Shouldn’t Wear That


“She REALLY shouldn’t wear that.”

I’ve heard it. I’ve read it. And back before I really considered the impact of casual language on self-esteem, I even said it myself. But nowadays when I hear that phrase, I absolutely cringe. It strikes me as more damaging than many of the other phrases used to criticize style choices related to figure flattery. And here’s why:

Delineating what others should or should not do is a very loaded action. It implies that what they are currently doing is wrong, bad, inherently destructive or negative. It implies that they aren’t smart enough to figure that out on their own. And therefore, it implies that you are superior, since you were able to draw the conclusion yourself. It’s judgmental and it’s harsh.

Saying that a woman “shouldn’t” wear a top that loose or pants that tight, that she “shouldn’t” expose her upper thighs or style her hair a certain way is saying that you know better. That your opinion carries more weight, that you are more informed, that you are enlightened while she is ignorant. Declaring what another woman shouldn’t wear is akin to assuming you know what’s best for her when, in fact, you have no idea how her choices were made. No background at all on her tastes, resources, emotional state, or personality. No right to judge.

Perhaps even more harmful, stylistic shoulds and shouldn’ts reinforce the idea that there are absolute rights and wrongs in clothing choices, tastes, and body shapes. Saying a woman “shouldn’t” wear something because of her figure supports the idea that there is one way to look good. And there isn’t. In fact, women who push social comfort levels with their stylistic choices may gradually force the observing public to accept that. Although some may prefer that women with cellulite conceal it, women with bony clavicles mask them, and women with zits apply cover-up, each woman is entitled to make her own choices. Although some fashion, grooming, and fitness choices may lead to aesthetically pleasing and socially-sanctioned figures and appearances, that doesn’t make those choices inherently superior.

And although you are ALWAYS entitled to your opinion of how others look, voicing that opinion – especially if it involves leveling judgment – is seldom constructive. Especially when unsolicited.

Policing of language can get tiresome. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been schooled in subtext and sensitivity, called out for using certain words or phrases when I had absolutely no intention of being offensive or heartless. So I know. I do. But the words we choose are powerful. They reflect ourselves and our beliefs, and can impact how people feel about us and about themselves. Many commonly-used labels, slang phrases, and terms can really wound if overheard and many perpetuate oppressive ideals.

Next time you find yourself on the brink of saying, “She REALLY shouldn’t wear that,” ask yourself, “Why not?”

Image courtesy Lara604.

  • jungleworldcitizen

    It's automatic now :)
    I have a little argument with myself when I THINK that (I say think because I avoid as much as I can saying it out loud), the argument goes somehow like this:
    Me: Oh, my, why the h.. is she/he wearing that? It's so unflattering!
    Me Again: Excuse me? Are you her/his personal shopper? Her/his Doppelgänger? No? So think about something else and MYOB.
    :)

  • Donna

    Wow! This struck a chord with me… When I was wedding dress shopping, that "you really shouldn't wear that" type comment was made… Out of all the fun a girl has shopping for *thee* dress, when I think back I always think of what was said. Anyway, thought I'd share… long time lurker :)

  • Peter

    I struggle with this all the time between me and my partner, Michael. His latest look is to wear vibrantly-colored American Apparel tube socks pulled up to just below his knees. He thinks they look hip but this man is decidedly NOT hip (imho). I resist the urge to comment, however, because, as you suggest, it would be hurtful and not constructive and at the end of the day, why SHOULDN'T he wear them? It's my problem, not his.

    But still… ;)

  • Erin

    I agree completely. (Except for underwear. It should always be covered by your clothes, barring unfortunate mishaps.)

  • Anonymous

    I love this – excellent post – thank you!

    Do you realize that in our current fashion age, for the FIRST time in the history of humankind, two women can walk down the street in dramatically different length skirts (or even one in skirts and one in pants) and BOTH would be at the height of fashion?

    This has never happened before. Skirt lengths were proscribed by style, social class, religious consideration or sumptuary laws.

    We live in the MOST free time in history – fashion wise – when there is not one but MANY right ways to dress, to look and feel good.

    Thanks for such a thoughtful post!

    Annie Modesitt

  • cwhf

    Timely post; on a messageboard I frequent someone posted a blog fashion pic from a blogger I follow whose style I love. They ripped her apart for wearing flats because they felt it made her look unflattering, fat, that she should not dare try to wear the outfit this because "she's not a skinny girl." It was disgusting. She looked adorable and fun and confident.

    I used to be more obsessed with what others thought of what I was wearing and make sure it was "flattering." But fortunately in the last few years, I have come into my own style. I love wearing big fluffy full skirts; I don't give a xxxx if you think it makes me look more round as I too am "not a skinny girl." I feel like a goddess in them and that is all that matters. Sometimes, I even wear dresses that may make me look pregnant but I am comfy and happy, so there.

    Women can be so cruel. Ripping others down they are elevating themselves because they are wise little dressers that follow the rules. Not much to feel good about if you ask me.

