You’re Not The Boss Of Me

By Cassie, Already Pretty Contributor

I’ve been reading a lot of articles on supposed style lately, all written in the most ludicrously over the top language, and as a result I’ve got a real bee in my bonnet right now about the way so many people write about style and fashion as if it’s the end of the world. Seriously, most Dominants would feel embarrassed to boss people around as threateningly as style editors do. If I see one more article telling me what I must and must not wear I think I’m going to toss my laptop out a window.

10 Things Every Woman Must Own screams InStyle as if every woman has the same requirements; 100 Must Haves for Fashionable Women bellows Daily Mail, as if there is only one set list of things that make anyone fashionable; 11 Things You Should Never Wear on A Date commands WhoWhatWear.com as if all heterosexual men have completely identical taste in women’s fashion, and as if women choose their wardrobe for a date solely on the whims of their potential partner. Don’t wear shorts, no wait, now you MUST wear shorts, never wear more than two prints, except this season when more prints is better…around and around until it makes my head spin.

The language used in these articles is all so urgent, so alarming, that it gives a sense of world shattering importance, and terrible consequences should we disobey. Never, Need, Right Now, Must Have, Perfect. So many absolutes to use when talking about something as nebulous and unquantifiable as style. I’m sorry guys, but I’m going to have to break this to you right now: There IS no absolute “perfect” style, only the right style for you. What works for you might not work for anyone else in the whole world, but you also might look amazing in everything that’s on trend, all the time. This second instance is pretty unlikely, but sometimes it happens. Yet the idea that there is any fashion item that anyone truly “must have”? That there is a testable, quantifiable way to “be fashionable,” to “be attractive” that works for everyone? It’s a load of horse hooey.

Harrumph

The thing is, disingenuous hype in general doesn’t bother me so much, and I’m not sincerely suggesting that everyone only ever write about fashion or style in a totally quantifiable, factual way.  Everyone wants to make whatever they’re talking about sound like the most awesome, important, groundbreaking thing in the world, regardless of how true any of these things are, and I can dig that. What bothers me is the underlying, nebulous threat that lurks under all these absolutes. The words used to describe fashion aren’t just words – they can have a very real impact on women’s style choices. Absolute language creates a sense of absolute panic over the absolutely false idea that there is a “right” and a “wrong” way to dress, and discourages women from taking chances that might make them much happier in the end than following the totally arbitrary rules that we’re “supposed” follow. A post over at Not Dead Yet  recently about some adorable floral Doc Marten boots reminded me just how prevalent this fear is for many women, and just how annoyed I get at writers who encourage it. How many times have you looked at something – be it a dress or makeup or whatever – and thought, “I love that, but I couldn’t wear it.” How many times have you looked at someone with rainbow colours all through her hair, and sighed wistfully knowing you couldn’t be so “brave”? How many times have you pulled your hair back on a sweltering day and wished you “dared” to just cut it all off? What exactly is stopping you from doing any of these things?

tumblr_myv3psduBB1qe1ovwo1_500

Granted, this isn’t an everyday look. But is it really a “never” look?

Women who wear bright colours or unusual shapes or have brightly coloured hair are considered “daring,” “courageous,” and “brave.” Bravery, to me, seems to suggest that their actions could result in something scary or damaging happening, but that they choose to do that thing anyway.  In most instances, there is no real danger involved in choosing to step outside your usual fashion routine. There are exceptions – take the recent example of Felicia Day losing hundreds of YouTube followers because she decided to cut her hair – but for the vast majority of us there aren’t actually any real world consequence for wearing blue eyeshadow to work. But the language used to talk about fashion makes us feel like there’s danger. Why would writers use such alarming words otherwise? It would be ridiculous to talk about something with such urgency if there’s no real consequence for not following their advice. But there isn’t, and it IS ridiculous.

Rainbow Hair

Don’t you want this hair? *I* really want this hair.

So here’s my challenge to you: Go out this month and pick one thing that you really like the look of, but have never been “daring” enough to wear, and wear it. I don’t care if it’s blue eyeshadow (why does everyone freak out about that so much anyway? I LOVE blue eye shadow), a huge necklace, or a bikini. Just pick something, anything. Try it on. Try it out, and see if anything terrible happens.* I’m willing to bet you money it won’t. Then try another, and see what happens. Still not dead yet? Then try another!

