“A rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.” Nice sentiment, Shakespeare, but far from the truth. Appearance is everything nowadays, especially for women. This was further highlighted by this week’s British Fashion Awards and the Victoria’s Secret annual show this week. Promoting women as ‘angels’ and following on from the controversy about their “perfect body” advertising campaign, Victoria’s Secret spread its wings further and asked that journalists not ask questions about feminism during its press conference. A multi-billion dollar company putting on a huge stage show of women dressed as angels in their underwear and the company believes that issues of feminism don’t come into the equation at all? To borrow from Shakespeare again, “something wicked this way comes.”
How many male supermodels can you think of? Yes, Romeo Beckham’s turn for Burberry this year did make us all feel really old and also a bit in awe of the powerhouse genetic combo that Posh and Becks clearly have. Any more? Now think how many female supermodels can you think of? The list goes on and on, from Twiggy and Lisa Fonssagrives, through to Janice Dickinson, “The body” (Elle Macpherson), Waris Dirie, Tatjana Patitz, Gisele Bündchen, Naomi Campbell, and the obvious one, Kate Moss. Females and fashion have always been an equation that makes sense in our society. But the implications are not always as positive as the smiling angels of Victoria’s Secret would have us believe.
The ‘Free the nipple’ campaign highlights the gender divide that exists in fashion. Women’s nipples are seen too as linked to sexual acts to be seen on Instagram, or in public in general. Men on the other hand can walk around topless in summer to their hearts’ content. They could do it in winter too, but I guess it is a bit too cold for it to be enjoyable. I wouldn’t know. I’m a woman so me going completely topless down the high street would be against the Public Order Act in the UK whatever the season. But fashion is not part of our DNA; there is no biological reason for difference when it comes down to clothing. Scottish men should not have a cultural monopoly on wearing skirts (come on Scots, you know that is what kilts are. And good on you for wearing them!), it should be culturally acceptable to have a man wear a fabulous dress down the street without turning heads, being attacked, or questions being asked about their sexual preferences.
However fashion in the West emphasises biological difference. Women are praised for hourglass figures, for nipped-in waists, and inconceivably large boobs. It’s not for nothing that the Photoshopped image of Kim Kardashian’s bare ass was chosen to try to “break the internet.” Even pop stars like Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Britney, and Madonna emphasize their feminine bodies by wearing as few clothes as possible when they perform. The current trend for wearing leotards, high-waisted pants, and cropped tops while performing on stage is a clear example of this. By doing so they are not only continuing to say “hey! I’m a woman,” but are also promoting vulnerability. Think about it. Clothing provides a barrier between the external world and our bodies.
We wear clothes to keep warm, dry, and to protect ourselves from changes in temperature and weather. By wearing fewer clothes, we are then using less of a barrier and are less protected. It doesn’t take a genius to equate wearing a tiny dress while clubbing in the middle of winter in the Northern hemisphere with the potential of getting very, very cold and in all likeliness falling ill. The male version of classic sexiness is a well cut suit, something which covers the whole body for maximum protection and would definitely stand up to the chill of a night out in winter. Clearly men don’t operate under the same cultural expectations as women, take for instance the Australian news presenter, Karl Stefanovic, who wore the same suit to work for a year while his female co-stars were changing outfits virtually every day. Even kids face a gender divide in clothing. Slogans like “I only date superheroes” for girls and “Future man of steel” for boys are commonplace. And let’s face it, it’s pretty hard to climb a tree while wearing a skirt.
Girls by the clothing they are expected to wear are expected to behave in a certain way and it is a way that places them as unequal to, and more vulnerable than, men. K. J. Yesuda, and Indian singer, stated in October of this year that “women should not trouble others by wearing jeans” and he’s hardly the first person to blame women for the racy ideas that go through men’s heads when they see what we’re wearing. Clothes do not necessarily dictate what our inner mood is. What we wear is really not any indication of whether or not we are ‘up for it’ or ‘asking for it,’ but these implications are often seen by people to be there and this is due to the emphasis on vulnerability, and sexualization that occurs in a lot of Western fashion. Women can be, and sadly have been, sexually assaulted while wearing anything from tracksuits to niqabs.
Clearly gender does not need to dictate our clothing style, and we would be better off as a society if we stopped equating dress with sex. Even Margaret Thatcher took pointers from male versions of dress, relying on suits with broader shoulders to deliberately mimic the male form and to mask the fact that she was a woman in order to maintain her political power. Today numerous articles tell women “how to be taken seriously in the boardroom.” “Their advice is largely to “dress like a man.” However, this has not always been the case worldwide. Traditional Japanese dress was largely the same for both sexes, as was Chinese traditional dress of robes which were thrown out of fashion by Sun Yat-Sen in the 1900s.
Let’s get back to basics and enjoy fashion for what it is, regardless of gender. To be honest, it must be pretty boring being a boy and feeling unable to wear a gorgeous twirly skirt to work in the office just because you fancy a day feeling the breeze around your legs. As a man, you shouldn’t need to be in drag to feel like you can pull off wearing a dress if that’s what you want to do. You should be able to wear stereotypically female clothing without feeling the need to fully mimic being a woman. And by the same token women should still feel empowered without suppressing their female form to get ahead in the workplace. In the meantime, I’m seriously considering following the example of an ex-housemate of mine and becoming a nudist. But only indoors, realistically; Britain is too cold at this time of year!
Title image source: www.improvisedlife.com