What would happen if you took two men’s fashion trends, gave them to women and then laced them with the good old fashioned patriarchy? Well, you would come out with high heels and tiny pockets. Yes, you heard that right. Let me spin you a tale of how practical items became impractical the moment they started making them for women. Well, alright, so not always entirely practical until women started wearing them, but very close to that.
What do you think about when I say “high heels”? Maybe you think about catwalks, clubs or sexy women, though some might be thinking about a butchery in Ancient Egypt. That’s right, that famed and fiendish fashion accessory may have been used by Egyptian butchers in the middle of the second millennium BC to keep their feet from getting all bloody and gross. It wasn’t until perhaps (as the whole history is rather fuzzy) the European Renaissance that the cursed shoe became a full blown fashion statement, only this time it was worn by both males and females as a status symbol. Presumably, the aristocracy did not really need the mobility. In more modern eras, the use of heels for men died and became a full blown female trend getting higher and higher and thinner and thinner. Ancient heels can hardly compare to the 8-inch weapons some women have in their closets. The main problem with heels is that standing in them for more than two hours (sometimes only one hour or even thirty minutes) causes extreme pain to your poor foot and most likely blisters to boot. Recent studies also suggest that frequent wear weakens certain muscles and cause walking on flat feet to be painful. Though we’d like to believe we are beyond the primitive toxic ways of beauty (things like arsenic in dress dyes and lead in face powders) how can we think of high heels as any different? And while you may think that it’s a choice, I can assure you there is nothing more pressure filled than wearing flats to a very fancy event. Sure, you can, but it is often seen as about the same as wearing a flannel shirt to the Oscars. In other words, sometimes the unspoken requirement is more powerful than any written rule.
Speaking of unwritten rules, when was one developed that said that women’s pockets must be miniscule? Did I miss the memo? Yes, this is a famed issue among the female community, but let me spell out a disgusting history for you. In the eighteenth century, pockets for women were just pouches that they sewed into the under lining of their dress. They were for “private matters.” It wasn’t until the 1700s rolled around that elaborately embroidered pouches became all the rage until the Victorian era brought us our first purses. Grecian fashion was hot and pockets would have “ruined” those sleek column dresses. Our history of women’s pockets picks back up in the 1930s when women were helping with the war effort and started wearing men’s pants to better withstand the work. These pants, obviously, possessed large pockets. But lo, how the good do fall. When manufacturers began to make pants for women they decided that they were aiming for a “slim” look and practicality died when the place to put your phone was downgraded to a tiny hole in your pants. Once again, fashion made things inconvenient for women just for the sake of aesthetics.
The problematic trend in all this is what I really aim to illustrate. In both of these instances the thing itself was practical or at least significant until it was made “for” women. What we have clearly illustrated is the thought that women will choose style over practicality and therefore the focus should always be on style. But the flawed reasoning there is the lack of choice. These “styles” limit our mobility and ability to function as regular human beings. But what is style when it comes to women’s clothes? Why do we want to eliminate our pockets to look skinnier and wear high heels to make our butts look good? Really the only common denominator there is sex appeal and the only common denominator (in our heteronormative society) is men. I know, real original for a feminist piece on clothing to end at the patriarchy, it’s been done, I know. But regardless of whether you believe the overwhelming evidence of female oppression in so many spheres and in so many different ways, you must admit that when it comes to convenience, male clothing wins every time. In asking oneself why that is, how can we not question why our first assumption about women in making these clothes would be that they do not need useful pieces other than a frivolous looking bag? These choices, however small, have real world impact. If we paid more attention to the little things, the small details that we so often fail to question, we might find ourselves seeing the big picture much clearer than we ever did before. Clothing is not always just a piece of fabric when you do not take anything for granted.