The Lady Garden

Tea and Strumpets

What men love about fashion – getting to decide what we wear!

Thank you, Stuff, for another piece of enlightening journalism. This time it’s not parents trying to force patient-client confidentiality out the window in their children’s reproductive health, instead it’s a look at What Men Love About Fashion.

Except it’s not, actually. It’s not asking male commenters for their favourite places to purchase jeans, or how men can keep stylish and warm in the winter months. It’s actually a piece of thinly-veiled body policing aimed at making yet another ‘kiwi women need to dress better’ jab.

Fashion PR consultant Paul Bloomfield says “Perhaps women believe black is slimming or they’re influenced by the All Black’s jersey but whatever the reason, black is a default mechanism. It’s time women got out of black. It’s all about colour for me.”

The piece, clearly looking forward to the usual sparkling comments on Stuff articles, then asks commenters: “So what do men think of the way Kiwi women dress? Tell us about the outfit in your partner’s wardrobe that you love – or the piece of clothing you would throw out if you could.”

The comments, as always, are both progressive and heartening:

• Clothes don’t maketh the woman.. its her measurements underneath that count..

• i think most women get it wrong in nz, especially the ones in their 20’s. their idea of fashion is wearing low cut tops, short cocktail dresses and stiletto’s.. it looks so tacky and desperate, but equally ‘thick’ men lap it up. i respect a girl who can put an outfit together with modesty in mind, and look a million dollars without having to look like some quasi-street-worker. subtlety is key.

• omg guys it’s fashion! Either don’t give a toss or hand in your Man Card. There can be no middle ground.

As far as I’m concerned this is just another reflection of what I like to call ‘gift culture’. Women and girls are told that we need to present ourselves in certain ways in order to be desirable to men who receive us. Our sexualities and sexual experiences (or ideally lack thereof) are presented as gifts, waiting to be taken.

Our bodies, clothes, personalities and demeanours must be as inoffensive to men as possible while accentuating our ‘desirable’ features and hiding those ‘imperfections’. We must be both alluring and meek, liberated and modest. One commenter hit the nail on the head with: “… the only thing I like about fashion is taking it off, It’s like unwrapping a present, I figure it adds to the enjoyment.”

When I talk about gift culture I often get a ‘Oh but it’s not as bad as it used to be’ response. Which is frankly bullshit. It might not be as obvious as it used to be, but it’s actually gotten worse. Now women have to contend with the mixed messaging of being liberated but not ‘too liberated’, confident but not ‘too confident’.

A recent study by a PHD student from the University of Queensland employed a 6 month subscription of Cleo and Cosmopolitan magazines to analyse the messaging given to readers as young as 13*. The overwhelming conclusion was that all aspects of the magazine were covertly framed as ways to ignite (or keep) male interest. Even the fashion sections are ‘How to look like girlfriend material’ / ‘What men think women look the best in’ etc.

I realise for some readers this will be a “Yeah duh, I haven’t read Cosmo in xx years and Stuff is almost always problematic”, but I still don’t think this sort of analysis has gained enough awareness. So basically I am never going to stop talking about it, sorry. And although we would all like to think that the worst Stuff commenters are a vocal minority of uninformed trolls, the points being made in this article are sentiments most women have been hearing ever since our parents first dressed us.

When Stuff frame this article as ‘men love you in these kinds of clothes’, they are actually permeating gift culture in the cuddliest way possible. When they include an analysis of what women shouldn’t be wearing, they are body policing. And when they allow the comments to devolve into slut-shaming vs creeps maintaining their boners, they are exposing ever-present and all-permeating harmful attitudes toward women and their freedom of expression. Not to mention how overtly misogynistic, heteronormative and homophobic half of the comments are.

Thank God for commenter ‘Cynical’ who sums up my response entirely:

“Oh thank goodness – if I didn’t know how men would want me to dress, I’m not sure I’d make it out the door. Thank you, Stuff, for your enlightening, forward thinking journalism.”

*Family Planning Conference 2010

4 responses to “What men love about fashion – getting to decide what we wear!

  1. lessonstobelearned462 June 1, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    The problem with these kinds of articles is that women are never going to get it right. Women are never going to be able to dress the way every single tacky magazine suggests that they should. I think that women may as well quit while they are ahead, and dress the way they want to. If we stop trying live up to men’s expectations it means that we can set our own tone. And they are going to have to deal with it. It should not be our problem, but these magazines make it our problem. If men don’t like the way women dress, tough.

  2. tallulahspankhead June 2, 2011 at 9:19 am

    In fairness to Stuff, for once, they are being equal opportunity offensive.

    “He can be balding and paunchy. And when he looks in the mirror he doesn’t see balding and paunchy, he sees taut, trim and terrific.”

    Because God forbid a man in his 40s thinks he looks good.

    [ETA: Oh, wait, it’s the Herald. As you were.]

  3. LadyNews June 2, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    I was already on the defensive after reading the original opinion piece – maybe I was being reactionary but it felt like the writer was going “look at my awesome fiancee who knows how to wear wacky and out-there clothing combinations and is so daring; she’s nothing like the rest of those clones in their pencil skirts who want to wear boring traditional wedding dresses, ugh”. Bro, I like pencil skirts, and don’t own a silver onesie. Don’t hate. It doesn’t make me (or other people who also don’t wear silver onesies) “clones”, it just means we have a different personal preference in our choice of attire. I was quite resentful of his division between people who are fashionable and risk-takers and the rest of us schlubs who obviously are just regurgitating our fashion opinions from Glassons catalogues.

    And then the second article (that you mention in this post) just added to my ire – all the comments whining about how NZ women wear so much black (probs ‘cos we were told it was slimming, amirite?!?!) and how boring and drab it is. Maybe I should write a counter post where I praise my boyfriend for being so different to the rest of the striped-shirted sheep out there and make sure they know they are boring and unadventurous because they don’t wear suede pants or something.

    Blarg. Rant over.

  4. Katherine June 3, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    But don’t forget that it isn’t MEN pressuring us to dress or look a certain way, it’s WOMEN that do that to each other! Men love women to have a NATURAL look. /end sarcasm.

    As soon as an article comes out with women’s points of view on how much time they *have* to spend ensuring they look up to standard, all the commenters are all over the above comment (never mind that it is policing and pressuring in its own way). Never mind that heaps of them post policing comments on articles like the one you mention above.

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