Dressing The Part: What It Means To Be A Lady

Most girls say that the moment they knew they became a “”woman” was when they first got their period… Usually. That didn’t happen for me (obviously my period did, but  the feeling  like I became a “woman” did not). Maybe I’m vain, but that moment came to me when I turned eighteen and my parents bought me my first set of Mikimoto pearls. I remember putting them on and instantaneously feeling like a woman. It wasn’t because I was WEARING the pearls, it was because as a rite of passage, I had the pearls. I had a new responsibility. My mom always wear pearls, so for me, that was a stepping stone in my womanhood. I never really got boobs (who are we kidding – I’m still as flat chested as an adolescent boy), so that moment never really happened perse, so this was a big deal. Yet, at the same time, being a woman (oh god can we stop calling me that?) was less about what I wore and more about how I felt. I could wear the pearls but not feel ladylike at the same time. Its a mentality, a sense of being. Less Hellen Reddy’s, I am woman hear me roar, more like Shania Twain’s, Man, I feel like a woman.

However, what is it about pearls, diamond necklaces, etc. that make ladies feel lady like? Had my parents bought me a masculine looking Rolex for graduation I probably would have been equally happy, yet less feminine looking. And what is it about accessories. Women’s accessories being marketed as “petite”, “dainty”, “light”, whereas men’s accessories are often “flashy”, “big”, “statement”.

These are called SHANTS. As in shorts that can also be pants (and visa versa). Also, as in you SHAN’T wear them (as if that was a word).

Majority of my adolescence was full of bad, awkward, confusing outfits and accessories that seriously made me question whether I had a mirror to look at before I left my house – or why my mother let me walk around in public wearing that, and even how I possibly had friends at that point of my life (even now I question how I have friends when I wear certain outfits). I went through a “skater girl” phase where the brands I wore were under PacSun’s domain, like Etnies, Hurley, Element, etc. (right? cringe). Simultaneously in an attempt to find my feminine side, I also went through a pink phase – so think pink Etnies, black and pink Hurley shirts… even more cringe worthy. I clearly was going through a major identity crisis. I was never called a tomboy (no that was left for my sister Alex who rocked zip up cargo pants / “shants” as I like to call them), yet, I never really dressed like a girl (except when my mother would literally put me into a dress). Negotiating my skater-girl masculine side with my pink feminine side was a really awkward result of how gender binaries were extremely confusing to me at the time.

GQ will always have my heart

However, now that I’m a twenty-something, responsible adult, I still find myself confused as to what it means to actually dress like a woman. Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly are my idols, yet, I find more pleasure flipping through menswear magazines like GQ and Esquire, than I do MarieClarie and Lucky. Mens suits, shoes, ties, accessories fascinate me – while women’s fashion for me is cut and dry and ultimately simple. On the train I find myself looking longingly at mens’ designer watches rather than womens’ engagement/wedding rings. While I don’t dress in menswear (for the most part), I admire a perfectly tailored suit. I wear whatever is comfortable, whether its a dress, or jeans and a t-shirt (its almost always the latter). So much so when a guy I had dated for six months took me out to dinner on an occasion and I came out wearing a skirt, he was literally appalled that I wasn’t wearing pants (or my “clown” pants as he so commonly referred to my expansive collection of patterned/colored/highwaisted pants… rude).

After a beautiful day at Central Park and shopping uptown, I took a leisurely bus ride from the  Upper East Side to downtown. A group of high school aged (let’s be honest, I’m terrible at ages but they could be anywhere from 5th grade to just graduating high school) girls sat near me and discussed their future career plans (so THAT is what New York raised kids do, I guess).

I want to work on Wall Street”, said one girl.

Ew why?”, said her concerned friend. I would be rightfully concerned as well.

I don’t know. I really want to wear a pantsuit everyday and not worry about wearing a dress all the time,” she answered.

I sat, dumbfounded. I almost wanted to interrupt their conversation and tell her that NOBODY could pull off a pantsuit unless you’re Hillary or some other female leader of a country. Yet, I didn’t have it in my heart to tear down this girls’ dream of forever working in a pantsuit because she thought it was posh and (maybe) comfortable (although, if its about not shaving your legs for a bit of time, I’m totally behind that girlfriend).

My idea of business attire has always been a skirt suit, or a dress. Something nice, silhouetted, and classic. Personally, I never liked the idea of pantsuits. But as I listened to these girls digress into their conversation about pantsuits, I couldn’t help but think (queue the Carrie Bradshaw pondering voice as she sits and types on her computer in front of her window overlooking her quaint West Village street):

Are women beginning to wear the pants?

Take note from my idol, the ManRepeller, in business casual attire.

I’m obviously talking figuratively and literally – if you’re that dense. I didn’t begin this rant to digress into feminist theories or anything. But I do think something should be said about the way women dress in the workplace decades ago (think: circa MadMen era), and how they dress now (think: not exactly pantsuit, but business casual blazer paired with a nice pair of cropped pants). Maybe its the sign of the times (and changing gender norms), or maybe its just a simple fashion change, but think about it.

Anyways, back to my rant about dressing your gender. I have a serious bone to pick with this idea of a gender binary (and have for awhile ). How mens clothes are mens clothes and womens clothes are womens clothes. I, as I’m sure a lot of you do as well, shop in the mens t-shirt, tops and sweater section very often. And while boyfriend jeans may do somewhat of a job of crossing that line, it still says “I’m wearing pants that are supposed to look like man pants”, rather than “I’m wearing pants that are comfy and make me look fashionable”. Do you get where I’m going with this (it’s complicated and tangential, I know)?

Last year I particularly had a conundrum where I found that for a few weeks, women were hitting on me and men were telling me I dressed like a lesbian. Like, seriously? What the fuck does that even mean?! (Apparently it was my jeans jacket one time, and my t-shirt another). Even more troubling, when I was actively on the job hunt, I heard from a peer that a corporate company would essentially mandate their female employees to wear heels every day to work. How about no? I absolutely get a business attire dress code – but a business attire dress code based on sex? Unless they’re also mandating men to wear heels as well, then I’m not about it, bro. We can talk about my love for gender bending another time, I promise.

Serious gripe with this idea that you need to dress according to whether you are female, male, gay, straight, etc. At the end of the day do what you want, it’s quite fucking liberating. END RANT.


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