icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

From Phyllida's Desk

Shopping Under the Influence

I bought an "Eat, Fuck, Howl" t-shirt at a Queer Lit performance the other night, because I need a daytime outfit for the Jane Austen Society's annual general meeting next month. Naturally, I was drunk when I bought it, and two days later, when I read the back of the shirt, I learned a lesson about the dangers of casual purchases: lesbianwerewolves.com. Sigh. Because really, I am so much more of a bisexual cat woman (if not necessarily the Cat Woman, or only if I can be with the Batman who has a serious relationship going with Robin).

Now, I know what you're thinking: "Who did you think would be selling an 'Eat, Fuck, Howl' t-shirt? Log Cabin Republicans? Shakers?" But that's the problem with clothes in general. I had seen our mistress of ceremonies wearing one, and like all people who look good in clothes she is tall and kind of … tall. And I thought, "Hmm. What a lovely sentiment on that lovely shirt on that lovely body. I would like to express that sentiment and look like that too." Which is why shopping should require licensing and sobriety tests, like driving.

You see, it's not about the lesbians or the werewolves. I can get behind sisterly and paranormal, cross-species solidarity as well as the next person. No, the problem is that it's a "man's" t-shirt: it has real sleeves and a high neck. It's uncomfortable. And if there's any garment more absurd than an uncomfortable T-shirt I don't want to know about it.

Why, in a time when clothing is supposed to be (or can be) gender-neutral and comfortable, would anyone choose to wear a garment that comes all the way up to the base of the throat and just lies there, bothering you? And who would want to wear these big full "short" sleeves that come more than halfway down your upper arm and feel flappy and baggy and look ugly?

In the past, one of the ways people displayed their wealth was by wearing clothes that were hard to get in and out of. A man who wore skin-tight breeches and a coat that looked as though it was molded onto him was displaying the fact that he could afford to employ a valet to help him dress and undress, just as a woman who wore a dress with dozens of tiny little buttons down the back or a corset laced so tight she could barely breathe was showing off the services of a lady's maid.

But even working people's clothes were impractical in so many ways. Before zippers, men's pants had button flies. And before that, men connected their stockings or leggings to their codpiece with "points" (laces) that had to be tied together. Imagine having to pee in a hurry and untying all those points. Women, of course, wore some kind of corset for centuries. Remember Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" books? Not only did these pioneer women do farm work and heavy housework in corsets and high necks and long sleeves, even in summer—but Ma wanted her daughters to sleep in their corsets as well. Only Laura, the "rebellious" one, secretly left hers off at night.

Perhaps it's been so long since women threw off our corsets (except for sex play and professional work) and started wearing pants that we've forgotten all the comfortable aspects of traditional "women's" clothes, like scoop necks and skirts in summer and never ever having to wear a necktie. Never ever ever ever ever. Who in their right mind would deliberately wrap a piece of fabric around a high collar buttoned up and then tie it tight and not go into a conniption fit? Just thinking about wearing a necktie makes me feel like a cat in a dress: when I get out of this contraption I will claw you to death.

The truth is we still choose style over comfort much of the time. High heels haven't gone away, or miniskirts. Girdles are back, now called "Spanx." Many women wear pants that are so tight they make a corset seem like a muumuu by comparison, while young men wear their baggy, droopy pants that force them to shuffle along for fear of dropping trou. You can't tell me these are comfortable choices. We're saying something with these odd styles, even if it's only "I'm willing to suffer to look cool."

Those sci-fi shows in which everyone wears the same jumpsuit misunderstand an important aspect of human nature. We want to look like everyone else, only different. It's been years since I saw someone on the street wearing the exact same skirt as me. And I was embarrassed—for both of us. Why? I have no idea. I've often wished that we had uniforms at my job, to save having to decide what to wear in the morning. But what if the uniform had a high neck or long sleeves, or looked better on a taller person, someone with a different body shape? I'd rather wear clothes that I choose, that suit me.

I intend to wear that lesbian werewolves T-shirt, although I will have to cut off or roll up the sleeves and slash open that high neck, because it's a fine thing to walk around with words on your shirt that make people look, and look away, and then try not to look some more. And the alternative is … dreary.

Be the first to comment