Fashion is meant to be about creativity and freedom and expressing yourself. So why does it feel so much like oppression sometimes? The minute you walk out of your house the clothes you wear represent you to the world, but more importantly the clothes you are allowed to wear represent what the world thinks about you. Not everyone is allowed to have everything. Not everyone is allowed to express themselves through fashion. There are a number of ways that fashion is used to discriminate against women, against POCs, against non-binary people, against Muslims. For some people, nothing is offered at all, for others only limited selection, and for some others the things that they are expected to wear are also the thing that gets them in trouble.
Fashion is Political, representation matters
The launch of Fenty beauty this month proved a couple of things: representation matters and you can’t fake it. Rihanna’s beauty line hit the market with 40 foundation shades including an Unheard of amount for people with darker skin tones. Retailers quickly sold out of the darker shades, belying the oft repeated idea among major beauty brands that dark shades wouldn’t sell. Until now, most brands have opted for a range of light skinned colours but have stuck to only a handful of darker colour. As soon as Rihanna’s brand launched though, other brands were quick to jump on that bandwagon.
The internet wasn’t having it, poking fun at brands like Kylie Cosmetics, Estee Lauder and Marc Jacobs who began posting dark skinned models on their Instagram pages, advertising newly created darker foundation tones. While these new offerings might make the cut for some, for many it’s too little too late. Where were these brands, many who have been around for quite a while, when dark skinned makeup users asked for shades before? several studies have proved that people of colour are edging out white people in terms of growth in the job market and by 2050 (according to the centre for American progress) only about 49 per cent of the US population will identify as white. For some reason, in spite of these facts, companies have previously decided there was no money to be made by providing a range of darker makeup colours.
Body Shaming is real
How many times have you seen a plus-sized woman on the cover of a magazine? It’s very rare, and even more rare was Ashley Graham’s Sports Illustrated cover. Plus-sized woman are considered to be outside of the norm. Even the words ‘plus-sized’ themselves imply that extra must be done to include these women. In many cases that extra is not done. Many stores don’t carry any clothes over size 12. In 2013, Mike Jeffries, former CEO of popular retail chain Abercrombie said he didn’t want bigger women wearing the clothes, and that’s why his company wouldn’t be making them.
For manufacturers that do make ‘plus-sized’ clothing, often what’s available in store is not what you’re expecting. There isn’t just a couple of size 14 jeans on the rack. They tend to be on their own rack, hidden away at the back of the store with far less selection, pattern options, or colours. What is this saying to plus-sized women? We want to keep you at the back, where no one can see you.
The fact is, what is considered average in an advertisement is not the reality of an average size woman. According to a study released at the end of 2016 by the International Journal of Fashion design, Technology, and Education, the average woman wears a size 16-18, which places them firmly in the ‘plus’ section of the average retailer.
Why is it called a ‘Pantsuit’ when a woman wears it?
You might have noticed Hillary Clinton’s wardrobe during the 2016 presidential election. Bright coloured pantsuits contrasted sharply with Republican candidate Trump’s plain dark suits. Could Clinton have worn the same dark colours every day as Trump did? If she had, it’s likely she would have been called lazy, or not dressing the part. She was held to the standard of a first lady, rather than of a presidential candidate. What she did wear, the pantsuit, is another matter altogether. Clinton’s suits were mocked as much as any other part of her political campaign. What is the difference though, between her suits and Trumps? Nothing. They both wear pants and a matching jacket, probably a shirt underneath.
So why is it called a pantsuit when a woman wears it? When I asked this question of my social media followers they said it was to distinguish a suit with pants from a suit with a skirt, which seems like an obvious thing. But isn’t the skirt the thing that is unusual? So then is it just called a pantsuit to point out that a woman is wearing it, to separate them from the men around them whose suits are just suits?
Why can’t I have pockets?
Shopping for jeans is a nightmare. If you want something that fits you have to try on 40 different pairs, probably get them altered, and then in less than a year the cut will go out of style and you’ll be expected to buy something else. By far the worst part though is not being able to find a pair that has real pockets. Back pockets are pretty much a wash for women. Most of them are just fabric stuck to the butt of the pants. Why though, are we not allowed to have front pockets that fit more than a quarter and a chapstick?
The general idea is that in years past women did not need them. What would a woman want to put in a pocket? She didn’t have any money and she never needed to go anywhere on her own (meaning: without a man), so what would she need a pocket for? Now, the overwhelming answer is this: To sell handbags. I think we’ve all seen a man pull out his wallet and it’s dull and faded, ripped or worn through, and it looks like it’s been in that pocket for the last decade. Women apparently do not have that option. Instead, we buy handbags into which we throw everything we own from makeup to car keys.
Women are not allowed to be comfortable
Are you ‘basic’? Do you like leggings and top knots, ugg boots, and pumpkin spice lattes? You are now officially the object of derision. Just by being comfortable, a woman is told that she didn’t try hard enough to be impressive to the world around her. Telling a woman how hard she has to try just to go to a lecture, get a coffee, or do her groceries points out that she is in fact not a person. She is a piece of scenery, meant to be looked at and admired by those around her. She is an object. All that matters is how she looks, not how comfortable or not she is.
‘Let’s Talk About’ is a weekly column about major social issues affecting Brock students and the community at large. We seek to hear from everyone in the community about the issues that affect them personally. If you have an issue that you’d like to write about, including feminist issues, LGBTQ+ issues, racism, sexism, ableism, etc., please send us your opinions. For submissions and guidelines for publication, please inquire at firstname.lastname@example.org.