stores that claim to do just that. It seems like the UK/Europe has figured this out in a way the US has not caught onto.

Over here, if you dare to have a comically large bust (bigger than a D according to every bit of pop culture ever), you had better at least have the common decency to show them off to whomever wants a peek. (Unless they're too big, or floppy, or funny looking, or of slightly different sizes, or feeding an infant, or you're overweight.) I mean, what's the point of having them, otherwise?
posted by phunniemee at 9:43 AM on January 23, 2013


My bra size (hello, Internet!) is a 38G. I was trying to find a black top to wear to Sunday morning mass in the Catholic church where I work as a soloist. I went to three stores, and couldn't find anything that wasn't either frumpy or slutty; in order to even find a regular sweater or knit top that wasn't straining over my breasts, I had to size up so far the shoulder seams were halfway to my elbows and the sleeves hung off the end of my arms. There were a few things that were cut to accommodate my boobs, but they all either had plunging V-necks or keyhole necklines.
posted by KathrynT at 9:51 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Still, I view as pathetic women who can't appear in public until they put their faces on.

Thank you for judging me for being worried that someone will judge me by my appearance. Can't win, apparently.
posted by olinerd at 10:29 AM on January 23, 2013 [23 favorites]


Guys, we need to stop talking about how hard men have it in every discussion about feminism. Yeah, yeah, we have it hard too. But this isn't our space, and when people talk about privelege part of it is about the sense of entitlement that allows men to run into a conversation about women and shout "what about me?" without even thinking we''re doing anything wrong.

That’s just silly. This is a mixed gender site. There are women talking about women’s clothing from their experience and comparing it to their perception of men’s clothing from their outsider view. But your saying men should limit their comments to an outsiders view of the women’s situation and not try to share their own because it is offensive?
posted by bongo_x at 10:31 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


My bra size (hello, Internet!) is a 38G.

SING IT, SISTER. Right there with you. If you find out about shirts that fit, do let the rest of us know.

Dresses are the worst for me. I love wearing them, but anything with some kind of goings-on in the bust isn't going to fit. Which limits my options to "burlap sacks" and even some of those have an empire waist.
posted by sonika at 10:42 AM on January 23, 2013


Ladies, my mom is a seamstress. If you have trouble finding clothes that fit well, regardless of the reason, find a seamstress!

They are not normally more expensive than what you pay retail (not more expensive than similar quality clothes, at least), and I guarantee that they will fit you excellently. Trust, me it's worth the trouble!

(As a bonus, they can make you whatever you want! My mom has had clients pop a movie into her VCR and say, "I want the dress from this scene, but in red, not blue, and with a bit lower neckline (or whatever)" and, presto!, a week, or so, later the client had her dress.)
posted by oddman at 10:45 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


For a seamstress, do you buy your "normal" size and get it reworked or do you need to buy a size up to have extra fabric? Honest question since I would so happily pay to get dresses actually fitted.
posted by sonika at 10:51 AM on January 23, 2013


Oh, you're talking from scratch. So, you take in a catalog photo and say "this, but y'know, with boobs." ?
posted by sonika at 10:53 AM on January 23, 2013


But you need to make them think you're an attractive woman who's going to tell them what to do. So go to the store, buy yourself some nicer clothes, and start dressing like you're in charge of something."

Wow. My response to this would have been to show up in a full and reasonably authentic Roman Centurion's outfit.
posted by elizardbits at 10:57 AM on January 23, 2013 [12 favorites]


If I was a supervisor and one of my employees, male or female, did that, they would be promoted on the spot.

There are very good reasons I'm not in charge of anything.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:04 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sonika, it's either way. You can buy clothes off the rack and have them altered (this works best with relatively simple alterations like the length of a skirt, but can be done with complex changes, too). However, my mom (and most seamstresses that I know—I've managed to meet a few) will happily create items from scratch.

