Clothes. A source of creativity, fun, and expression for some. For others (me) a source of anxiety, confusion, and frustration.
There’s no doubt that the way you dress is really important. First impressions count, and clothes communicate to people who we are, and what matters to us. Some dress rules are very obvious, bikinis are only for the beach, black at a funeral, wedding guests don’t wear white. Everything else which isn’t blindingly obvious is nebulous and weird and subject to change at a moment’s notice in the name of fashion. Rules for men seem fairly simple. Are you dressing up? Wear a tie. I suppose you could fret about the colour of your tie, if you really really wanted, but sometimes they even tell you on the dress code, how much more simple could it get? I once went to a black tie dinner at college with my husband. I knew what he was meant to wear, but what about me? Luckily my sister swooped in to save the day by lending me a dress (it was black. I still don’t know if black tie means women should also wear black, or if that was a co-incidence). Things get tricky even for guys if you start saying it’s ‘smart casual’, and let’s not even get started on what on earth non-binary people are meant to do. I once spent the best part of a month aggressively googling WHAT IS SMART CASUAL when I had the occasion to visit a gentleman’s club*. It was during a more butch period of my life, and I can’t tell you how little help ‘for men, a suit, for woman a skirt’ is when neither seem really apply.
I happen to be thinking about clothes a lot recently, because I will soon be starting a job as a healthcare assistant. This will be the first job I’ve had since Tescos as a 16 year old which will be ‘customer facing’, and also the first job I’ve had where jeans and a t-shirt won’t cut it. My first ‘real’ job was as an animal technician, where we wore scrubs and a lab coat or surgical gown all day. It was absolutely glorious. Scrubs are the most comfortable clothes on the planet. In the lab, clothing requirements are safety based. No long flowing garments to get caught in equipment, no heels (but loads of women wear them anyway), no bare legs sticking out of lab coats to get acid burns (but I absolutely have worn shorts in summer, the air con in labs never works!). My ‘smart’ clothes consist of a few bits and pieces I picked out for job interviews or graduation, and all seem to be black and white and make me look like I’m in my old school uniform. I went to Primark and managed to discover that basically all blouses pull open at the bust, and that polyester £5 trousers are not really a bargain, as you rip them up in itchy frustration the first time you wear them. I came home, despairing, to find a wonderful letter telling me to make an appointment with the sewing room to get fitted for a uniform. Blessed relief!
There must be people out there who absolutely relish putting together an outfit that says ‘I am a competent healthcare professional’ or ‘let me have a referendum’.** I am very much not one of those people. It’s not that I don’t like clothes, per se. I have a pinterest account, after all. I happily collect images of pastel goth, lolita and fairy kei. I don’t know if I could stand the fussiness of so many accessories and lace on my actual person, but I like to think you can see my taste in what I do wear (lots of colours and things with unicorns on). Likewise, I use clothes to communicate with people. In the aforementioned butch phase I cut my hair off, and wore men’s t-shirts over a sports bra to flatten the boobs out. What I don’t like, and find frustrating, is that this language of clothes is so subjective that someone can easily misunderstand what I am trying to say. I had a guy at work come up to me and my short hair, and tell me that I was “confused about my gender” (no love, I’m queer, I’ve thought plenty about my gender and I’m really not confused by it). Lolitas are constantly having to explain that they are not trying to dress like children, and their clothes are not a kink. Girls are raped because their clothes were ‘asking for it’. Oh, I’m sorry, did this suddenly get really serious? Well, it is. It’s a scary world where you get judged by a language you don’t understand. And it’s not like I haven’t TRIED to understand. I’ve read the ladies’s mags, read ‘how to be chic and elegant’, and I guess I know that my shape is a pear and stripes will make me look thin, but… when is too much cleavage too much? When are tight jeans too tight? What exactly IS the correct hemline if you want to do CPR without flashing your knickers (a friend and I went on a shopping quest to find her this holy grail of skirts; we failed). What are you to do when it seems all the shops sell are clothes to make your T&A bigger, but for god’s sake please don’t wear a sports bra it might upset the misogynists. So, thank god for uniforms. And for jeans and t-shirts or possibly dresses with unicorns on for ALL OTHER OCCASIONS.
* it was for the annual meeting of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, to get my full nerd out.
**I feel like everything that needs to be said about the piece of sexist tripe that was Legs-it has already been said, so I’m not devoting blog lines to it. I’m talking about this, in case you are wondering (warning link to Daily Fail).