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Women and Fashion: Who Do We Dress For?

I have a problem with the idea of fashion. On a smaller scale of everyday fashionistas, mini-bloggers, and people in my classes who look like they could walk into a magazine and belong there, I am fairly obsessed with style, fashion and makeup. I like wearing things that make me happy, that flatter my figure and make me look nice. I like poring over fashion blogs and Instagram’s, watching look-books on YouTube and asking people where they got that pretty shirt from, but my problem lies with fashion culture. 

I spent a while before writing this article looking at women around me. If you asked how they dressed, I would say it was with extreme precision.  Our casual maybe comfortable but its painstakingly spent hours upon, our winged eyeliner could fly, and our “messy buns” have YouTube tutorials that span nearly fifteen minutes long. I like this about us as women-kind, I like that no matter the occasion, we choose to look good for it. I like how we do this for ourselves, because we enjoy the feeling of looking beautiful, of pampering ourselves to new dresses and Mac lipsticks that are somewhat overpriced but worth every penny, of turning up somewhere in a neat blazer that makes us look effortless, business-like and gorgeous all in one. 

I do not like, however, that when a man and woman stand together to express their opinions, he is judged by the quality of his speech and she is judged by the price of her sweater. I do not like that we must, in the wise words of Cat Grant, “work twice hard as a man to be thought of as half as good” and that a lot of the criticism we face is due to how we dress. Too beautiful, and we are brainless, too sloppy and we are careless, too perfect and we must have wasted hours of our life in front of a mirror. 

What I don’t like about the culture surrounding fashion is that it assumes that women have nothing else to live for. I don’t like how it reduces us to the top buttons of our blouses, to the way we walk in heels, to how we look in jeans. I don’t like how fashion, which is meant to be a form of self-expression, is used to degrade and ridicule us. I do not like how men believe that they have a right to tell us what they think about how we look, or how we choose to dress. 

Every morning, I stand in front of a mirror and try to work out an outfit that pleases me. Looking my best allows me to work my best, because it makes me feel like I am doing something for myself. I live in a society where women are expected to be quiet and demure, but willful and strong too. I live in a society where my anger could be mistaken for hormones, and my tears could be mistaken for weakness. I live in a society where sometimes, looking good is the only thing in a day that I do for myself.  

This article took a different direction when I sat down to write it. I thought I would write about how we shouldn’t dress for the pleasure of others, before I realized that none of the women I know and look up to ever dress up for the pleasure of others. The women I know dress for themselves. They dress to impress themselves, they dress in whatever way they’re comfortable and each one of them is as beautiful as the last. 

The women I know are intelligent, and brave and honourable. They are witty and capable and much more than their physical attributes and the clothes they were. The women I know could run for President, run their own businesses, take care of their children, ace their courses, work 9 to 5’s, and they could take over the world, if they wanted to. The women I know are bold and beautiful and awe-inspiring and they are not defined by their outfits. 

We don’t owe the world our wardrobe, which is why we don’t dress for the world. We do, however, owe it women who are so confident in their abilities that they can make a difference to our society, whether they do it in dresses or rhinestone studded jumpsuits, or sweaters and sweatpants. What I choose to wear, or how I choose to look like, is not the sum total of my femininity and does not take away from my feminism. We do a lot for the world, and so we dress for ourselves. 

So, yeah, whatever, I do spend an hour on my makeup. I spend eighteen hours in class, six hours volunteering, ten hours working, and several hours helping out at home. If I need that one hour in my day to take care of myself, then I don’t think anyone has the right to make me feel wrong about it. 

English and Philosophy undergraduate at Ryerson, with a love of fiction, coffee and sunsets. Multicultural and forever dreaming of leaving a dent in the world of cultural literature.
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