They will (or at least the ones I know would) go with you to a fabric store to help you pick out fabrics (if you need/want it); sketch a dress (or work off a picture, pattern, sample piece: "You want this blouse in every color? No Problem!"); "rough assemble" it (think pins instead of stitching) to see how it fits; then do final sizing, sewing and finishing.

Et voila, a custom made blouse/dress/what have you.

To give you an example:
My wife (before our wedding) took my mom to see a beautiful wedding dress that we could not afford. My mom, spent a bit looking it over, went home and perfectly recreated the dress (of course custom fit for my wife). It was our wedding present from her, but even if she'd charged it would have been half the retail cost (and this was a difficult dress with tons of beadwork).
posted by oddman at 11:04 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


My response to this would have been to show up in a full and reasonably authentic Roman Centurion's outfit.

But Rory doesn't look like he's in charge of anything! (But seriously, that boss was a giant asshole.)

Still, I view as pathetic women who can't appear in public until they put their faces on. (...) I don't for a minute believe that men's rules are any less binding than those for women.

Thanks for reinforcing the patriarchy! We were really running low on people to do that for us. Think men's shoes are equivalent to women's? Get some heels in your size and come back and say that tomorrow. Think women have the option of finding comfortable shoes but they just don't take it? Go find a few pair. Find ones that will work for every occasion and fit well when you're wearing tights or socks. Repeat for sandals. Then wear them, attempting to fit them day to day in a way that not only fits the occasion, but doesn't aggravate any blisters you recently acquired from the other shoes. Then you can come back and do some more pseudo-poetic what about the menz mansplaining, k?
posted by NoraReed at 11:13 AM on January 23, 2013 [15 favorites]


I've used the services of seamstresses and tailors before, yeah, and to very good effect. (My wedding dress was made by a local theater costumer. It was gorgeous, 100% silk, and cost half of what a polyester rack dress would have cost.) But the investment of time is real, and it is a problem; those fittings can be expensive if I have to get a sitter to watch my 2 year old, because a sewing shop is not childproofed (nor should it have to be). The trip to the fabric store alone is going to be a couple of hours, and again, I have to drag my kids along.

By comparison? I buy my husband's work clothes for him. At Costco. I send him picture messages of the shirts, he sends back which ones he likes, and I get those. I know they will fit, because the sizes are neck/sleeve or waist/inseam rather than "M." He's not a paragon of style, but he is perfectly, 100% appropriately dressed for work; it takes me an hour to buy all his work clothes for a year, and it costs about $250. He has one suit, which he wears for weddings, funerals, and interviews, and date nights; I can't imagine one outfit that would work for me for all of those.

Having your clothes made is a solution to the "my clothes don't fit" problem, but it doesn't make it equitable.
posted by KathrynT at 11:14 AM on January 23, 2013


Wow. My response to this would have been to show up in a full and reasonably authentic Roman Centurion's outfit.

Complete with horse?
posted by orange swan at 11:19 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just want to highlight an excellent point that SarahC made upthread which may have gotten overlooked in all the (other) shouting:

"Because for women, we can't just decide whether an occasion is "formal" or "not formal" and pick one of a few general options. Everything exists on multiple vectors of not only formality but function, sexuality, trend, socio-economic class, age, and professional status. In a way that just isn't true for men, and in a way that very seriously penalizes us if we get it wrong".

Penalties to include, but not limited to: being overlooked for promotion, being dismissed as irrelevant/dowdy/invisible in a way that NO MAN EVER (apart from the rare Milton-the-Office-Space-stapler-guy social outcast types and maybe not even then) gets treated, being fussed at by HR or written up for being too casual/unprofessional because you wore a blouse that seemed fine in the dressing room but somehow the girls are all rowdy and up in arms today and you can't find a safety pin ANYWHERE, getting hassled by the copier guy or told "oooh you look cute today, wherever did you find THAT?" (translation: that outfit is about ten years "too young" for you) when all you want to do is fucking concentrate on your meeting you've to to hold in ten minutes grr and yes, women do this passive-aggressive Mean-Girlsy bs to each other in the workplace ALL THE TIME, so it isn't just that kinda creepy Sales douche from Product Development we have to worry about, it's the judgmental HR witches too, and last but most especially, harassment by ACTUAL creepy doods/construction workers / bus assholes, up to and including actual rape.