Join me in refusing to listen to underhanded threats from style writers anymore. Screw the style police, let’s go shopping!

*Please note – I’m assuming you’re all going to use your good judgement and not wear a bikini to work at a law firm. I take no responsibility if you do decide to do this.

Image credits: Grumpy kitty from Cheezburger.com, Blue eyeshadow look from @__missjazmina on Instagram, pastel dyed hair from Ugg-off on Flickr

_ _ _ _ _

The author of Reluctant Femme, Cassie is a queer thirty something Australian who thinks too much, reads too much, talks too much, and has way too many pretty things. Her writing revolves around an exploration of femme concepts, beauty products, feminism, and how they intersect with being a queer, poly, cisgender woman with fantastic nails. You can catch up with her in shorter bursts on Twitter as @anwyn, and see endless pictures of her nails on Instagram as @anwynincognito. She lives for comments, so if you’re reading by all means speak up! Even if you think she’s full of crap, she always likes to hear feedback.

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  • Alex

    Whenever I read one of those clickbait articles, that commanding language always makes me skeptical. “Oh really? I simply MUST have those shoes? Those shoes are ugly.” I’m pretty sure I am a lot more dismissive of the suggested clothing when the tone is commanding. On the other hand, I recently saw an article about how loafers are actually great and due for a comeback. I have not given loafers a second thought since I was in high school and the chunky one with huge thick heels were “in”. The positive spin of “look at all these cool shoes and cool outfits they work with” definitely sank in more because I was shopping and saw some loafer-y shoes and I bought them. They had fun detailing on the toe that initially caught my eye but it’s quite likely that I would have dismissed them had I not had that article on my mind.

    I’m pretty sure the reason I don’t like the articles commanding the reader to wear something because it has this assumption of “you’re doing it wrong and we are correcting you.”

  • Courtney

    I did cut my hair off about a year ago, and I love it. I spent years going between chin-length and middle-of-the-back length, and itvalways drove me nuts. But I’m short and fat, so the whole damned world was sending the message that a pixie cut was not for me. I finally realized that the way my face looked when my hair was in a ponytail was what it would look like in a pixie–and I was fine with that. I get so many compliments on my hair now, and I only spend 5 minutes on it in the morning.

    • Jen

      I too have a fat face and get some compliments when I pull it all up. My mother is fat too and has rocked the short hair for decades. The shortest I’ve gone is a chin-length bob, both times I’ve donated my hair. But I gotta say, I wish and wait and long for the couple of months afterward when I can finally pull it up. I’m sure it has to do with the thickness and curliness–it looks like Sal’s when she had long curly hair. Anyway, I just wanted to say short hair can look awesome on a fat face, just not mine. 🙂

  • sche

    I am that woman with rainbow hair, with no fear of chopping it off into a pixie cut if the mood takes me. I’m the one who wears bright colored clothes and every color of eyeshadow and nailpolish, and puts on red lipstick just because, and sometimes puts on blue lipstick just because. Those are things that feel natural and authentic to me.

    But it has only been within the last year or so that I have tackled challenges that may seem mundane to a lot of other people. I took up hula hooping last summer at the age of 30, and the hours spent outdoors in oppressive heat and humidity was what finally got me to buy a pair of shorts for the first time since I was 13. Now I find myself constantly combing athletic wear racks when I shop, in search of new cute tanks and leggings to wear while I practice, where before, I would have been covering up in t-shirts and pj pants to hide my jiggly upper arms and the bulge of my stomach.

    The only thing I can think of off the top of my head that I consistently shy away from is wearing a bathing suit. But I also have no pressing reason to own or wear one. I don’t need one to go tanning, I don’t like swimming (for reasons unrelated to my weight/shape), and I don’t live near any beaches, nor do I find them terribly enjoyable for any extended period of time.

    Yet I feel a disturbing tug of societal pressure to at least want to want one? And it doesn’t all come from the mainstream “get a beach body in five weeks,” “bikini-ready diet,” sort of messages. Over the past few years as I’ve seen the rise of fatkinis, it leaves me with this feeling that I should desire to be one of those women out there giving no damns about being seen in a two-piece, encouraging other women to do it, too. And while I absolutely love seeing images shared by women of all shapes and sizes who have found the confidence to wear their swimsuits, and would certainly encourage someone to do it if it’s right for them, it’s not right for my current lifestyle and personality. It’s very strange to realize that I feel pressure from a positive message in that way.

