Take a snapshot of the moment you realize your life is straight from a sitcom, or a rom-com, or any other kind of “com” in which the punchline is the neuroses of a woman: it’s Friday night, I scored a red-hot ticket to the show, and my bed is covered in dresses and shoes.
Yeah, it’s a classic image, and so is this: a bed all full of fashion and a few texts to an understanding friend. Challenge: going to a punk show, need to wear clothes, want to make something of an impression. Help find me the solution.
“Jeans and a t-shirt?”
No, God no, not nearly hot enough.
“Your knee-length leopard dress.”
Too conservative, too covered, not enough skin. The hope here is to catch an eye, if not fully suck it in.
“That tight blue dress then,” my friend texted, and the silence of the medium is filled by imagined exasperation. “No, the other one. The one you wear with fishnets, that almost shows your ass. And heels. High ones. Those six-inch ones you got last month.”
Dude, I can’t wear that, it’s a Propagandhi show.
Take a snapshot of the moment you remember again how, in a culture where the female body is so regularly objectified, the act of wearing clothes while female is fully politicized. Always about the gaze of The Other. And always keenly aware of the message coded in every inch of flesh, and every delicate contraption bought to manage what it says.
Show cleavage or show leg, never show both. Unless you just want to not go home alone, in which case more of each. Too tight; it clings. Too loose, it hides. Dust a little bronzer between your breasts, if you’re taking them out tonight. Just a hint, though, not too much; you want him to respect you, right?
The vulnerability of the female body has become the accepted cultural shorthand of seeking sex, or seeking love, and the balance we want of both. So it goes on a Saturday night, the women teetering in high heels. Thighs torn of hair and shivering in the cold, breasts taped and strapped into perilous altitudes. Bodies made to submit to clothes that never seem to fit — at least, not the way products made to sit on a body should.
All the dudes: shirts and jeans, man, just shirts and jeans.
But oh, I remember a heavy sigh, his fingers on a photograph and me trying so hard not to catch his eye: “You never dress like that anymore,” he said.
Knowing how much work goes into it, would you?
Once, in the gutters of a relationship sputtering to its close, I hid inside my clothes: jeans and battered tank-tops, mostly. Otherwise it would be another fight: “Who are you dressing like that for?”
And though every fiber of my feminism ached to be free, I accepted this question as a responsibility: it was my job to stop who looked. And I needed men to look away from what they could not have.
“Oh,” strangers said. “You don’t look like you’re taking care of yourself.”
Everyone’s a critic, these days.
The day I knew it was really really over, I went out and bought miniskirts. (Aren’t you getting too old?) And the tightest shreds of denim. (Your thighs could use some work.) And I tip-toed back into the world, and learned again how to scrutinize every inch of flesh, contemplating what it might promise, and how each promise had to be controlled.
“I don’t walk around the North End flashing $100 bills,” they say, as if a body is just another thing you can hold, and hide, and still have ripped away.
Tell us again, for the record: what was the victim wearing that night?
This is not to say that, in my own way, I don’t enjoy the game.
That night, I found the answer in a black and strapless Betsey Johnson dress, acid wash, and in my flat black Fluevog boots, a studded glove sunglasses perched on my head. To ward off the occasional shivers of social anxiety, you understand.
Her boyfriend, drinking: “You look like you’re wearing a costume.”
I howled with laughter, because really: that’s perfect. Underneath it all is naked honesty. But this? Just a certain form of performance art, booked in for a lifelong run. Costume is the truth.
Anyway, just a snapshot of what picking dresses for Propagandhi can do to you.