and lest you think I'm some kind of haggard feminist, I (mostly) enjoy fashion and was a huuuuuge clothes horse as a tween/teen/YA to the point of being a petite trunk show model when I was 19. So it's not like I don't "get" fashion. But getting it wrong, even just slightly, has penalties for women that guys will simply never, ever comprehend because it is just. so. vast.

lemme make a kind of tortured analogy. I saw an article the other day talking about how your average Grammar Nazi (on the internet or otherwise) is using a subtle form of classism / privilege by using their fluency in Standard English to beat nonconformists with the shame stick, when they're often completely unaware (and unconcerned) about the offender's race, background, cultural upbringing, or even whether they speak English as a first language.

I would argue that, especially for women in the corporate environment, "sartorial literacy" is a similar privilege trap. If you "get it" and are fluent, you see absolutely nothing wrong with being a Fashion Nazi to the clueless. And the results are pretty much the same - you beat someone with the shame stick enough times by telling them they are sloppy, lazy, trashy, unprofessional, (etc...) they're just going to throw their hands in the air and give the fuck up.

grr, this whole thing makes me SO ANGRY and I have flowcharts to make and spreadsheets to update and a vendor to abuse for being a pure dumbass, so cheers.
posted by lonefrontranger at 11:26 AM on January 23, 2013 [17 favorites]


It will (probably) not assuage anyone, but I judge men for not dressing well, not just women.

I must admit, I used to work with a computer programmer who was the worst dressed man I ever saw. He routinely looked like he got dressed in a thrift shop in the dead of night during a power failure. And a bunch of us who worked with him used to frequently make fun of him among ourselves — never to him. But then he was something of a tool otherwise, and he'd wear really bad suits with sandals and socks, or plaid pants with checked shirts that had food spilled down the front, so can you blame us?
posted by orange swan at 11:31 AM on January 23, 2013


Guide to men's shoe colors.

The point of this discussion though is that for most men, in most social or work situations, the cost of ignoring this is perceived to be zero. Who cares if a few fuss-budgets think brown shoes don't go with you slacks? That's not going to affect the deal being signed or insult anyone at the funeral. What's being said here is that women don't have that luxury.

For me, the questions revolve around getting out of this trap. Who needs to change and how? Where do we go from here?
posted by bonehead at 11:34 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


To my experience, the essence of the trap is that women's clothes are still designed around us being social creatures, not professional ones. Or, perhaps, that there's a Professional Fashion Track and a Social Fashion Track. Like I said, my husband wears the same suit to weddings, date nights, interviews, and funerals, while I need four separate outfits for those purposes; I can't wear the same clothes to business and social functions, unless both are extremely casual.

Women in power can start fighting back, too; Hillary Clinton was asked by. . . Barbara Walters, I think? anyway, she was asked in an interview who her favorite designers were, and her answer was "Wow, would you have asked Henry Kissinger that question?" or something like that. Clinton can't avoid the trap, not even as Secretary of State, but she at least has the power and the visibility to point out that it IS a trap.

More than that? I don't know. My daughter is 6, and I don't know how much longer I can hold her off from the awareness that her culture expects her to have one set of clothes for being looked at in and another set of clothes for doing things in, and good fucking luck if you need to be respected for doing things by people who expect you to be something to look at.
posted by KathrynT at 11:48 AM on January 23, 2013 [15 favorites]


But Rory doesn't look like he's in charge of anything!

Oh my god why is he wearing vambraces instead of manicae. A pox upon their costume department.

posted by elizardbits at 11:58 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Aren't heels really in the "nobody should ever wear those under normal circumstances" category though, NoraReed? There is clothing designed to for function with elegance and clothing designed to be as ridiculous as possible. And high heels seem every bit as ridiculous as Bjork's Swan or electroluminescent wire. I love wearing electroluminescent wire, blinking crap, etc. for raves, but never wear batteries in the office. Any shoe designed to make you fall over is just as silly.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:10 PM on January 23, 2013


Or, perhaps, that there's a Professional Fashion Track and a Social Fashion Track.