    • Lauren

      You are beautiful. Can I just say that? I haven’t even seen you, but you’re beautiful!

      I love that you don’t care what others think of your style. I really used to care as well, but recently I’ve been like, “Whatever. I don’t care if this t-shirt makes my boobs look tiny, I love it, and I’m going to wear it.” or “So what if these pants make my torso look incredibly small. I like high-waisted pants, and I’m going to wear them!” For a long time, I’d ask my sister what she thought, and she’d say, “Well, it’s not something that I’D wear, but you wear what you want.” None too enthusiastically, I might add. But my style is mine, not hers. I like what I wear, I like how I look in what I wear, and I don’t give a crap about what anyone, not even my sister, thinks of my style. I personally refuse to show cleavage or any skin more than three inches down my back or chest, can’t stand booty shorts, and hate high-heels. I love 1940’s fashion, and wear it often. I feel happy in a floor-length or full skirt, high-waisted pants and high-necked shirts, and ballet flats. I like wearing my hair in victory rolls and pin curls. I even like throwing a bit of mens-wear into my daily fashion — today, for instance, I’m wearing a graphic tee tucked into a pair of high-waist calf-length mens’ plaid pants with a mens’ vest laired on top, and I LOVE it. It’s super-comfy, and I feel fabulous. And I don’t care if the patterns on my shirt and pants clash a little — I’ve felt great every time I’ve looked in a mirror today.

      You rock those poofy skirts, girl! You may not be “skinny” — personally, I think skinny is WAY over-rated — but you be proud of your bod, and your clothes on top of it! Just remember that you are stunning, you’re a beautiful princess, and if those skirts make you feel like it you sure as hell better wear them! Screw anyone who doesn’t agree.

  • Julia

    I agree completely and have the same little self-argument with myself as jungleworldcitizen. I usually don't say it out loud, but I am guilty of thinking it. But I try to correct myself in my head, "Jul, come on now. Don't judge and mind your own business. For all you know someone can be saying the same thing about you. hush now."

  • Kim

    Yes! I get so tired of hearing I shouldn't wear something because of my shape. I'm extremely top heavy by nature and it seems that I'm only 'allowed' to wear certain things. I was making a jacket last year and posted some photos of me on a website for fitting advice on my muslin. This was in the "Fitting" section and instead of getting fitting advice I got the "You should not make this pattern." It was very demeaning to me and no one really seemed to understand it. I ended up making the jacket anyways and love it.

    All these style blogs with information on how you should dress your shape are wonderful, but that doesn't mean you have to do it like they say. Of course I want to flatter my figure, but sometimes it's good to step out of the box and try something new or wear something solely because you like it. Not because it might be flattering or not!

    Thank you so much for this post. I feel vindicated ;-)

  • Abby

    I had a thought like that on my walk to work this morning – I saw a woman running in what appeared to be the most ill-fitting bra ever (for running or any time, really) and I hoped she had someone in her life to tell her so — not for the sake of fashion but for her own comfort and health.

  • kellyroy68

    I agree with all said before plus I always found articles about what is in and what is out each season to be quite silly .

  • Katy Cooper

    Lately, I've been trying to approach stylistic choices I wouldn't personally make with the idea that the person who made that choice made it because s/he liked it, liked what it did for him or her. And then I try to see what might be appealing about it.

    I know the whole time I'm making assumptions and there's no way to validate anything I decide, but I think it helps me to be less judgmental.

    And I have to say that it's something I got from reading this blog.

  • Anonymous

    This is interesting. I have a 10 year old daughter, and we talk a lot about appropriate vs inappropriate attire for her age group. Some of her classmates are beginning to dress "sexy"–exposed bra straps, skin tight shirts, etc. I don't think I've said to my daughter "X shouldn't be wearing that", but I sure as hell am thinking it, and I know my feelings on the matter are very clear to my daughter! I think the key is to have opinions without stepping over the line and becoming judgmental.

    • Melinda

      Yes, that seems to be the best way to deal with it. While it is fine to have opinions, it is best to avoid making snippy comments about the way other girls/women carry themselves. Just be a good role model to your daughter.

  • eek

    Thanks for bringing this topic to my attention. I definitely tend to be harsh and critical in what other people wear sometimes, especially if I don't think it looks good. What do I know, right? I think it's good to keep an open mind and to be nicer. So thanks again, I need to work on this :)

  • ignia

    Agree!

    Well… If you cannot hold it up at least turn it into "…because you'd look too good!", abd yo'd better be meaning that. :)

  • Sal

    Anonymous (2): Good point. The lines definitely get blurred when it comes to our daughters. It sounds like you do your best to be firm, but relatively judgment-free. Do you think your daughter would react differently if you couched your thoughts in terms of shoulds and shouldn'ts?

  • Sabina

    I can't believe I only found your blog now – it's fantastic :)) I love your outfit pictures but this I read this post in one breath – so true! I sometimes catch myself thinking bitchy remarks about others (I don't say them at least)… I always try to stop myself, because like you, I realize these remarks could be very hurtful – but I would like to not have those thoughts at all… I'm working on that – and thanks for the fantastic post :)
    I'd be glad if you found the time to visit my blog – if you like it (and I hope you will), feel free to comment and follow of course (Who would have thought, huh? :)))
    xxx

    • Melinda

      I believe we all have negative thoughts about other people sometimes, but it’s better to not say it out loud.

