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The Right to Wear Whatever You Want

In late May after having watched the fashion show of the students graduating from DASH, the Design and Architecture Senior High School of Miami, I mentioned to a group of women that I always wanted to keep a daily log of what I wore and who saw me wearing that outfit just so I wouldn’t wear the very same outfit around those people. I was then asked what I thought of Arianna Huffington who advocated women’s right to wear the same clothes just like men did. I replied that as a feminist, of course I believe and support —always—that women have the right to wear whatever they want. And that most importantly we can’t expect a uniform way of acting or behaving from all women. Everybody is different. Everybody deserves respect no matter what. I will defend the right of the woman who doesn’t want to wear the same outfit to a meeting just as I would defend another’s right/desire to wear the same outfit everywhere. We are all different. And in fact no woman should be critical of another woman because of what they are wearing. And we can’t expect men to not judge us if we don’t start doing this ourselves first.

But this also reminded of something I had seen on a YouTube post of a Turkish anchorwoman I follow on Instagram who had mentioned that once, years ago, she wanted to wear the same jacket on her nightly newscast and how much resistance she received from the network and the general public for that matter.

Overall this is an issue, that we are judged by what we wear and what we look like, and this is done by everybody all over the world. And women spend so much of their time and energy on what to wear than most men do -most but not all, my father for example, always had the desire to dress well and not repeat himself. Here is another angle: years ago at a dinner I had to accompany my husband to where four men who had come with their young, beautiful model-like girlfriends all dressed up in the form-fitting short dresses and the impossible to walk in high heels, I wanted to talk to the man sitting next to me. He was the only man that came alone, a cardiovascular surgeon, who didn’t want to talk to me. He wasn’t even looking at me, and I understand he deemed me unimportant and not smart at all, probably assuming that I was the good-looking wife of a man, and seemed to find my questions of trying to make conversation redundant and ridiculous. The two other men sitting across were not talking either and were more interested in checking out the people around. At one point I asked the surgeon if he had ever lived out of the US, to which he replied, "yes", that he had lived in Hungary. And I asked why he lived there and why he left, and he said, in exasperation, “Well, because the revolution happened and my whole family had to leave.” I said, ”But that was in 1956, you must have been a kid, do you really remember being there?” At that moment, the surgeon, and the two other men turned to look at me, for the first time, in interest or rather in disbelief. It was shocking for them to find out that a well dressed woman knew the year that the Hungarian Revolution started. Clearly, I was dressed as if I would know nothing about history.

I understand a lot of feminists are expected to have a certain look, a non-objectifying look. A look that would deter them from being seen as objects of desire to be owned or consumed or bought. But I am now delighted that millennials and Gen-Z are all about girl power and looking sexy and dressed up—because you dress up for yourself, you yourself feel sexy this way, more importantly you feel powerful like this—whereas my generation and those before had caused this drift among women: if you are into your looks too much, with hair done, lots of makeup, fashionable, then you are not an intellectual; if you don’t draw too much attention to yourself with how you look, then you are respectable. (Mind you, it is not only about your clothes, the same goes for things that are out of your control: Skin color, eye color, ethnicity, height, weight, breast, hip and buttock size.)

I completely understand where Arianna Huffington is coming from, and the anchorwoman too. When men are not judged by their looks, and men can wear a t-shirt and a pair of jeans and they will be okay, and these women want women to have the same right too. I totally agree. All people should have the right to wear whatever they want to without being judged: men and women, trans*, non-binary. Period. (I will write another time about sumptuary laws, laws that tell what one should wear for purposes of protecting domestic trade or class distinction.) I love to dress up and I want to wear something I love as many times as possible but just not around the same people. This is me. (Yes, a royal repeats an outfit because they too care about sustainability and want to wear a dress they love as many times as possible but also show the public that they are just like them too, especially when so many of their taxpaying citizens are suffering economically they can't dare to be too frivolous.) But I like it more when one makes changes to the outfit. Recently I had a group of my friends over in my home to show how many different outfits I made out of one dress. I change and alter my clothes: shorten or lengthen hem, cut asymmetrically, cut off arms, add ruffles or sequins or lace, do a million things. And I too have a uniform that I revert to all the time: a white top, a long necklace, blue jeans with sneakers or boots. But just to remind, it is not men’s fashion, but women’s fashion that is such a big part of the economy. I believe in buying quality --I purchased the shirt in the picture 24 years ago in Paris and a few years back when it got a rip on the arm I had it rewoven. I believe in sustainability and don’t buy fast fashion anymore, but I worry about all the people who will be without jobs: salespeople, marketing and ad people, real estate agents, transporters, the people who cook for them who clean for them, etc. etc.

