Women shouldn’t feel like they have to wear menswear in order to be taken seriously or look professional. This past month Lady Gaga wore a striking and beautiful oversized Marc Jacobs suit to the Elle magazine’s Women in Hollywood Awards in Beverly Hills as she was honored for her role in the recent hit movie “A Star Is Born.”
In her speech she explained her outfit of choice was a means for her to “take the power back”.
“As a sexual assault survivor by someone in the entertainment industry, as a woman who is still not brave enough to say his name, as a woman who lives with chronic pain, as a woman who was conditioned at a very young age to listen to what men told me to do, I decided today I wanted to take the power back, Today, I wear the pants. I tried on dress after dress today getting ready for this event, one tight corset after another, one heel after another, a diamond, a feather, thousands of beaded fabrics and the most beautiful silks in the world. To be honest, I felt sick to my stomach. And I asked myself: what does it really mean to be a woman in Hollywood? We are not just objects to entertain the world. We are not simply images to bring smiles or grimaces to people’s faces. We are not members of a giant beauty pageant meant to be pit against one another for the pleasure of the public. We women in Hollywood, we are voices. We have deep thoughts and ideas and beliefs and values about the world and we have the power to speak and be heard and fight back when we are silenced. For me, this is what it means to be a woman in Hollywood. It means, I have a platform. I have a chance to make a change,” she said. “I pray we listen and believe and pay closer attention to those around us to those in need. . . . Be a helping hand. Be a force for change.” [Click to hear the entire speech]
She went on to discuss her experiences with sexual assault, PTSD and health problems. The singer, activist and actress is known for her wacky outfits, (See Meat dress) and while she touched on many important issues in her speech and powerfully spoke about the disparity between men and women in Hollywood, as in other communities, I struggle with her explanation for wearing pants to reclaim the power.
The notion that women have to wear pants or a suit to be considered professional is obsolete and sexist. Yet many women think that they should wear fine tailored suits and masculine jackets to be taken seriously. My problem with this is that a woman shouldn’t have to dress like a man to be so lucky as to capture respect! That attitude teaches young girls that dressing in traditionally feminine clothing will not gain the appreciation and attention of others and that instead, only dressing in masculine clothing will.
Don’t get me wrong, while I love occasionally wearing stylish suits, blazers and jackets, I don’t like the message we perpetuate when we wear those items because we believe it’s the only way to further ourselves and our careers in the professional world.
Women should feel free to don suits and masculine style clothing if they please; I know I love rocking a chic blazer at times. But remember, we can wear dresses, skirts and blouses and still be regarded with high esteem and look appropriate and professional. So, don’t feel confined to this unwritten rule that wearing a suit or menswear makes you look more professional; we can look equally as respectable I promise.
I know this may be easier said than done. Women have had a long journey with “appropriate” clothing: at certain points in history we weren’t even allowed to wear pants! And, women lawyers were only granted the ability to wear pants in the courtroom in the 1980’s and many still face harsh criticism by some judges for wearing pants in the courtroom. [http://lawyernomics.avvo.com/practice-management/ethics/women-lawyers-wearing-pants-part-ii.html)
So, in some ways, wearing pants has been a great show of rebellion by women. Centuries ago women were controlled by heavy, uncomfortable and traditional clothes, in the 1800’s and early 1900’s women wore modest dresses that sometimes weighed up to 20 pounds. (https://www.leaf.tv/articles/womens-fashion-in-the-late-1800s/)
Not only were women and girls restricted by heavy dresses, they couldn’t easily move around and breathe due to their tight corsets and they suffered in silence if they were too hot. Of course, now dresses are made of light cotton, corsets have long since been done away with, and women wearing pants and shorts is accepted. The need and societal rule for women to wear strictly dresses is obsolete, so the only thing left is this patriarchichal idea that traditionally masculine clothing is equivalent with respect and traditionally feminine clothing is equivalent with a lack of seriousness.
It’s true that certain environments and jobs can require certain styles of clothing and some, more modest than others (you wouldn’t wear a bathing suit into a house of worship). And, in those environments you might want or feel more comfortable in a very covered up suit – and that’s ok! However, most of the time a beautiful and appropriately selected dress is just as worthy of respect as a traditionally masculine suit.
I worry that if we as a society continue to emphasize that only traditionally masculine clothes is consistent with power and respectability, then we continue to subtly send the message that historically and stereotypically feminine things are consistent with weakness and lack of professionalism.
My idea is that we shouldn’t respect a woman less because she’s wearing feminine versus masculine clothing or vice versa. Respect a woman, or any person for that matter, because of who she is, what her actions are and what she stands for.
Through all that women have had to endure, we should feel free to dress how we want without fear that if we don’t dress like our male counter-parts we won’t get the job or we won’t be taken seriously.
I don’t want a woman to only feel powerful and badass when she’s rocking a man’s suit. I want her to feel that way all the time, especially when she wears the clothes that she likes best. No matter if you want to wear a coat and tie, or a dress, or an oversized suit; do it because you like what you’re wearing!
While our society continues to be a patriarchy, fighting the things we can fight and feel passionate about is how each and every one of us can contribute to bettering our society. For me, destigmatizing clothing is one way I want to contribute to ending the patriarchy and continue to lift up women in the process.