      I know that it really hurts my feelings when people make rude comments or belittle me, so I try to avoid being unkind to others.

      I guess the key is to follow the “golden rule”…treat other people the way you want to be treated.

  • Angela Pea

    I actually said "She Shouldn't Be Wearing That!" out loud yesterday to my teen sons at football practice!

    We saw a woman, about 8 months pregnant, walking the track by the practice field. She had on an itty, bitty pair of Nike running shorts pulled down below her belly and so short that her butt cheeks were showing, and a sports bra. That's it. Nothing else. Granted, she was beautifully pregnant, healthy and fit, and it WAS about 87 degrees outside. But seriously – sharing that much of herself with the rest of the world? With a field full of teenage boys who were terribly distracted by her presence while they were practicing football? I hope that there is still a place in this world for modesty and a little common sense.

    • Lauren

      It’s true that she shouldn’t have been wearing that — not because she didn’t look good, but because what she was wearing was having negative effects on those around her. There’s a difference between “Oh, you shouldn’t wear that. No one who is pear-shaped should wear that, it’s so un-flattering” and “She needs to not be putting destructive thoughts into my son’s head”. There’s a reason I refuse to wear booty shorts or t-shirts/dresses that show cleavage. I don’t want to distract my brother, father, grandfathers, uncles, cousins, and guy-friends from what’s really important. If my guy-friend has a girlfriend, I’m not going to go hang out with him in a tight-fitting t-shirt with my boobs hanging out. That’s unfair to both of them. And I KNOW my dad and younger brother would be DISGUSTED if I put thoughts in their head like that with what I was wearing. However, I have had to teach my younger brother recently that just because I decide to wear a rose in my button-hole, which IS admittedly quite out of style, he does not have the right to tell me that I shouldn’t wear that. Nor does he have the right to tell me that I shouldn’t wear my favorite hat because it makes my face look chubby (I’m very round-faced). He’s had to come to terms with my personal style. And that’s one thing. But displaying your body inappropriately for all to see is another.

    • Melinda

      I see your point, but I will respectfully say this…it doesn’t look good for you to criticize somebody whose only crime was wearing inappropriate clothing in hot weather.

      She didn’t do anything to you. As to the teenage boys, I’m sure they would have been just as distracted if a pretty girl in blue jeans had walked by.

      We all have opinions and that’s fine. I agree that modesty and common sense are important. But it is also to remember that everyone is different and we should respect that.

      Maybe she was comfortable in shorts and a sports bra because it was hot outside. She was trying to exercise and enjoy a nice walk on a lovely day. I doubt that she was trying to look sexy to a bunch of high school boys.

      Please don’t think I’m trying to be rude. I just think that we should try to avoid imposing our morals on people who really aren’t doing anything harmful.

    • Nobody’s Girl

      Wow. I really don’t think that outfit sounds inappropriate at all, especially given the circumstances. She’s heavily pregnant–do you know how hard it is to find and afford a top that both fits and stretches over the belly? I sure wouldn’t want to sweat through one of those tops. And the weather doesn’t sound right for a big old t-shirt.

      Plus, she was really helping your sons! They need to learn not to be distracted by the cheerleaders (or other football players, with their tight pants!) at games, and she’s good practice.

  • Melissa

    You're right. You're absolutely right. And I know that I do this a lot, so I'm grateful to you for posting this because it struck a chord with me and hopefully I'll catch myself before using this phrase again.

  • Dionne

    Thank you for this, Sal, I think it's a very important post. This subject taps into the conundrum I'm feeling right now in regards to fashion. I'm truly ambivalent regarding the subject (ambivalent not in the general sense of "confused", but in the truer meaning of the word, where I have two strong opinions that conflict with each other).

    On the one hand, I agree with so many of the things you have posted in the past: that how we dress influences how we feel, that lookin' fine can be a boost to our self-esteem and get us out of our heads, that our bodies are something to be celebrated.

    But oh, how I loathe how often fashion is used as a bludgeon to make women feel bad! We're criticized for being overdressed, underdressed, out of style, too risky, too boring, too young, too old-lady, and my personal pet peeve… the way everyone is scathing towards the "shlumpy mom." (I. HATE. THIS.)

    Who are we to dictate where another woman's priorities should be at a particular time in her life?

    Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. And for anyone who wonders, "If you feel this way, why are you reading a fashion blog?" (I've run across that sentiment in the comment section before), it's because Sal's blog helps me struggle towards a place I want to be: loving how I look, yet looking at everyone else with a compassionate and accepting eye.

    Thank you, Sal.

    • Melinda

      Yes, Dionne, I agree with you.

      When people read fashion blogs, it doesn’t mean that they are shallow but that is what some folks believe.

