Females go through life shedding our clothes, ecdysiasts or not. We add and subtract clothes usually based on the vagaries of the male-dominated design industry, which set the standards for the images we absorb through television and films. These ‘ideals’ are then indiscriminately reinforced by our family and friends. And that is not to mention social media, which, despite the illusion of being cutting edge, is often just the same old patriarchal story told in a more hip way.
When I was a teenager girls were not allowed to wear slacks to school. This was a serious hardship growing up in Boston where the temperatures plunged to 0 on a regular basis and snow was to be expected anytime between Labor Day and Easter. But Puritan propriety decreed that slacks were inappropriate for females even in the 1960s. Finally at the end of my high school career girls were allowed to wear pants TO school—under our skirts—but had to take them off in the locker room. Presumably that prevented girls from feeling too liberated and unencumbered!
Then there was the ‘foundation garment’ phase. Young girls were excited to get our first bra and girdle; that is until we actually had to wear them all day. Some femmes might get used to a bra but for butch women the tendency of bras to ‘point and shoot’ like a Madonna costume rather than simply support was a dilemma. This was before sports bras obviously.
But girdles were another thing all together. The only girls who got used to girdles were those who didn’t ‘need’ one. If you were already slender with no fleshy bits a girdle was just a snug, rubber thing under your clothes. For anyone who was not a size 5, girdles were a torture chamber squeezing your ‘unsightly bulges’ into puffs that rubbed each other, creating chafing rashes on your thighs. They seem to have resurfaced cleverly re-branded as Spanx.
Even worse were garter belts…again designed for the miniscule. The skin rubbed raw whenever I had to wear one to hold up stockings.
But then panty hose walked into our lives. They may be one male design with some merit. They keep you warm and prevent chafing and made wearing miniskirts keep me from feeling like a Times Square hooker. (All due respect to those ladies of the evening!) During college I loved panty hose! Even though they rarely came in sizes large enough for a girl wearing size 16…anything. Once I found a manufacturer who made them that ‘large’ I bought out the store. But I was never able to find any of those really cool ones with the woven designs.
After college I dropped panty hose and wore tights. They more often came in the sizes that fit full size women (that’s size 14-16, who are actually the majority). Although, again, these rarely came in the cool psychedelic designs. But still, living in the northeast warmth was important when I chose to wear a skirt. And, of course, we wore those frilly neck pieces that were meant to represent a tie but made professional women look less scary to men.
By the time I moved to the West Coast panty hose and tights had gone the way of the shoulder pad. But by now, of course, I could wear pants to work! Maxi skirts did become fashionable and do keep you warm in the winter. They also appealed to my inner romanticism…evoking the elegant women’s clothing of 1940s…re-enter the shoulder pad. In my head I could be Joan Crawford or Dorothy Dandridge wearing one of those exquisite suits that featured what are now called ‘pencil’ skirts.
By then I’d ditched the mini skirt as totally impractical for anything other than walking a fashion runway…which hardly ever happened to me!
By then I’d shed high heels. Cursed with the invention of Barbie (sadly by a woman) whose permanently deformed foot would only fit into extreme high heels, women learned that heels were the way to make your legs look alluring. So I wore them, if I could find a pair that was relatively comfortable. Sometimes that meant stuffing them with inner soles to keep from grimacing in pain as I tried to look alluring…which sounds like something you do with bait.
But I ditched heels for practical shoes…or as they’re called when we lesbians wear them: sensible shoes. Over time these shoes have come to look less like corrective footwear. After Doc Martin boots opened up the fashion world to clunky, companies started making bright and fashionable shoes that didn’t pinch your toes or keep you off balance or feel like the cement sidewalk was inside the shoe with you.
Of course, styles recycle themselves. Once released from the prison of required corsets, women began to notice that maybe the look was sexy. I currently have several corsets that I love to wear for parties…which means about 4 hours. But if I were forced to wear one all day as our great grandmothers were (I used to help lace mine into hers!) I’d be a homicidal maniac.
Then the advent of stretch fabric has made many clothes more fun to wear, the ubiquitous jeans feel so much better when they’re not made of something that feels like lathe and plaster.
And I love wearing ankle socks. I have a wonderfully sexy picture of my grandmother in the 1940s when silk was impossible to find because of the needs of World War II. In the photograph she wears a great dress and ankle sox that showed the curve of her calf so deliciously I knew who I wanted to grow up to be. And what could be more comfortable. Capris length pants, another specialty of my grandmother, have come back as a favourite of mine, again because they’re comfortable and show your ankles nicely.
Now that I’m retired I see that over time I’ve dumped a world of couture choices including almost all of my ‘foundation’ garments! I realized I’m the foundation and I can adorn it anyway way I want. Girls grow up imprisoned by images of what’s attractive that were created by male designers, mothers brainwashed by their fashion magazines, TV shows and their adolescent school friends. It doesn’t mean that short skirts are horrible, just that a girl should learn she doesn’t HAVE to wear one to be a woman. This is not a trivial choice; it affects who we think we are, how powerful or how powerless.
I must give credit where it’s due, though. The sweat suit has become one of my favorite items of clothing (although never when taking an airplane flight…too tacky). It’s practical for working at home, stretchy, warm, usually comes in a lot of sizes and colors. It was probably designed by men since it was created for use by athletes and everyone knows women don’t do sports.