I somewhat agree, though I think that women who opt for Professional Fashion Track still have to own clothing for "social fashion" occasions, lest they be labelled mannish or frumpy.

Another angle on this is the fact that, even if you opt for Professional Fashion Track, there are still a million levels and social things to consider that men don't deal with.

A female friend of mine spent a few years working on Capitol Hill. One of her main complaints was that there are only so many stores in DC to buy outfits to wear to all the work-related events she was required to attend. And yet it was a social faux pas to be wearing the same dress as another woman at the same event. But of course, each season J. Crew, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, Macy's, Nordstrom, and Anthropologie put out a finite number of dresses, a smaller number of which are appropriate for this purpose. And she had to attend several events each week. And it was NOT permissible to just rotate the same three dresses. Nor was it permissible to veer away from the "classy-but-not-stuffy dress" uniform and wear a suit or something completely out of left field quirky/wacky/vintage/boho. Instead, all the women just circled each other like sharks, waiting for someone to fuck it up.
posted by Sara C. at 12:12 PM on January 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


...on review, everything six-or-six-thirty said, X 2000000

full disclosure: I work in the Quality department of a pharma manufacturing CMO with a bunch of chemists & engineers and by rights we should probably all dress in jeans, polos and steel toes with lab coats every day, however we also have frequent contact & do lots of dog-and-pony-show meetings with chief high mucky-muck corporate customers so the balancing act of corporate business dress vs. "am I going to get reagent on these nice pants" is even more schitzo than usual.
posted by lonefrontranger at 12:12 PM on January 23, 2013


I somewhat agree, though I think that women who opt for Professional Fashion Track still have to own clothing for "social fashion" occasions, lest they be labelled mannish or frumpy.

Yes. And then there are events which are simultaneously Professional and Social; office parties, networking functions, stuff like that. So which track do you pull from for those?

And it was NOT permissible to just rotate the same three dresses.

My husband has been wearing the same suit to weddings for at least eight years, and nobody has ever commented on it. I wore a dress to a wedding in August 2012 that I had also worn to a wedding in the same branch of the family in July 2008, and I got at least ten comments remarking on that fact.
posted by KathrynT at 12:18 PM on January 23, 2013 [10 favorites]


I remember seeing criticism of Hilary Clinton somewhere, accompanied by a photo of her walking towards an airplane with Barack Obama and a number of other high-ranking officials. They were all wearing similar good quality, well-fitted suits, but only Hilary was being criticized for "not being fashionable". A man is expected to hit the right level of formality in dress and wear things that fit properly. A woman is expected to hit the right level of formality and to look up to date, to wear things that flatter her figure without showing any less or any more than the exactly right amount of skin, and to show a certain style and originality.
posted by orange swan at 12:20 PM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Acceptable sartorial choices as explained to the Sphynx.
posted by figurant at 12:25 PM on January 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


And keep in mind that Clinton is of an age and social status where she's allowed to be desexualized and somewhat matronly. She can just do the Angela Merkel "tasteful suit in 10 different colors" thing and call it a day. She also has the money to make this happen and not face the J. Crew Cocktail Dress Shark Pool.

And yet she still has people commenting about her cankles, and asking what designers she likes, and weighing in on her haircut.
posted by Sara C. at 12:25 PM on January 23, 2013


Aren't heels really in the "nobody should ever wear those under normal circumstances" category though, NoraReed?

I just did a google image search for "women's office shoes" and most of the results had heels. The ones that didn't were mostly those slipper-type flats that tend to fall off. Or wedges, which are really a type of heels, and easier to walk in than stilettos but still shorten your stride.
posted by NoraReed at 12:28 PM on January 23, 2013


Yeah, I got the stink eye when I wore flats to meet with a recruiter recently.