      I love style and beauty blogs. I like this one because it tends to focus on both inner AND physical beauty.

      I agree with every word you said.

  • Jessica

    Thank you for this post. I find myself doing this more often than not, and I think many women who do any sort of styling consultation – professionally or casually – tend to so as well. But what really made me stop and think is what you said about this practice" reinforc[ing] the idea that there are absolute rights and wrongs in clothing choices, tastes, and body shapes." And that "women who push social comfort levels with their stylistic choices may gradually force the observing public to accept that." This is definitely something I had NOT thought about before, and is a completely fascinating, if not the most important, way to understand the larger issue at stake – esp. as a curvy girl trying to get the world to accept her as she is.

    Thank you again.

    Surely Sonsy

  • angie

    It's the age old rule! You can say just about anything – it just depends on HOW you say it. At the end of the day, execution is everything – just as it is with personal style. Tact and diplomacy will always rise to the top. Often, self restraint is the most emotionally intelligent strategy of all. At least, I think so :-)

  • KrissyBell

    I was just thinking about this while reading through a copy of one of those trash magazines (US Weekly or People). One of the last pages is Fashion Police where people that 'know better' snarkily criticize the fashion choices of celebrities. I was struck not only by the down right meanness of the comments, but also by the fact that it was all women being criticized. Yuck! I am trying really hard these days to concern myself with my own body and admire every woman who gets out of bed every morning and faces this harsh world.

  • Lauren

    As usual, Sal, your post is thoughtful and right-on. Thank you for this reminder.

  • sapotes

    To me, saying that conveys that a woman, specifically, has a responsibility to the public to display her body in a way that they all get to vote on. Half the time when people say "she shouldn't be wearing that" they seem to mean that she hasn't made herself sexy enough, and the other half of the time they seem to mean that she's made herself too sexy, and therefore the implications are even uglier.

    (Speaking as someone who absolutely had to wear a bra by the fifth grade, I would like to thank the latter group for the four years I spent wearing cargo pants and huge gray men's t-shirts – you try keeping both your bra straps and the outline of your body completely invisible when you've got a little-girl frame with small bones, a proportionately huge busom, and it's 94 degrees outside! And if you think that covering up as best I could kept boys from acting inappropriately about my body, you would be wrong – there's really nothing a teenage girl can do to discourage people who don't understand boundaries besides understand that what they are doing is wrong and is not her fault.)

  • Anonymous

    Sal, right now my 10 year old daughter definitely looks to me to help shape right from wrong, what we "should" do vs. what we "shouldn't" do, not just in how to dress, but in how to behave. Right now, at age 10, she lets me tell her what should be done. In a few years, who knows? As she gets older, it will be that much more important for me to model a non-judgmental attitude.

    Thanks for your always thought-provoking blog!

  • Laura

    There's a distinction, I think, between having an opinion and a POV, and feeling like your opinion/POV is the only valid one. For example, I often do think "wow, I wouldn't wear that" or "I don't think that flatters that person," but I try not to think "oh, they look like crap and have no style." There is an aspect of criticism which can become piling on someone, which is definitely what can happen online or in those celeb mags, which I try to avoid. But I don't think that means we have to avoid criticism altogether, or having an opinion.

  • spacegeek

    Hmm. Interesting post. Makes me think, which is of course the most important part. But I am not sure I agree with this all the time. What we wear sends a message, whether we like it or not. So I'm posting not because I don't think some people "shouldn't wear that" because of their body typebut rather because I believe there are situations where certain clothing is respectful or "appropriate". (Religious weddings come to mind.)

    Specifics: there is a woman I work with who wears what I would consider "inappropriate" clothing. I work in a male-dominated environment (1 in 10 are women) which is relatively "old school". The woman in question wears mini skirts, usually of the flouncy full variety, bare legs and tight tops. I can't see how "she should wear that" to a professional environment.

    Not so much that it is unflattering, but really just not right for the occasion.

  • Sal

    cwhf: Ugh, it's always so disappointing to see threads devolve like that.

    Dionne: I COMPLETELY agree that style edicts can be incredibly damaging, and cringe when I hear or read about women being lambasted for their clothing choices. When did our appetite for superiority-based cruelty eclipse all reason?

    On a happier note, I am just delighted to hear that my blog has been helpful to you as you wrestle with your personal questions about style and fashion.

  • Candice Virginia

    While sifting through laundry baskets for clothing this morning, I realized that I did not have the energy to wear anything involving pretty colors, a constricting fit or attention-grabbing details.

    It was one of those really dizzying realizations, where my current life seemed to snap into focus.

    So today I'm wearing old, baggy sweatpants, an tank top and a very large college sweatshirt.

    Why? Because I am spending the day in male-dominated classes, study sessions and labs. And I don't want ANY attention, good or bad. I just want to move through my day, unfettered.

    I see many girls on campus with lovely outfits, designer shoes, expensive highlights and MAC makeup. And I feel happy for them, because they obviously enjoy putting their look together and receiving attention for it (because they really do look great!).