    (And of course, this doesn’t even touch on those “must have!” fashion lists and the like. They tend to assume you work in an office and do things like date and go to bars and dinner parties and are able to keep a white shirt clean, whereas I work a retail job with a uniform, don’t date, and would rather chow down with my friends over a board game or horror movie than set foot in a bar. Also I drop food on my boobs a lot.)

  • Another fun thing is that they’re all contradictory! One magazine will tell you how to wear crop tops for work and another will include it crop tops in the list of things to never wear to work. Really, it’s best to just look at the pictures.

    • LIz

      Truly! An awful lot of the advice for what to wear to work assumes we’re all in creative professions–like fashion magazine writing– where a crop top, gladiator sandals, and micro-mini skirt (all worn at the same time) wouldn’t raise an eyebrow among either colleagues or clients.
      Sometimes though, even when I just look at the pictures I don’t get the ideas behind the looks. They just look not-at-all-usable for me. Sigh…

  • Chris

    Cassie is wonderful. I agree with her completely. I very much resent the commanding language of the type of writing she referred to.

    I have worn 3 date no-nos on a date: high-waisted jeans, sneakers, and a turtleneck. It was for a sports event at a cold stadium. I am guilty of 3 fashion felonies at the same time. Ask me if I give a flying ***k! Oh, and I didn’t have to face a firing squad at dawn.

  • Great article, Cassie! I just wrote on my blog about finding the courage to be feminine and I have noticed these issues you mention in the fashion magazines and columns all the time. I don’t pay any attention to them and in fact most of the must have items are not in my closet at all. No white button front or black blazer in my closet! I make the choice to wear little or no makeup and I think that in doing so I am making a statement with my face.

    The magazines and fashion columns are ultimately about selling us something. They use headlines that they hope will sell us the magazine and they give us information that supports what is on sale and available from the industry at the moment. In order to keep us buying more, this has to change all the time and thus we get the contradictory dos and don’ts with what to wear. While many of us do want to dress and style ourselves according to what is most flattering on us, the perception of what is flattering is very much tied in to our culture just as what is considered appropriate is tied to it. Some people really do have work place restrictions about clothing and makeup and the consequences of violating them could mean the loss of a job. But even those people have a private life where they can indulge their whims to some degree.

  • Abi Tiki

    Brava!
    It’s interesting, as someone who has used clothing/hair as just another form of creative expression, the language is clear if I shift it over to other forms of art.
    You don’t often hear comments to artists like, ‘why do you spend so much time and money on all that paint/paper/canvas/ink…that’s so vain and shallow!’
    The word ‘must’ is always perplexing to me…seems to be outside my frame of reference.
    ‘Must have this colour on your canvas this season!’
    ‘Must use the exact brushstrokes as everyone else!’
    ‘Must. Not. Do…’ er-hem.
    Excuse me?
    It’s so ridiculous it’s just funny.

    • Cassandra Goodwin

      An artist friend actually told me she was once advised that she must never use an eraser when drawing, or she was doing it wrong. She rightfully laughed uproariously.

  • Abi Tiki

    …Something utterly brilliant that a friend of mine wrote today that might fit here:

    ‘You are not in school anymore. You do not have to sit still in a chair with your hand up waiting to ask a dead person for permission to live’

  • Robin

    When I want to understand how much I’ve grown in my style sense, I remember being 15-25 and taking these articles seriously. It meant ignoring some of my nascent personal style (e.g. I’ve never liked pumps), worrying when I couldn’t find certain items that also fit (those darn white button-downs), and generally feeling like I had to be in a particular box if I wanted to be an adult woman in America. I had as much independence and self-regard as anyone else, I just hadn’t realized to what extent magazines and such were simply making things up and trying to sell me products. I’m thrilled to be past that period of my life, but I’m sure other young women are still in it, and that saddens me a bit.

  • Dressing like an individual with unique tastes is a political act, a way of exercising our freedom of expression. YOU SAID IT! Who really believes this “must have” stuff anyway?