And these flats were a pair of elegant and seasonally appropriate black leather riding boots. Not, like, a ratty old pair of Toms.
posted by Sara C. at 12:35 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Aren't heels really in the "nobody should ever wear those under normal circumstances" category though, NoraReed?

Yes, they absolutely are. Which is why it's insane that women get comments and weird looks, or even just people subtly thinking we're underdressed or frumpy or unprofessional, when we choose not to wear them.

I work in a profession that requires full business dress nearly every day. I also walk a lot and spend most of the day on my feet. So I wear heels because it's expected of me, but they're almost always the sort of vaguely orthopedic-looking shoes with the really thick heels and ankle straps to keep my feet comfortable. Professional shoes, but clearly built for comfort rather than style. I have, on no fewer than a dozen occasions in the last year, gotten comments (mostly from women, but a few times from men) about how "comfortable" I look (which is code for schlubby, as far as I can tell), or about how I should probably change into something "dressier" before I present myself publicly, or about how other women wish they could "get away with" wearing more comfortable shoes, but they wouldn't feel "polished" without their 4-inch pumps.

This stuff is insidious. And the fact that it's expected, both by us and by others looking at us, that we're going to risk breaking our necks (or at least throwing our backs out and ruining our knees) every day, just for show, is insane.
posted by decathecting at 12:50 PM on January 23, 2013 [11 favorites]


...menz mansplaining, k?

Is this 80’s Metal or a Hip Hop thing? It’s hard to tell the difference sometimes.
posted by bongo_x at 2:06 PM on January 23, 2013


Wow. My response to this would have been to show up in a full and reasonably authentic Roman Centurion's outfit.

Dear elizardbits: If you would ever like to enter the exciting world of craft publishing, there is a position open at my company for you yesterday.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 2:24 PM on January 23, 2013


I've used the services of seamstresses and tailors before, yeah, and to very good effect. (My wedding dress was made by a local theater costumer. It was gorgeous, 100% silk, and cost half of what a polyester rack dress would have cost.) But the investment of time is real, and it is a problem; those fittings can be expensive if I have to get a sitter to watch my 2 year old, because a sewing shop is not childproofed (nor should it have to be). The trip to the fabric store alone is going to be a couple of hours, and again, I have to drag my kids along.

Same boat here. I could feasibly do fitting for alterations with a friend along to entertain the kiddo, but a trip to a fabric store? No way. Not at this point in my life... or really any time in the next decade.

It's not just business where women police each other with the Fashion Stick. I mentioned in the make up thread that moms do it too. I wear leggings/skirts and knee high Doc Martens Sep-May and maxi dresses/Mary Janes/sandals a bit dressier than your average flip flop during the summer. I have received plenty of back-handed compliments at playgroup (I'm in New England which is the Frump Capital of the known universe) implying that I have an agenda to make other women look bad by wearing "real clothes." Not wearing jeans or cargo shorts is a sign that I'm not sacrificing enough in the name of motherhood. Or something. Anyhow, I get attitude about my fashion choices from other women all the time because I haven't adopted the mom uniform.

Also, if you want pointed stares, go into American Apparel with a diaper bag. I didn't even have the KID with me and you'd think I was carrying an open vial of smallpox.
posted by sonika at 2:28 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Alright, if we're all against high heels then lets collaboratively write a We the People petition asking OSHA to tights rules about high heels in work environments or ideally ban them.

Is anyone here familiar with OSHA's rules on high heels beyond the above link? If so, can you suggest how one might achieve "death by a thousand cuts"? Is anyone a podiatrist? I'll start :

WE PETITION THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION TO:

Either ban high heels in the workplace all together or at least dramatically tighten the regulations around wearing these dangerous shoes in office environments.

High heeled shoes should cause a host of health problems such as shortening the Achilles tendon, damage to soft tissue in the ball of the foot, and lower back problems.