    My priorities are a little different right now, but that is not to say that my priorities are more important, just different.

    I am happy not to judge them. I only hope they will allow me many blissful, sweatshirt and yoga pants-filled days. :)

  • Cosmic

    Fortunetely, for me I've never been the judgemental type and usually see people at their very splendid best! It's just unfortunate that I grew up in a shallow, judgemental and superficially society where I've been judged based on my looks alone so I aplaud you for writing a articulate and timely post!

    xoxox

  • Sal

    spacegeek: Good point, and an important – if hazy – distinction. Saying that someone "shouldn't" wear a pink velour sweatsuit to a funeral is pretty different from saying that someone "shouldn't" wear sleeveless tops because she doesn't have toned arms.

    When you dress for the perceived comfort of the observing masses, you run the risk of letting social norms dictate personal style … and the example of your coworker may be approaching that risk. But I still agree that there are situations that call for acknowledgment of and conformity to agreed-upon stylistic guidelines. I was referring in the post, mainly, to casual observations made in informal situations, but didn't say as much. Thanks for clarifying.

  • The Seeker

    Good points Sal.
    Great food for thought.

    xoxo

  • Brenda

    I'm realizing there are a few things that come to mind here. Thanks in part to Sal's blog, I find I pay a lot more attention to people's styles in general, celebrity or person on the street, both when I react positively or negatively, I'm just interested. Also, her blog has made me realize there are often reasons why outfits or combinations "work", both the elements together and for a certain body type – and I find myself trying to figure that out when I see someone in an outfit that i react to, either because i like it or i don't. Is that a good or bad reaction? I don't think we can or should turn off our reactions to what we see. Now, that said, key to me is whether you just think it or say it. I wouldn't give a critical opinion, ever, unless someone specifically asked, and even then I'd be very careful in how I phrased it. I also probably wouldn't compliment a stranger on her clothes or look, because that's a bit creepy. But I will watch and observe people and reflect on what I see, and I guess I come down thinking that's ok. Maybe it boils down to observing vs. judging?
    Fascinating post and discussion in the comments -thanks as always, Sal!

    • Melinda

      I agree with you, Brenda.

      I’m curious, though…why do you find it creepy to compliment a stranger on her clothes or appearance? It can be done in an innocent way. I do it often. By the way, I’m very shy.

      But I have no problem with telling another woman that she is beautiful or that her hair is gorgeous or that I love her shoes/purse/outfit.

      I also like to observe people and reflect on what I see. It can be fun! ;)

  • The Seeker

    PS – But I don't know why but I'm becoming my worst enemy. I'm starting to ask myself "should you wear that? what is going people to think about, will people think you're not dressing age appropriated?" Do you have any tip for me?
    Thank you
    xoxo

  • Hope

    Really good post! Definitely got me thinking.

    I definitely don't judge other women for what they're wearing. It's their right to wear what they want to wear and what makes them feel great, even if I don't care for their particular style. And I would NEVER make verbal comments if I don't like their outfit. That's just not how I roll.

    However, sometimes there I women I see wearing clothes that obviously don't flatter them or their shape at all, and while I won't and never will, I wish I could show them some pieces that might be more flattering. But that's just my opinion.

  • Alecia

    well said!!

  • Kate

    You say that thinking "she shouldn't wear that" is like thinking that you know better than someone, and yet that's exactly what you're doing when you write this article. If she has every right to wear whatever she wants, then I have every right to think she looks like crap! And, as a fashion student, I'm pretty sure I DO know better than she does. So get off your ridiculously and unjustly high horse and let me make my perfectly sound judgment of your god-awful outfit.

    • Melinda

      Kate…you’re entitled to your opinion but it is not OK to be rude.

      And Sal is right. It comes down to treating others the way you want to be treated.

      You might be a fashion student but that still doesn’t qualify you to belittle women who don’t share your sense of style. We are all different.

      I’ve been around many women like you. They believe it is OK to walk around judging other women and making them feel bad for not conforming to a specific “look”.

      What is the point? Why do you feel the need to do that? It isn’t a good look, hun. Not at all.

  • Sal

    Kate: Feel free. Judging every woman you see probably feels fantastic to you because it gives you a momentary feeling of superiority. But that'll pass, honey. And someday when you overhear someone saying how horrific YOU look, maybe you'll think twice about dishing out your ugly, useless, counterproductive snark.

  • emmy

    I think this is a great topic to bring up.
    @cwhf- I definitely agree that we, as women, tend to judge other women, especially if they aren't stick figures. I hate when people say that a woman 'has no right' wearing something because she's not super skinny. Anyone has any right to wear what they like. If you don't agree with it, stop looking and start focusing your energy on something positive instead of sending nasty thoughts and words out into the world. We really need to build each other up, instead of tearing each other down.
    With that said, I'm not 100% innocent. I critique other women in my head if I'm jealous of a feature they have that I wish I had. But recently I've learned it's useless and the issue is that I need to learn to love my body because I'm healthy and that's the best thing I can ask for- not bigger breasts. :)

  • Adriane

    I've definitely been guilty of thinking these judgments in the past…and it always made me feel bad about myself afterward. I think it's important to remember that fashion and appearance are wonderful ways that many are able to express and feel good about themselves, but not all people have this luxury. It's hard to avoid "muffin tops" when you can't afford to buy pants that fit. Further, judging women (rarely do we hear a similarly condescending phrases used towards men!) in such a way perpetuates their objectification.

