Women’s clothing, or clothing for women?

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Words || Georgia Davies

‘Beauty is pain’ encapsulates a lot of images for women: the feeling of relief as you take your bra off and fling it to the corner of the room, or the sharp agony in your ankles as you peel off those too-tight trousers you bought because they made your legs look nice, and let’s not forget the heels that have cut off any circulation you had left over from those skinny jeans.

From a young age, this message is embedded into the minds of young women. It is not just in our hairstyles, grooming and skin that we must exercise painful, and unnecessary, routines. It is in every element of the way we dress. It is this clothing that is not designed for all women. No matter your size, unless you can afford fully tailored outfits, there is no perfect pair of jeans or top that is truly designed for you to wear.

To the naysayers that argue that women should shop elsewhere or wear things that are gender neutral: you’re right. Unequivocally and completely. Those who identify with a particular gender, or none, may and should wear whatever they please. However, the rigid constructs from society about what is expected for those that identify as women definitely still exist. High-heeled shoes, make-up and fitted blouses are still often the pick of the day for HR departments. In 2017, the United Kingdom rejected a ban for “sexist dress codes”. Women can now, at the risk of contract termination, be forced to wear high heels for the sake of beauty.

This brings to the forefront of what separates women’s clothing from clothing for women.
Clothing for women is anything. Everything. Wide, unisex t-shirts and boxers and skinny jeans. Women can wear any piece of clothing and it is for women by virtue of their ability to wear it. However, women’s clothing is a convention very much stitched into the fabric of our society. It is, even by legal legislation, a requirement for women to adhere to certain clothing restrictions and styles in daily life.

Women’s clothing is gendered, specific clothing made for women. But not all women. Women of all shapes and sizes are discriminated against through fashion that is largely funded and designed without consultation of the women who may buy these products. With jeans fundamentally based on an arbitrary size, rather than length and measurement, women are squared into a box that they may never have fit into in the first place. Many women have some form of abdominal fat (one of the most common areas that fat gathers in people with uteruses) or fat that is stored in the lower half of their body. This is healthy, natural and occurs in women of any size. Yet jeans ‘for women’ are often unyielding on the waist with larger legs for larger waist sizes. This does not reflect a vast proportion of bodies and does not allow women to find clothing that is both comfortable and practical.

Likewise, the bra industry also suffers from heavy discrimination. Women with larger breasts often complain about paying double for a bra which is barely comfortable. The availability of women’s clothing does not cater for all ‘women’, merely for those sizes it has deemed desirable and most marketable. With bras integral to the comfort and mobility of some women, the lack of suitable options is clearly an issue. Here, the clothing designated ‘for women’ does not actually reflect the clothing that they want and need.

The question of why uncomfortable clothing persists is an interesting one. The lack of legislation regarding employee requirements may play a role. Why design comfortable and loose work wear when most female employees are not allowed to wear it?

This has implications regarding self-esteem and self-worth. Taking off jeans which may only fit half of your body, or a bra which can leave you in agony, does nothing for self-love. It is the propagation of these clothes as ‘the norm’ which prevent women from wearing what they may like. Returning to the concept that it should be women’s clothing rather than clothing

There are emerging brands hoping to tackle this. ASOS featured a Paralympic athlete, Chloe Ball-Hopkins, who specifically designed clothing that is accessible for people with disabilities. This is a step in the right direction in manufacturing clothes that are actually designed to be worn by women of all body types. Equally, the emergence of more accurate jean sizing, where women can find specific measurements rather than arbitrary numbers, is helping us to finally find jeans which look, and feel, good. There is plenty of work to be done in making women’s clothing fully wearable but at least it’s a recognised issue.

Finally, to those that will respond saying men have to wear ties to work: fair enough. But next time you feel your neck constrained by an annoying bit of fabric, remember that women’s fashion can have implications beyond lack of comfort. Ill-fitting bras can cause hunching of the neck or back to help alleviate the pain from the unsupported weight. Skinny jeans can cause pressure on the abdomen and thighs, leading to blood clots or exacerbated cases of heartburn. High heels have been purported to affect spinal alignment, foot health and even hip alignment. Ties are certainly uncomfortable, but at least they aren’t killing you.

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