Last Friday I posted this romper as my upcoming weekend outfit: so comfortable, so cool in the heat.
I posted it on my personal Facebook page with the intro: “I need you to weigh in on the romper/playsuit debate–practical weekend wear or just too much trouble for bathroom breaks?” I was curious how people felt about this somewhat peculiar garment.
Well, I got what I asked for!
A friend whose opinion I respect first entered the fray with the idea that rompers are a way to infantilize women in a culture already bent on relegating women to the sidelines. It had never occurred to me that inspiration for this “playsuit”–though maybe that particular term should’ve clued me in–came from the one-piece outfits babies and toddlers wear to allow them freedom of movement and simplicity in dressing (though not in diaper changing…but I digress).
Mind blown. Was I unintentionally reinforcing the paradigm that women are to be, as the childhood behavioral paradigm of yore says, seen and not heard? That our voices don’t really count and that when we do speak we can be ignored as not serious, not important? That is the last thing I want to do.
But then another friend, whose opinion I also respect, chimed in and said that she found rompers (or at least the one in the post) to be “free and easy, ” with “no binding anything”–which immediately made me think of the most binding garment ever invented: the corset, designed to accentuate a woman’s waist to the point of anatomical impossibility and internal damage, all for the male gaze. Second wave feminism famously fought to liberate women from girdles and highly structured brassieres, the corset’s descendants. So a garment whose primary characteristic is that it’s free and easy, totally non-binding, to me sounds like a stab in the eye to any effort to circumscribe women through fashion.
Then yet ANOTHER friend whose opinion I also respect (and who challenges me to think critically about these issues all the time–it is awesome to have a friend like that) said that she is a grown-ass woman and if she wants to wear a romper with a bib and a diaper she’s going to do it and damn anyone, man or otherwise, who tries to infantilize her.
This all begs the question, of course, of whether women’s fashion, in itself, is a construct inherently designed to appeal to the male gaze and whether it can be reclaimed as a means of feminist/womanist self-expression. I’m going to argue the second while keeping an eye on the detrimental influence of the first–and reserve the right to adapt and refine my opinion as I learn more about the complex interplay of gender politics and fashion.
What’s your take–is fashion a pro-woman creative aesthetic or a woman-dominating bid for patriarchal power? Somewhere in between? Do you even CARE?
Here’s some good food for thought to get ya started or help you dig deeper: a self-describe “dyke’s” take on why she loves fashion and how she thinks it communicates to people of different genders.
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8 thoughts on “Can I Wear a Romper?”
I want to make a distinction here that I think is really important. “Women’s fashion” has existed since there were women who wore clothes. And who was making those clothes? WOMEN! Where things went downhill for us was the creation of the fashion INDUSTRY and the use of media to market/sell clothing. With that being said, I don’t think we need to “reclaim” women’s fashion because it already belongs to us. As feminist women what we can do, if we choose, is speak up/point out the sexism that runs rampant in every aspect of the fashion industry/fashion marketing.
I love the idea that women’s fashion has existed since women have been wearing clothes, Sheena. And yes, mostly women made clothes for the majority of humanity’s existence. But I think men’s gaze began to shape women’s clothing long before the modern fashion industry as we know it really got into full swing because of patriarchy. Cause ain’t nobody in their right minds gonna wear corsets unless some powerful forces in culture (and men were the powerful forces) were telling them to! And now proponents of Kim (and Beyonce??) wearing corsets as expressions of feminism, please weigh in.
I said the fashion industry, not the *modern* fashion industry. I was talking about when people started selling women’s clothing as a business. Some women are still wearing corsets today and I would argue that’s an extreme response to what they perceive our current society’s ideal body to be, i.e. I don’t think powerful forces in culture are currently telling women to wear corsets but some do anyway. As far as Kim is concerned, I doubt she’s wearing a corset for feminist reasons but she may be.
The clothes we choose to wear is a “fashion statement” we are making- and no matter how we intend it, the people who view us will receive a message from it which is largely dictated by their own perceptions. If their perceptions are too biased, it becomes a no-win for the dresser because item X is too “sexy” (or revealing or tight) item Y is too “prudish” (or severe or dumpy) and item Z is too “childish” (or clownish or distracting).
Personally, I am not a fan of a romper- except that one romper I had once that was super-comfy and just the right colors to be a very adult and neutral romper :D.
Ultimately, we all need to choose what feels right to us because we cannot please everyone. However, there are audiences whose perception of our fashion we can, should and do try to satisfy. You probably wouldn’t wear this romper on a job interview and I don’t think anyone would wear that in my office- not because it’s not cute, but because it doesn’t portray the message that people in my office want to send with their clothes.
I guess my point is that its less about the message of the clothes than the audience of the clothes. And there are times when you should care and times when you shouldn’t. I’d save the romper for times when I felt I shouldn’t care about the audience’s view of it, but that’s just me. (And I might feel differently if it were *my* romper.)
Meredith, thanks for weighing in! I completely agree that you’d be naive (my word, not yours :) ) to completely disregard your audience when it comes to sartorial choices. I would not wear this romper to work (although I did wear one once on a Saturday to come pick up something when the office was closed). But the folks commenting on FB got me thinking about whether I was giving an unintended message to the audience around which I *was* wearing the romper–basically anyone who happened to see me on the weekends–and whether I am reinforcing the infantilization of women. It’s that whole “I’m wearing this to make a statement” vs. “I’m wearing this without caring what statement I might make” vs. “I know what statement this might make but I’m not making that particular statement but how does anyone know that?” conundrum. Articulate, I know! :)
Amen, Sheena! There is one thing that constantly reminds me that the modern fashion industry is based in patriarchy, and it is POCKETS. All my nice quality work pants have no pockets. If nicer pants do have pockets, they won’t even hold a phone properly. That, plus the fact that our clothes generally cost more and are thinner / lighter weight and more disposable, and our shoes are impractical and uncomfortable… maybe we should take over.
Everything you just said is SO true! We should definitely take over! Also, I’ve found that everything that is “made for men” is generally better than the things that are made for women. That’s why I use a “man’s” razor. It’s sharper, i.e. works better for its purpose. Also, things such as deodorant and other toiletries can also cost more that are “made for women.” It’s referred to as the “pink tax.” So look out for that the next time you buy deodorant. ;)
Pockets are a big reason I have kept my Zara men’s pants…they actually HOLD stuff. Gah.