    I appreciate the thoughtful post!

  • hope505

    to Brenda: btw I compliment strangers all the time on their outfits and clothing if I like it! *haha!* In years I have only had ONE negative reaction…most people brighten up at the compliment.
    * = )

    And regarding the thought process: "She shouldn't be wearing that"…really, if I see someone in, say, what I might consider ill-fitting, immodest or inappropriate clothing, I direct my thoughts accordingly:
    1. "She looks happy."
    2. "She looks comfortable."
    3. "Not everyone shares my taste in clothes"
    4. "Maybe these clothes are what her budget allows."
    (or, in other words, it might not even be her choice to be looking like that!)

    A positive spin on it, if you're just fashion-minded and cannot help analyzing a person's clothing, would be to imagine that person in an "ideal outfit"..you know, instead of mentally tearing them down for not looking right, mentally BLESS them with some new, good looking or appropriate clothes! Imagine that pregnant lady at the ballgame in a nice maternity smock and some capris, and a pair of jeweled flip-flops y'know? Instead of feeling shame and scorn for the way she's looking, send her best wishes for good clothes! *haha!* Well, why not?
    * = )

  • poet

    I know… my thoughts used to go like this. Now that I've spent more time thinking about body image and style – a lot of it thanks to your thoughtful articles and inspiration! – when I see one of the former "shouldn't" cases I often think something like: "Wow, if I was her I wouldn't be confident enough to wear this – kudos for her rule-defying courage to explore her personal style." I don't know if that isn't body policing all over again in a different disguise… what do you think?

    Cheers,
    poet

    (now blogging at seamstress-stories.blogspot.com)

  • Sidewalk Chalk

    Amen, Sal. Love all your points.

    I haven't read through all the comments yet (but I will after I write this), so I'm just quickly offering my two cents here. This kind of judgmental thinking is part of the reason why I have stopped watching makeover shows like "What Not to Wear" and "How Do I Look?" Sure, the stylists may say they mean well, and maybe they do. But who says that their form of "What's Right" is right? Why does Ann Taylor clothing have to be better than a thrifted zebra glitter tutu? I used to be happy when I saw the contributors get made over, as I really thought they were getting better outlooks on life. Now, I see that sometimes for some, losing the old clothes (and old sense of self) can be more damaging than actually still wearing and having them.

    This might sound too hippie, but basically I wish we could all sit in a circle, hold hands, sway and sing — and just accept each other's styles and selves. :)

  • rb

    I do think this from time to time, and I'll tell you why – when women wear extremely inappropriate (revealing, tight, suggestive) attire to the workplace, it hurts all women in the workplace.

  • Anonymous

    "I do think this from time to time, and I'll tell you why – when women wear extremely inappropriate (revealing, tight, suggestive) attire to the workplace, it hurts all women in the workplace."

    I hear that comment all the time–and I couldn't disagree more.

    What really hurts all women–and I've witnessed this more times than I care to remember–is women who put on display bitchy, snarky, misogynistic criticism of another woman in front of male co-workers. That sort of conduct *really* hurts all women since it implicitly sanctions any man's engagement in the same sort of activity.

    I teach in university and have brilliant women engineering students who show up in foofy miniskirts, midriff-baring tops, and all the rest. And they perform well in class, lead teams with male students, are respected and get awards and scholarships. So long as they wear appropriate clothing in the machine shop and lab that's all that matters.

    In my experience, the best way to foster respect for women in the workplace is to show respect for women in the workplace–according to their abilities, not their style. It's amazing how quickly most men will follow suit.

    Sorry to talk at such length. But I've heard the "it hurts all women comment" used by some of the most savagely malevolent gossips of my acquaintance–grown up high school queen bees who make it their business to socially torture the unmarried and pretty. And all in the name of feminism. If that's feminism, I'll eat my socks.

  • Layla

    Hi! I am new to this blog, but I can already tell it is going to open my eyes to a lot of things! I found this post really helpful. I never realized how I was viewing people actually made me seem less attractive on the inside (or at least that how I think I seem when I am thinking I know better than someone else). I think spacegeek and rb made great points about the workplace. I think the same principles can be applied elsewhere too. I know that dress codes and societal expectations may hamper personal style, but there is a time and a place for personal expression. I think dress codes or unwritten codes for dress are necessary in the workplace and at social functions. As a soon to be bride, if someone showed up at my wedding wearing a white dress I would have no problem saying "she shouldn't be wearing that". Sorry, I little inner snark there. Great article, I will definitely be reading your pieces from now on!