  • Heather

    I use these lists to help me identify blanks in my wardrobe. And honestly, I take them with a grain of salt. I own the Nina Garcia 100 things book- but not everything in that list belongs in my wardrobe- I still for the life of me cannot remotely figure out how to style ankle boots, harness boots, flat boots, brogues, or even cow boy boots in my day to day attire. They feel costumish on me. I prefer a safari jacket to a denim jacket, I love my Aviators, but haven’t found a pair of wayfarers that I feel are flattering to me.
    Especially things NEVER TO WEAR!!!! Some of them are kinda common sense. If you work in a professional environment, you probably won’t have much luck wearing torn jeans to work. If you want to have a second date with someone, I’d recommend not showing up looking like a slob. Most of the 11 date items have to be taken in context- If you’re going to a sports game, then sneakers and a track suit could be perfectly acceptable- definitely more reasonable than breaking your ankle or a heel in insanely costly Louboutins. If you’re going to a dance club, then something shimmery and sparkly could be just the ticket.

  • ALL. OF. THIS.

    I really used to read those lists and subscribe to the “oh no, I don’t have any patterned leggings in my closet (still don’t…), and since I don’t own this trend I’m going to be unfashionable/looked down on/outcast/ugly or what have you” trend-following. It’s only been recently, while learning to be comfortable with my post-partem body, that I actually figured out that the world didn’t end if I didn’t buy the latest trend, and if I didn’t like it, it had no place in my closet. Both me and my wallet are a lot happier.

    I took the plunge last year, and finally got the monroe piercing I’d been coveting for years. Next step: an even shorter pixie cut, with red and purple chunky highlights. And no, it doesn’t make me brave. I just really like colorful hair!

    • Jen

      Oh, I guess I’ve wanted a nose ring for about 5 years, but a. It seems like I’m constantly job interviewing, b. I work with small children right now and think it might get ripped out, and c. I have a CPAP machine I have to wear over my nose at night. But as soon as a. and. b. change, I’m gonna take my CPAP mask in to a piercer and see if it can be done.

      I have also always wanted blue/aqua/or purple highlights, but I think the upkeep would kill me. I’m a dye my own hair, two haircuts a year kind of gal.

    • Cassandra Goodwin

      Hah, the last time I remember desperately wanting something just because I thought I needed them were push down crinkle socks in high school. They were THE THING, but I look back now and realise that wearing hessian sacks on my feet would have been more flattering.

  • Monica H

    Cassie, thank you for this post! One of my revelations over the past few years in fashion was understanding that I have been taking these kinds of articles and advice far too literally! I am a very literal person and a list of “10 Things Every Woman Must Own” should be a shopping list for how to be fashionable, right? All I need to do is buy those things and I’ll have it together and know what to wear! And then I look at the list, realize that they don’t suit me or I already have them, and conclude I must be hopelessly unfashionable and just give up feeling confused. Your post is a very helpful reminder that most of this is baloney, and your perspectives on why this happens were very interesting. Thank you!

  • 33

    so true. I dislike most of the fashion “advice” posts, especially the must-haves.
    It’s sad that social media is making women all over the world dress the same (most women, not all women). the “it” items/trends are popping up in fashion blogspere. most of the bloggers i read have gotten a Chanel Boy or were loaned a Chanel Boy to style it. All the boggers I bookmarked (except 2, Shini Park and Lovely by Lucy) have a Celine trapeze or luggage tote. Everybody wears a ginormous diver watch curtesy of Michael Kors. How about all the midi rings, tiny rings, stacked delicate chains, and ear cuffs.
    It’s increasingly homogeneous in what’s considered “in” or “must-have”. I urge people NOT to imitate bloggers but try finding your own style instead. It doesn’t have to be ground breaking or in any particular style. If you feel good wearing it, if it won’t hurt you (sprained ankle or hammer toes), why not? Don’t let people (media, friends, family) dictate you what you should or should not wear or buy.

  • Cassandra Goodwin

    I really hate the rigidity of the idea that there is only one way to be fashionable; unless you’re a fashion designer, then you get to make your own rules. Personally, I like making my own rules anyway 🙂

    • Monica H

      Well, at some points in my life I have longed for a ‘style formula’ that would be at least one way to be fashionable! This was the engineer in me looking for ‘the answer.’ I thought of clothes as functional and I just wanted to look ‘right.’ It really wasn’t until I started reading this blog that I came to view fashion as a form of self-expression, which of course there is never a formula for and no ‘right’ way to do. 🙂 It has been a transformation for me!