Friday, 28 August 2015

Why flimsy falling apart clothes ARE a feminist issue

Those of you that have been following my challenge so far will know that I'm starting to fret about the impact that general wear and tear could have on my ability to manage the full year whilst looking (passably) respectable.

I really don't want to have to go to work in t-shirts with holes in them or anything that has gone limp as a result of too many washes. So I've been asking myself: why do my clothes last so much less time than Matt's?


I work from home or in the office, and he works on a building site. He has 1 pair of jeans, one suit ,some site trousers and a handful of tops. I have (or had) a gazillion items of clothing. So Matt was wearing his clothes more often than me, asked more of them in terms of toughness, and they still lasted longer than mine.

How can this be?

I did a bit of a poll of my friends and it turns out this isn't unique to Matt & I. My friends with a reasonable amount of clothes say their clothes wear out faster than their partners and those who (like me) normally have overflowing wardrobes also say that those clothes they wear regularly tend to fall to bits, and actually lots of women talked about having bought clothes that barely survived one wash. The only exceptions I can find to the falling apart clothes trend amongst my friendship group are the ladies that tend to wear unisex clothing and those that wear vintage.

But none of my male friends said the same about their clothes. In fact several proudly crowed about still wearing t-shirts they bought when they were in their teens and early twenties.

So do women get sold clothes that are worse quality than men's and if so why?

Well (as usual) I think I have a theory. 

My male friends buy less clothes (as a rule) than my female friends. And they expect them to last - so they buy on the basis of quality and manafacturures respond to that. Matt still whinges about a pair of jeans he bought 7 years ago that only lasted one year, and I'm confident he will never buy that brand again. 

One of the reasons men buy less clothes is because mens fashions change much more slowly and subtly than womens. There is no appreciable difference between 'this years shirt' and 'last years' shirt - so why not keep wearing last years?

But women's fashions leap around year to year, with cuts, colours and fabrics coming in and out of trend season apon season. And women buy new clothes in order to keep up, creating a lot more churn in our wardobes. From a manufacturers point of veiw if we're only going to wear an item for one season why invest money in a manufacturing it to last any longer?

The interesting bit of this for me is this- who is it that actually wants us to change our style 2 or 3 times a year? It's not to our benefit as women to have to worry about how to pull off cullotes or Bardot tops for goodness sakes. But it does benefit businesses - manufacturers, retailers, and all of the other industries that blossom around selling us more and different things. And it benefits them because it allows them to make money.

I don't think businesses like womens money more than men's either - I think they'd have boys wearing purple pvc in spring and and felted onesies in autumn if they thought they could make money out of it. But they can't, because men have always been judged by who they are and what they do and so they don't rest their self esteem on fitting in with the way 'everyone' looks this season.

It's different for us as women. It's only a couple of generations back that a good wife was seen and not heard, with the emphasis on seen. The way to tell if a man had good taste, or a good income was to look to his wife, was she pretty, obedient, was she wearing the latest style? Men are (like it or not) still judged by society on the appropriateness of the women on their arms.

And we as women, are emerging blinking into a society that is just beginning to recognise that our value is greater than the compliments that our husbands recieve about us. We're still objectified, our intellect is of far less interest to the media than our boyfriends, babies, diets and shoes. Our mothers have taught us what it is to be appropriate, to dress appropriately and respectably, as their mothers taught them, and their mother's mothers before that.

And so we buy into wearing what everyone is wearing - because fitting in is only polite. And if what everyone is wearing changes season apon season then naturally so is what we wear. And so as a result we get sold crap as men get sold quality.

What to do? Here are the three things that we women could do to change this.

1. Work out what we feel good wearing, and then only buy that. Screw what everyone else is wearing.
2. Complain in writing (& on social media) when our clothes fall apart, and then don't shop in those stores again.
3. Promote the labels that do last, by telling people about them, investing in them again next time and letting them know they've done well.

The only way we get clothes that last is by demonstrating with our shopping habits that that is what is valuable to us and profitable to stores.

Because fashion itself isn't sexist - our culture is. And culture is people and we as people can shape it. So let's.

What do you think?

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