If OSHA cannot ban high heels outright, we ask they create a certification process to prevent shoes with improperly constructed toe-boxes or excessively high heels from being worn in office environments.

In either case, we ask that high heels be banned from federal government offices because federal employees must occasionally contend with stairways in older government buildings, which frequently violates existing OSHA regulations.


Can anyone elaborate? Corrections?
posted by jeffburdges at 2:45 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think OSHA has rules on tights, actually.
posted by bonehead at 2:56 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I saw that picture and i have to say, i couldn't believe how in one photo with a few words an art student had said succinctly loads of things i've never managed to say right for decades. Gotta hand it to her.
Here's something else (joke) from twitter.
posted by maiamaia at 3:31 PM on January 23, 2013


Here's the questions I had to answer to come up with my work uniform in a super casual male-dominated environment:

- Is this flattering? (I look like shit in most pants, I don't want to be known as the fatass in marketing. Looking frumpy means I get perceived differently, which might have a real impact on career prospects.)

- Is this functional? (I walk to work and back, so flat shoes and warmth are real concerns. I type all day, so no nails, bracelets or rings.)

- Is this feminine enough? (I think it's important to be visible as a woman in gaming, I don't want to be seen as "one of the guys", I have to interact with people outside of the industry who expect a certain level of girly polish.)

- Is this TOO feminine? (Caring about fashion is seen as frivolous by my peers, being too polished casts doubts on your competence, I don't want my peers to assume I got the job for my looks, I don't want to be a distraction/be hit on at work, I'm dealing with major boobage which can make perfectly boring clothes look obscene.)

- What's the right level of youthfulness to project? (The industry thrives on young creative energy, but I also have to be respected as a peer by older business execs.)

- How do I express gamer cred? (I have to pick the right games to identify with or else I'll come across as the dreaded Fake Geek Girl.)

- How do I express creativity? (I'm in a designer role, so a little artsy kookiness is expected.)

- How do I express authority? (I'm also a project manager, so I need to look like I get shit done and can't be messed with.)

The answers I came up with (usually a skirt, two layers of socks/tights, boots, a game shirt and a cardi/hoodie) are completely different than other lady colleagues, but I can see the same calculus in their outfits. Whereas the guys all wear the same basic uniform: jeans and gaming swag. Thought goes into it, I'm sure; the game character that's on your shirt says something about you, as does your preferred brand of jeans. The difference is that guys can convey all those things in two basic garment decisions and aren't evaluated as intensely based on their presentation.
posted by Freyja at 3:44 PM on January 23, 2013 [13 favorites]


(That links to an error 404 page, maiamaia)
posted by troika at 3:45 PM on January 23, 2013


Oh wait, no it doesn't. That was weird. Sorry.
posted by troika at 3:45 PM on January 23, 2013


Mezentian: You might 'need' certain things for certain outfits, but everything is an excuse to buy a new outfit.

I beg to differ. I work in the financial industry, as an office manager. I am expected to wear a certain level of dressy, by my company, and by my boss. I have clothes for work and clothes for outside of work. I work pretty hard at finding at least tops that can I can dress up or dress down with accessories so that I don't have to buy entirely separate wardrobes, but I still end up with a lot of pieces I can wear one place and not the other. Because I don't want to vacation in my dress slacks and heels.

...some women also seem to like buying (or looking at) clothes as a hobby too easily.
I expect there's some sort of feedback loop where there friends like it, and so it goes.


Perhaps my group of friends is different than yours, but at 30, my friends are all pretty settled in their own styles and none of us buys clothes just because her friends are doing it. I don't think it's fair to imply that women in general are using work attire as an excuse to buy new clothes, or to portray us as a group of people that have to mimic each other because we can't stand not to all have new clothes all the time.
posted by persephone's rant at 3:51 PM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


It 404ed for me at first; taking off the token at the end made it work.

Clean link. And Coral cache in case that stops working.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:52 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Mid-price range women's clothing will last you one year (or really season if we're talking temperate climates, so by "year" in New England clothing terms, I mean four months for summer, six for winter, and eight for anything that can be worn Sep-May) of regular wear. Low-range, less that.

