This week the news has been about whether the clothing worn by the first lady and the first daughter was appropriate for Tuesday's joint address to Congress. And all I could think about was how women were always reduced to their attire.
“Surely we have better things to do than tear a woman to pieces over a matter of fashion.” - Zelda, “Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald,(*affiliate link)” Episode 5, “The It Girl”
Clothing is not armor. But it is a prison. If only a woman wears the right thing, men won’t be tempted and bad things won’t happen.
What a woman wears or doesn’t wear should be her choice. Boxy suits can’t prevent unwanted touches at work. Jeans and a baggy t-shirt can’t prevent assault.
Two Lives--Two Very Different Wardrobes
I’ve lived two lives with my clothing: the wardrobe society deemed appropriate and the wardrobe that made my heart sing. If someone met me outside of work they were surprised. And if someone who read my blog met me at work they were surprised.
It never struck me as odd that my clothing told two tales, not one. You see when I started working there was still a dress code. Casual Friday meant sport coats or blazers for men instead of suits and pants—wool or corduroy but never jeans for women. And whatever women wore, it shouldn’t be distracting. We were expected to blend in, not stand out.
I spent most of my teenage and college years looking forward to the times I could dress up. At work, I wore boxy suits designed to hide the feminine form. And I looked forward to LARPing, Ren Fairs, and dances. For the twirly skirts. The lace. The flowing fabric. The petticoats.
Hope Amongst Fabric Scraps
I’ve always been enamored of ruffles, flowing skirts, lace, and fabric in general. I remember dumping a bag of fabric scraps my mom got from a friend out onto the living room floor and touching each piece of material. Categorizing by sight and by touch each item.
Later I would go back, time and time again, grabbing material to transform into clothes for my Fisher Price Adventure People. Adventure People led far more interesting lives than Barbie, going on Safari, exploring the sea, rescuing people, or reporting the news for television.
But with the exception of the journalist (who wore a skirt) and the sea explorer (who wore a one piece swimsuit) all wore pantsuits. Not that I had anything against pantsuits, I just thought it odd that “serious” women dressed like men.
So I created jumpers and dresses and "floor length" skirts for them out of remnants. Fashion I dreamed of wearing. Fashion I knew I could not wear.
Last weekend I picked up bags of fabric from a friend. The choice of fabrics took me back to my childhood. As I unfolded and folded the fabrics, ideas sprang forth, calling me to my sewing machine.
As the ideas flowed, I realized. Looking down at what I was wearing—a white flowing skirt that twirls when I spin, I saw that my wardrobe now celebrated femininity. And that made my heart sing. My wardrobe today reflects the clothes I made for my action figures years ago. And reflects my four year old self.
Credits: The first and last three images were taken by Eden Hensley Silverstein for The Road to the Good Life. The second photo is a personal photo. The two Downton Abbey-themed party photos were taken by Justin Hackworth for Alt Summit and used with permission. The three wedding photos were taken by Jessica Palopoli and used with permission.
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