Wearing Experience: On Clothing and the Body

This is going to be a bit lengthy for a personal post—not because I’m long-winded (though that’s certainly true), but because I’m genuinely interested to hear any women’s stories or insight into how you arrived at where you are now (with fashion, politics, anything really), and feel the best place to start is by offering my own journey. I was looking through a before/after radical feminism thread in a Facebook group and was loving all the pictures, but I wondered what else there was to the story.

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I have a feeling there’s not really any sort of sudden before/after shift in clothing for a lot of women—I know I dressed like a little gay girl when I was young (lots of sweat suits and hand-me-down denim jackets—basically I wanted to look how Mary Kate looked in How the West Was Fun), and this didn’t really change until I was 20 or so. I grew up going to Catholic school, so there were always uniforms, and any ‘free dress days’ we were offered I’d use to wear jeans and t-shirts my mom would buy me from the Target men’s section.

I didn’t really wear anything beyond those jeans and t-shirts until my sophomore year of college. That October, I was sexually assaulted at a party on another campus, and later that same October I started dating my best friend’s brother, a boy who had (about a year and a half prior) had sex with me without my consent (I know there’s a word for this, but I really only started looking at this experience through that lens within the past year and it still freaks me out). I transferred schools beginning the spring semester and began to buy dresses every now and then, and heels. I remember the first short dress I bought, and how vulnerable I felt with my legs exposed. It felt risky and for some reason that’s what I was looking for.

When I turned about 21 or so and was out of the previous relationship, I went through a phase where I bought anything that looked appealing on Etsy and would wear, like, cowboy boots with long skirts and weird flowing shirts. It was a strange time, but not unpleasant. I think I was trying to figure myself out again. After I started dating the next man, I wore skirts and dresses nearly every day for two years, whether I had classes or not. None of my clothes were what I’d call terribly repressive, but still I never wore just jeans and t-shirts.

About a month after that breakup (less a Gwyneth-style conscious uncoupling and more a Juliette-style mental unraveling), I met Emily. I was still in dresses and heels, though still didn’t really wear makeup. After we began dating, I started wearing makeup more and more frequently, and started dressing in a more extremely feminine way (higher heels, tighter skirts, etc.)—I was already a radical feminist but the clothing I wore out wouldn’t necessarily have reflected this. I honestly hate and distrust the version of me I was during this time most—not just because I was wearing clothing that didn’t reflect who I was, but also because I became a stranger to myself. I’m not sure looking back if I dressed like I did because I was coming out as a lesbian and so had to ‘make up’ for any lost femininity there, but it makes me wonder.

After a series of shitty events and after cutting multiple men out of my life, I started to dress as I do now—I work in an office, so often I’m wearing business casual type clothing, but on the weekends nine times out of ten I’m wearing jeans and t-shirts (the other time I’m wearing a mock neck).

Do any women out there (hello!) have similar patterns? Gender’s intersection with material culture is one of my all-time favorite things to discuss, and I’m particularly interested in how childhood, trauma, environment, religion, etc. play a part in shaping what we wear. Feel free to share stories, pictures, anything you feel might be relevant to the discussion. I appreciate you, and appreciate the perspective you have to offer.

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