Saturday, 6 October 2012

Menswear Sucks

I think this a great article, thoroughly and eloquently detailing the painful double-bind of rigid gender roles, the ways they hurt people of all genders, and how this filters into sartorial choice. I have no bones to pick with the article; I simply want to expand on my own thoughts on the issue here, particularly the idea that "menswear sucks".

As a 'female-bodied' person who embraces a whole range of clothing options, I can tell you that clothing sucks in many ways. If you want to wear a men's shirt whilst sporting some major breasts, prepare for a long, dispiriting search. If you want to wear men's trousers whilst wielding some major hips: ditto. If you want to wear women's shoes whilst bearing particularly wide/long feet: ditto. If you want to wear a dress and you are particularly tall/short: well, you get the idea. The fashion industry (and this is as relevant to George at Asda as it is to Marc Jacobs) caters to one kind of body: the kind that is 'in proportion'. Sometimes it doesn't even do that. If you're of average height and thin, you're perfectly catered to. If you're above-averagely tall and thin, you're fine. If you're below-averagely short and thin, you're probably ok, but might struggle in some places. If you're fat, no matter how tall you are, you're going to struggle a lot in most places. And this doesn't even begin to engage with the radical notion that not all bodies are thin or fat in the same ways. I'm not sure how it plays out with 'male bodies' and men's clothing, as I haven't had that experience personally, but I can tell you that searching for any kind of clothing as a 'female-bodied' person is fraught with difficulties.

You might have a big rib cage and small breasts: wrong. You might have wide hips and narrow thighs: wrong. You might have a tiny frame and a large arse: wrong. None of these body shapes, as common as they are, will make for a stress-free shopping trip. You know that ubiquitous bit of advice, dress for your shape? Wear things that flatter your body? Well, if you want to do that (and not all of us do), it starts with wearing clothes that fit you. And for some people, that is nigh on impossible. I, for example, have never bought a pair of trousers that I didn't have to shorten in some way, either with a turn-up or a sharp pair of scissors. And I'm barely below the national average in height. And that's not even a major problem, unlike, say, not being able to find a shirt that fits both your chest and your stomach. My sewing skills are not to be sniffed at, but that kind of alteration is beyond me. Don't forget that we're just talking about clothes that fit, here, not clothes that you require or clothes that you like. It's a minefield, is what I'm saying.

What I want to add to Greta Christina's excellent article is this: menswear doesn't suck - or not nearly as much - if you're not a man. Regardless of the fact that a lot of menswear doesn't fit me terribly well, I can wear it and be thought of (I hope!) as cool and quirky - at least sartorially so. When I wear a men's shirt and tie combo to work, I get compliments - especially when it matches my nail polish! This despite the fact that often my breasts make a mockery of the nice straight lines of a good men's shirt and tie. The sexist assumptions which lead to the poor clothing options in the menswear departments of most highstreet shops extend past the boring clothes themselves to the people who wear them. I could wear the exact same thing as a random office guy, and despite the fact that it probably looks better on him, I would be the one attracting glances and comments, gracing magazine pages with my 'quirky' looks, being thought of as fashionable / stylish / trendy. He would just be a boring office guy in a boring office suit.

Lest you think this is just because of interest in the transgression of boundaries, the same treatment is emphatically not extended to men who borrow garments / styles from traditionally female attire. That guy would probably struggle to get or keep a job, whereas I could waltz into any office in the country dressed in a suit and tie with impunity. Sure, depending on how I did it and what I look like, I might get called a dyke or have my gender identity questioned, but that's not going to be the end of the world for me. Men who transgress into female sartorial territory are at far more risk in all sorts of ways than women who transgress into male territory.

I don't want to get into a big thing about femmephobia, transphobia and transmisogyny, although frankly each of those topics could keep me going for weeks. I'd just like to point out that, although menswear seems boring compared with womenswear, the real restriction lies not with the clothes themselves but with the people who wear them. A boring suit on a woman is not boring, whilst a boring suit on a man is. This is sexism. Yes, it's sexism that also hurts women - as Christina explains, men get boring clothes because women are expected to care about fashion and appearances and, thanks to the complementary model, men are therefore not - but this is an issue that does hurt men.

I can't help but feel that I'm not adding anything to Christina's excellent argument. I'm simply expanding on her points, and agreeing all the way, and yet I still feel somewhat defensive. I guess what I really want to do is defend the clothes themselves, particularly since I like to wear some of them. They don't suck. They don't. Society sucks. Sexism sucks. Femmephobia and transmisogyny suck. Menswear is great; we just think it sucks because we are conditioned to see men's fashion as an oxymoron, as ridiculous, as laughable and pathetic and queer. Well, this queer likes men's clothes. And the problem is not in my boring clothes. It's in your boring mind.

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