This could spawn its own MeFi post, but what you're experiencing is a side effect of the U.S.'s persistent race to the bottom in pricing. The recently published Overdressed: the Shockingly High Price of Cheap Fashion goes into a lot of detail on the many, many ways in which overall clothing quality has degraded in the past decade or so. I find that it's a nice follow-up to Fashion Victim: Our Love-Hate Relationship with Dressing, Shopping, and the Cost of Style by Michelle Lee. Teri Agins also trod this ground with The End of Fashion: How Marketing Changed the Clothing Business Forever.

(For a nice primer on the clothing details that connote quality and why clothing price is linked to labor more than material, see this BabyCenter post on "11 Ways Clothing Manufacturers Cheap Out," as written by an avid sewer.)

The upshot: Because shoppers often prize variety -- fueled in part by a wide array of societal pressures detailed above -- they will go for quantity over quality, and so stores have responded accordingly. It blows, because working and middle-class consumers are basically living out a variant on the Sam Vimes Theory of Economic Injustice, i.e. in order not to appear poor, folks are spending a lot of money on clothing that is a poor value for the dollar.

In the context of this discussion, it would not be out of line to suggest that the wardrobe expectations plus the current quality of mass-market clothing means that anyone on a budget might do well to consider their clothing to be a line item like subway fare or gas money, i.e. a necessary expense but certainly not a durable good. For those kind of clothes, you've got to have money and status already in place.
posted by sobell at 4:38 PM on January 23, 2013 [16 favorites]


I've definitely thought about the Sam Vimes theory as I've been re-buying the stuff in my wardrobe that fell apart and replacing it with items that cost much more per item in hopes that I won't have to throw them out in a year. And how three years ago, I couldn't have possibly afforded to do this and would indeed have spent more in total on three shirts in three years than one shirt that lasted for three years.

Though all of those years being broke or just barely above it have me gasping at price tags for better made clothes. However, all those years wearing cheap clothes and I can absolutely tell the difference in garment quality.
posted by sonika at 4:53 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Am I the only one being utterly impressed with the average lenght of comments in this thread?
posted by elpapacito at 5:09 PM on January 23, 2013


No?
posted by Mezentian at 5:16 PM on January 23, 2013


Am I the only one being utterly impressed with the average lenght of comments in this thread?

No, they all really seem to hit the right length, from provocatively short ones to old fashioned longer ones.
posted by jeather at 5:36 PM on January 23, 2013 [17 favorites]


Am I the only one being utterly impressed with the average lenght of comments in this thread?

It's right in that sweet spot in between Proper and Provocative?
posted by eviemath at 5:46 PM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


craft publishing

I DON'T KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS is it books about needlefelted bunnies because that would be rad

posted by elizardbits at 5:55 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


However, all those years wearing cheap clothes and I can absolutely tell the difference in garment quality.

This was an interesting thing I noticed when I got into my clotheshorse jobs (detailed in my previous post) and really had to start caring how I looked.

I never cared about fashion and was aggressively jeans-and-t-shirt-forever-maaaan for as long as possible because I thought clothes never fit me anyway and they were all uncomfortable and scratchy and fell apart at the drop of a hat, so who gives a shit?

But I liked being employed and making money, so I had to gingerly dip my toe into the fashion pool, and what I discovered seems ludicrous in retrospect or if you know anything about clothes, but of course I thought clothes were scratchy and terrible and fell apart, I was buying bottom of the line stuff from Wal-Mart and JC Penney. Of course, I thought suits were terrible and looked awful and were incredibly hot, the only experience I had with them was the low-end all-polyester ones your mom buys when you're a teenager and you have to go to a funeral or something.