  • Layla

    Sorry, in response to the last anonymous post, in an ideal world, women would be respected for their work and talent. In reality, if you show up to a meeting with your boobs falling out of your shirt, your are not going to be treated with respect. I agree with you that the way women treat each other is responsible for lack of respect as well, but a school and work are very different places. Would you take Mrs. Obama seriously if she were wearing a mini, stilettos, and her bra was exposed? Just my two cents.

  • Louise

    I love this post! I have this gorgeous high-waisted wool below-knee skirt that I love… I have been told I shouldn't wear it… and I haven't worn it much since those comments. Methinks I'll wear it tomorrow!

  • Karenina

    I disagree with you Sal. Dressing appropriately is part of social etiquette, codes that we use to help us all navigate the social world. It's what we do to effectively take the issue of clothing "off the table" so we can focus on more pressing issues (like job performance or education). I'm not sure encouraging people to wear whatever they want is really a hot idea. There are lots of times when "you really shouldn't wear that." School, job interviews, ceremonies, formal events, some foreign countries…there are codes that are helpful to follow if you wantto be taken seriously as a human being (some of us even use them to seek some refuge from the vulgarity that is American street fashion). If you want the focus on you and not your inappropriate attire, then you should "not wear that."

    I'm sorry, but I am so tired of seeing people decked-out in their slobby worst, in things that yes, they really shouldn't wear, that I am ready to scream. Trackpants? Really people? Crotch-grazing minis? Oversize sports jerseys? Once you take any of these items out of context (the gym, the club, the stadium) they become at best, mildly inappropriate, and at worst, outright offensive.

    I think the issue here is that it isn't a comment that should be leveled specifically at women. That, of course, is horsepoo. Men are just as capable of inducing cringing.

    It's interesting to note that a lot of cultures have very, very different notions of what it means to be "free"…I think they tend to spend more time focusing on human rights, due process of law and democracy than on their clothes. Oddly enough, in those cultures, people are generally quite well dressed; neat, tidy, smart. Americans seem to equate freedom with the right to speak or dress as offensively as you want. Call me weird, but I think the priorities are a bit backwards.

  • La Belette Rouge

    I just today got grief at work for wearing leopard print Tory Burch shoes. A fellow therapist asked me if they were "professional". Grrrrrrr!!!

  • Anonymous

    School and work are different places, true. But typically it's up to the institution to institute and enforce dress codes (which they do with questionable ethics and success, of course–but that's another post probably). And thus, individual women need not police one another.

    I'm not really trying to be holier than thou here. But I have seen some of these fashion police vigilantes in action and the results weren't pretty–and sometimes caused considerable pain to women who were bright, hardworking, and decent. I see no upside to that.

  • Sal

    rb: Do you voice your opinion to those women directly? What action do you take that positively impacts their choices?

    Karenina: Please see my response to spacegeek, above. I agree with you in part – some heed should be paid to social norms, especially when there's risk of religious or cultural offense.

    But I don't condone the culture of stylistic criticism that's thriving like a virus these days. What difference does it make to you if a woman wears track pants all day, every day? How does her decision affect you DIRECTLY? I think blogs like Go Fug Yourself and various makeover TV shows that shame contestants for their "bad" and "wrong" stylistic choices have encouraged the rest of us to formulate opinions and spout judgment whenever we're feeling superior.

    I may not like what another woman has chosen to wear, I may think that I'd never in a million years wear it myself … but to decide that SHE shouldn't wear it? That is overstepping, in my opinion.

  • Anonymous

    I am guilty of thinking that, but I do like to 'mentally' makeover people as well — just to make them look their best in my mind — strange, but not borne out of judgement of them committing a faux pas, but more for a sense of satisfaction in uncovering what I think is a lovelier aesthetic.

    I think though, that what most women are truly criticizing with their 'snarkiness' when the say the shouln't phrase, is not the outfit, but the confidence a women displays when she is wearing somthing she 'shouldn't.' I am 'busty' and when I wear a curve hugging dress that flatters me critical women resent the confidence I have — they want to tear that down, more deeply than the outfit itself. If I wore the same aforementioned dress without confidence, and walked meekly, they criticizers would tune in to my lack of confidence, and think it was good enough. Sorry if this doesn't make sense — just an emotional topic. thanks for bringing it up.

  • Tralli

    Sal, you have a wide open heart. Not everyone has the kindness and compassion you have. There are snarky people, blogs and comments as a result of unhappiness. I cannot believe a truly happy, content, confident individual will devote a nanosecond of precious time negatively judging another person. Carry on, and thank you for your blog, we are all so lucky to have you. I wish there were more people like you in the world!

