We belong to a society in which the policing of women’s bodies is a common practice. We continue to face judgment and criticisms for the Functional Clothing we choose to wear. A woman may be scolded for revealing ‘too much’ skin or for concealing every inch of it. The Functional Clothing of a woman wears will even be weaponized against her, changing from a meaningless piece of fabric to an ‘invitation’ for sexual harassment. As women, we deserve the freedom to wear what we desire without judgment or punishment. However, the fashion industry fails to provide an adequate amount of choices for women. The industry, like society itself, is only interested in the appearance of women and supposes women select clothes based on appearance alone. While the practicality of garments is considered for men, making life easier for women through clothes is not a focus for the fashion industry.
One of the easiest ways to spot the difference between men and women’s Functional Clothing is by checking for pockets. In an article that discusses how pockets are gendered, Tanya Basu from The Atlantic writes, ‘Mid-range fashion is a male-dominated business, driven not by form and function, but by design and how fabric best drapes the body.’ Most of us step out of our homes with our mobile phones and a set of keys. While men can often slip their technology and keys into their pockets and walk out the house, without pockets, a woman must carry them in her hands or grab a handbag for just a couple of items. For some baffling reason, some garments give the illusion of pockets. Why would a dress or pair of jeans need to hold fake pockets? Surely, useable pockets would be an advantage?
A 2018 study revealed that 100% of pockets on male clothes were able to accommodate the size of male hands. Women’s pockets were 50% smaller, and only 10% were able to accommodate them. The study noted that ‘pockets, unlike purses, are hidden, private spaces. By restricting the space in which women can keep things safe and retain mobility of both hands, we are also restricting their ability to navigate public spaces or to travel unaccompanied.’
The issue extends beyond pockets. When shopping for shoes, women will discover their main options are heels. The shoe section in New Look, for example, is filled with rows and rows of endless heels. But if you want flat shoes, you’re left with slim pickings. Again, there is a fixation on what the fashion industry believes looks good on women without nearly as much focus on functionality.
Shoes with heels have become a part of professional wear, and some companies, such as some airlines, demand their air hostesses wear heels, despite how a woman may feel about them. It wasn’t long ago when Nicola Thorp was sent home on her first day at PwC (an accounting firm), for failing to wear a pair of heels between two and four inches high. Wearing high heels for prolonged periods of time can not only be uncomfortable for women but can do lasting damage. We require better options. We require shoes that look good but are ultimately suitable for work. We need to remove this idea from our heads that women’s fashion cannot be comfortable, practical, and visually appealing.
It also seems we have a lack of sensible options for the winter, particularly regarding formal wear. We’ve only to look back at the controversy surrounding Jennifer Lawrence’s dress. She wore a sleeveless dress with a thigh-high leg slit in the London cold, while her male colleagues stood beside her in their winter coats and layers. Lawrence was offended by the controversy, maintaining it was her choice to wear a beautiful dress. It may well have been.
However, the expectation that women should surrender personal comfort and warmth for the sake of fashion lives on. Perhaps, we can create gorgeous dresses suitable for the winter. Did you know that women, in general, tend to feel colder than men? Yet too many of our clothes are thin and filled with ‘fashionable’ holes. A woman is not a mannequin. Her purpose is not to stand still and look good. Women move, work, live. We are functioning members of society and require functional clothes.
We must remember that it does not matter what a woman chooses to wear. She may decide to don a pair of high heels, and she may brave the wintry cold in a sleeveless dress. She may even opt to wear a suit instead of a dress! What a woman chooses to wear cannot conflict with feminism. However, it is paramount that she has choices available to her, especially those that support her freedom and her comfort. She deserves to have options that make life easier, not harder.