Once I stepped up--not into real high-end designer stuff, but into the quality stuff that seems eye-poppingly expensive if you've never dropped more than 10 bucks on a t-shirt--I was sort of astonished to find that there were all these clothes in natural fabrics that fit me pretty well and were actually comfortable, moreso than my jeans-and-baggy-t-shirt combo. I'm still kind of hard to shop for because big-and-tall but I've realized a lot of my preconceptions were built around growing up as a poor kid and not really having anyone who knew anything about male fashion to steer me right.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:52 PM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: In that Sweet Spot In Between Proper and Provocative.
posted by Apropos of Something at 7:23 AM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Although it's probably a bit late in the thread, there's an article making the rounds on Hacker News and other places called "A Truth About the Glass Ceiling No One Wants to Talk About" which seems to bluntly confirm a lot of the same things that people have said in the thread:
"When it comes to men, there seems to be something of a minimum standard of hygiene and presentability, which once met, makes appearances more-or-less irrelevant to a hiring decision. With women, it's less binary. [...] it says something about our priorities when even among the upper echelons of business, a women's looks still play into her notoriety in a way they do not for a man."
The main argument of the essay is that by unevenly prioritizing physical attractiveness, the hiring process for women leads to worse outcomes even for the women who get hired, to say nothing of the more-qualified-but-less-attractive women who get pushed out of contention. It's a substantial claim and no, there's no actual data behind it, though it seems like it would be a really interesting research topic.

(My issues with it as a theory: it's not like there aren't factors unrelated to job performance that get factored into the male hiring process, and "attractiveness" in the sense of height, not being bald, etc. are huge factors for men. Also, how much of perceived "attractiveness" is good genetic luck, as the author seems to assume, vs. the most obvious signals of wealth and class, which men express differently and definitely factors into male hiring?)
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:54 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wear pants and flat shoes every single day. I don't know how to wear a skirt. I reject this set of rules because I will never, ever understand it.
posted by kostia at 6:48 PM on January 28, 2013


Sadly, rejecting the rules does not mean they are not being applied to you.
posted by maryr at 7:07 PM on January 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


I wear pants and flat shoes every single day. I don't know how to wear a skirt. I reject this set of rules because I will never, ever understand it.

1) As maryr said, rejecting the rules does not mean they are not being applied to you.

2) I said this upthread, but pants and flat shoes are part of the "rules" for men. They are only default and neutral in the sense that maleness is the default and neutral. There's nothing virtuous in adopting rules for men rather than women, or implying men's clothes are better, or wearing a skirt is a complicated thing that requires unnecessary know how.
posted by sweetkid at 8:12 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


As I understand it, there isn't much debate amongst podiatrists that flats are better, sweetkid. We should simply ban them from the workplace.

There is a minor learning curve to wearing a skirt or kilt without pockets, definitely my Scottish kilt required attention the first evening I wore it. I've experienced slightly more trouble with my utilikilt because the wonderfully large pockets are external contraptions that dislike airplane seats.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:41 AM on January 29, 2013


(craft publishing

I DON'T KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS is it books about needlefelted bunnies because that would be rad


elizardbits: craft publishing is indeed awesome, but it refers to small, independent publishing houses that do fancy things with typesetting, paper type, and bindings - at least, where I've heard the term before.)

posted by eviemath at 9:35 AM on January 29, 2013


Teenage Girl Blossoming Into Beautiful Object
posted by eviemath at 3:04 PM on January 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


That headline just screened Onion as soon as I saw it.
posted by Mezentian at 12:46 AM on January 31, 2013


Permission To Flirt
That said, I’ve read commentary on the image that has also struck a chord, specifically Lisa Wade’s spot-on post at Sociological Images about how Judgments pinpoints the constantly shifting boundaries of acceptable womanhood, and then relates that to something women are mocked for: all those darn clothes (you know women!). “[W]omen constantly risk getting it wrong, or getting it wrong to someone. … . Indeed, this is why women have so many clothes! We need an all-purpose black skirt that does old fashioned, another one to do proper, and a third to do flirty….” Wade’s main point is an excellent one, as it neatly sums up not only what’s fantastic about the image but why women do generally tend to have more clothes than men.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:20 AM on January 31, 2013


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