The aisle between ‘men’s’ & ‘women’s’ clothing is just one more invisible line to erase

I can’t remember the last time I got dressed in the morning without thinking about what my outfit said about me, except when I just thought about how it felt like me.

In my years as a younger sister living at home, my fashion sense largely consisted of trying to look different than my older sister who I already looked too much like, on a diet of her hand-me-downs.

Working a retail job in high school, my clothing choices represented a desire to be taken seriously by my older co-workers — coordinated jewelry and pencil skirts.

Since taking on a position of authority and long hours, my style has changed once more. I’ve started shopping in the men’s clothing section.

After purchasing my first item in the men’s department — a soft, baby-blue collared shirt on sale for $5 — I’ve had a revelation that was best summed up by a Quartz article by Lucy Rycroft-Smith entitled “Switching to men’s clothing taught me that the world doesn’t want women to get too comfortable”.

“Like a lot of women, I’ve long been accustomed to scrambling out of my clothes at the end of the workday as fast as possible,” Rycroft-Smith wrote. “Being off-duty meant taking off my high heels, stripping off my tights, shedding knickers and anything with a waistband.”

For some reason, that one baby-blue shirt came to mean something more to me than a colour that goes well with jeans. It was the first time I genuinely didn’t dress for what I wanted to look like, but how I felt.

Wearing a men’s shirt was liberating, not because I wanted to look conventionally masculine, but because it actually fit me comfortably. It fit my shoulders and there was enough fabric to cover my mid-drift, thick enough that there was no risk of a bright-coloured bra showing through.

Here’s where I differ from Rycroft-Smith though. More than simply crossing the aisle to the men’s department, it bothered me that the line existed at all. The gendering of my previous wardrobe, which was largely sourced by the women’s department, didn’t simply exclude comfort — it excluded masculinity.

Clothes aim to create something beautiful on a body, but by defining that beauty by the types of bodies that can fit into them, they limit that definition to a certain ideal of an acceptable gendered body. 

While I may feel most at home with my hair cropped short and my sweater two sizes too big, there are others I know who feel most at home in the same fashion choices I abstain from — heels, painted nails and waistbands. And not all those people are women.

To put it more simply, I shouldn’t have to ‘dress like a man’ to be comfortable, any more than a man should have to ‘dress like a woman’ to feel beautiful.

The taboo line between the ‘men’s’ and ‘women’s’ departments is more easily traversable than we think and putting a toe across it can be liberating in more ways than one.  It’s time to do away with the idea that clothing means anything more political than the colours and shapes that make you feel the most like you.

Jane is one of The Journal’s Editors in Chief. She’s a fourth-year English major. 

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