But whose fault is this line of thinking really? Why -and here comes my cerulean blue moment- do we look down on this multi-billion-dollar industry as bad? From real estate to jobs in sales and production, how many lives are sustained through fashion? Why would making money be bad? I wanted to say to the anchorwoman that all press and news media unless it is state controlled, is to generate money, and that is not something bad to do. I know there is a genuine desire on the part of the journalist to investigate, and inform, and educate the public that drives the journalistic urge very much like a doctor wanting to cure their patient, a nurse or a therapist to care and help their patient, or a teacher wanting to teach their student, all very noble causes without a doubt. But would we expect them to do all these for free? Why shouldn’t the best journalist make more money? Like I said, wanting to make more money is not bad, and in the case of a journalist, a newsperson, the desire to reach the most amount of people possible, would also mean more ad sales, be that in broadcast tv, cable, streaming or a blog. The more people you reach to inform, the more money you make, which in the end means the more money you can spend. That gives you the freedom and choice to do whatever you want with that money in addition to the power and respect it gives you.

Now, my brother and I are the children of a marriage of a leftist mother and a capitalist father that gave us the freedom to see all sides of any argument and form our ideas and ideals freely, and, an awareness that the more you have, more is expected of you. I know it is generally understood that a type of greatness is then expected of you, but as a kid I also understood that if you make more money, you have to help others make more money too. Everything you have is the product of your hard work, yes, but you should also strive that others are given the same opportunities. You live better and help others live better too. You make money, you hire more people to clean your house, take care of your child -don’t try to do everything yourself, hire someone, give them a job, and also there is nothing wrong with wanting to look your best. Wouldn’t you push your child to work and study hard, exercise and be healthy and try their best? Or would you not support them in finding their call? Is that better parenthood? Why would looking better not be good? I have always thought of the first cave drawings. Yes, sure, that first cave person clearly wanted to express themselves, but I also thought it has to do with beautifying your surroundings. In a home in the slums I once went to I saw that they had made a collage of cookie wrappers and hung it on their living room wall, and I thought that sure, they had found inspiration from the wrappers, inspiration to create, and they wanted to keep looking at it on their wall, but also, they wanted to fill that empty wall, they wanted to make their home more beautiful, too.

Thinking about all this, I saw a group of women here in Barcelona, older than me, dressed in a non-attention-drawing way, laughing after a Gen-Z Asian girl dressed in shorts and the highest metallic red platform boots walked by. I got sad. Why do we do this? This trio of women, whose looks we shouldn’t judge because they talk about the latest production of the Lucia di Lammermoor in the Liceu, and the latest book they read, are free to make fun of the outfit of a girl when we don’t like it when that girl could be making fun of those women because they are not dressed fashionably. Why the belittlement? How do we not know she is a software engineer? Or an architect? Why would it shock you if she too knew the year of the Hungarian Revolution? Also, so what if this girl is really only about her clothes? Why do we make fun of her? So what if she is not a rocket scientist? Would you make fun of the inability of a person’s walking who is in a wheelchair? Would you make fun of the speech of a person with Down syndrome? Why make fun of a girl for being all about her looks and nothing else? Isn’t she allowed to be a feminist too? When women who are intelligent/intellectual look down on women who care more about their looks than anything else, women themselves are in fact a party to the people who categorize women: those who are smart and those who are pretty and they are mutually exclusive. We classify women: Those who are Madonnas and those who are whores. (And then women who are attacked are asked what they were wearing!) You can dress anyway you want and you shouldn’t be judged. Just make sure they practice sustainability. Don’t throw away clothes, alter them or sell them or donate them.

I would instead want women who can afford to, to embrace fashion as it provides so many jobs and don’t be ashamed or embarrassed about it. That doesn’t mean you have to have the sense of style yourself, or spend valuable time and energy you don’t have the desire to. Instead hire a stylist, get deals, increase your ratings/followers but also educate others that you can be smart and pretty and then make sure women- being the drivers of this multibillion-dollar industry, spend the money wisely: On businesses that are ethical, sustainable, practice equality across board. Hire a woman stylist, hire more women, invest in woman brokers, women owned businesses. Since you can make more money, support others. You have this power. Men are not the buyers of this economy, women are, so buy smart. Own up to it and don’t feel guilty. I love you and respect you no matter what you wear but please know that when you are wearing the same outfit no one is making money. You are not creating the chain effect of a job. And there is a chance, that girl who only cares about clothes and nothing else, could end up watching you everyday only to see what you are wearing, but then learn about the world and what is going on. And please don’t judge women for their looks. You have the right to wear whatever you want, and all women should champion that.

In unity.

* As a feminist I would like to state here that trans women are women and I am passionate about the rights of all women, children, the disabled, mentally and physically disabled, as well as LGBTQ and minority rights.

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