  • Carmen

    Wowsers, this topic has certainly tickled a few nerves. Nothing wrong with that, provocative thinking helps drive progress. That said, I must comment that human nature being what it is, permits a little bit of judgemental thinking. The key here is think twice, speak once…or not at all. I try not to flog myself if I have an opinion, I just try to see more than one side of the situation. Many good issues have been raised here; academic vs. business culture, religious considerations, personal history etc. I am most certainly appalled at a young woman in a grocery, in thread bare pajamas, no undergarments, intentionally strutting about with all her lady parts exposed or jiggling. This is not fashion, this is exhibitionism and that is a totally different subject. I was raised in a very conservative time in a very conservative family with very conservative dress codes. Therefore, my opinions are formed in that context. I am not apologizing for my opinion, just stating a fact. I celebrate a woman who defines her style and choices in her dress no matter her age or size, but boundaries need to be identified and respected to maintain a culture where intelligence and free choice can prosper.
    Ok, didn't mean to go on, but there it is.

  • rb

    to Sal, since you asked, one of my (now) closest friends is a woman whom I met at work. She was just out of college and I'm about 15 years older. One day I overheard some male colleagues referring to her as "the Party Girl." So the next time I had an opportunity to speak with her, I told her I thought she should tone it down a bit for the office. You know what she said? "Thank you for telling me."

    I don't work in Academia, I work in an old-school male dominated field. We don't all have to dress like Hillary Clinton, but if we want to be taken seriously, we do need to look like we are dressed for the (right) profession.

    My friend is doing really well in her career and is dressing really appropriately now. She's gorgeous and looks great in anything, so it definitely not a body-related sentiment, but rather appropriateness-related.

  • WendyB

    Wear what you want!

    (As long as it is not Hillary Clinton's hair clip.)

  • Lucy D. Wiggins

    I'm in much agreement with rb. A woman I work with loves to flaunt her body before our male cohorts. It is to the point where she ignores our (already very relaxed dress code) and wears skimpy dresses, mini skirts, and halter tops. There are some days when nothing she wears would be considered "office appropriate".

    Sadly, if I were to take up her style of dress I would not only be hauled into the bosses office and given a lynching, but would be made fun of by her.

    There's no fear of me doing that, however. I am much too fond of the way I dress and have been complimented on my use of color theory in my wardrobe. Still, it is a thing of great irritation to know that some women can get away with murder, and the rest of us must act as the canary.

  • Lauren

    Wow, thank you so much for writing this!! Agreed with everything you said. I can't bare catty comments like 'you shouldn't wear that'

  • Melinda

    Sal, you’ve done it again! Another brilliant post. ;)

    I won’t lie…I’ve had the occasional catty thought cross my mind now and then. But I would never look another woman over with disdain or make nasty comments about her clothes or figure. It is fine to have opinions, but not every thought needs to be verbalized, especially when it could be hurtful.

    Sometimes it’s better to not say anything. Keep it to yourself. If the person is closer to you and you feel the need to say something, do it gently. There is no need to be mean.

    We all have imperfections. I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of rude stares and mean comments, even when I’m not wearing anything special.

    Last year I went out to dinner with my husband on Valentine’s Day. As we were leaving the restaurant, I heard this woman say, very loudly: “She shouldn’t be wearing that!” I knew she was talking about me. I was wearing a bright red top that complimented my dark hair and creamy skin. The whole ensemble was sexy but classy. I wanted to ask her what was so inappropriate about my outfit. It reminded me of high school when girls would make fun of me because my clothes weren’t the latest style. I tended to wear clothes that were kind of hippie/eclectic-looking. I didn’t dress like the other girls with their tight jeans, low-cut tops, and expensive Coach purses. My makeup was also pretty bold and funky which was deemed taboo by other students.

    I also remember hearing a friend in high school calling another girl a prostitute because she wore a short skirt and happened to be curvy. My friend’s words were: “Natalie shouldn’t be wearing that. She looks like a whore!” I felt so bad for that poor girl.

    My ex-boyfriend’s mother, at 60 years old, had a nasty habit of criticizing other women and tearing them down. If she didn’t like your clothes or your shoes or the color of your skin, she would sneer at you with disgust and make bitchy comments. Completely unacceptable…childish behavior.

    I’ve heard so many people say that a woman shouldn’t be wearing certain things. Although certain styles aren’t flattering on everyone, why is it necessary to ridicule and shame and judge other women because of what they choose to wear? My motto is live and let live.

    I hate this trend of people wearing flip-flops everywhere and showing off unattractive feet, but that doesn’t mean I will criticize them loudly and hurt their feelings. I might not find obese women in tight clothes to be a pretty sight, but who am I to tell them what to wear?

    Besides employers at certain places, who really has the authority to tell another woman what she shouldn’t wear? It comes down to judgmental behavior that only serves to hurt others. I try to refrain from policing other women’s bodies and choices, especially if it does not harm anyone or affect my life.

    Thanks for this post, Sal…you said what I’ve always believed.

  • GothGirl

    As someone who lacks any traditional style and am proud of it. I hate it when people tell me I should not wear comfortable clothes that show who I truly am. Nobody has any right to tell me I should not wear what I please. Particularly because none of my clothes are tight, revealing, trashy or tacky like nearly all american fashion. Quite the opposite… I’m usually covered all over.

    Normalcy is horribly boring. And most “women’s” clothes (made for people who are tall and very thin and flat) are tacky. People who ever comment on my clothes get a lecture. And they deserve it for being so shallow.

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