Sep 25 2005

Fashion and Misogyny, Part 3


In Which the Author Conducts a Partial Feminist Analysis of a Tacky Mail-Order Catalog

Remember last week when I regaled you with stories of neighborhood kids trapped under avalanches of the mail-order catalogs I reluctantly accumulate in anticipation of Recycling Day? Well, this morning I stuck my trembling hand into one of the piles and pulled out a catalog. I wanted to see what a random sample would register if I ran it through the old Patriarchy Detector.

I identified the collected sample as the "late fall" issue of TravelSmith. TravelSmith’s schtick is dorky-looking "no-iron" clothing for wrinkle-phobic travelers. The no-iron clothes are all "imported," which is a euphemism for "cheap crap from China." It is impossible to find clothes anywhere that are not cheap crap from China. The only way to get around this most basic requirement for First World citizenship would be to grow your own cotton, spin your own yarn, weave your own cloth, and sew your own moo-moo. It is unlikely that you will undertake to do so, as the growing-sewing-moo-moo instinct has been bred out of the American sub-species by the forces of post-industrial capitalist eugenicists.

But I digress.

Fashion, as the patriarchy-blamer knows, perpetuates misogyny by creating fake "differences" between men and women, exaggerating them to delineate the concomitant difference in status, and enforcing them until they are perceived as "natural."

TravelSmith clothes are conservative and dowdy (as opposed to revealing and stripper-y), and misogyny gleams off’em like the Texas sun on a freshly-spat loogey. The language, the styling, the selection, and the colors all rigorously adhere to repressive gender stereotyping..

First I note that the women’s duds are all aimed at people who wish to shrink while traveling. The premier product is a One-Size Slimmer Top, which promises to make the wearer Look One Size Slimmer Instantly.â„¢ It works by incorporating a "secret power liner" that "magically" squashes your internal organs for "effortless travel."

The "secret power liner" is in fact a spandex corset.

Still too huge? Pair your secret magic corset torture shirt with One Size-Smaller Pants. Thanks to the fact that these pants are "near-miraculous," it doesn’t matter "what you eat," since "new tummy panel technology gently trims and hugs your tummy for a slimmer appearance."

Tummy. Tummy tummy tummy. What am I, four?

But go ahead. Eat a water buffalo. TravelSmith really understands the woman traveler’s food addiction pathology, and alludes jovially to the colorful female tradition of bingeing, viz. the Tummy-Control Skirt ("even if you overindulge in local delicacies") and Five-Pounds-Slimmer Pants (when you "enjoy the local cuisine a little too much"). Even the garments that don’t promise virtual weight loss or josh about eating disorders are "slimming," and the ones that aren’t slimming are "flattering," and the ones that aren’t flattering are "the stuff of miracles."

TravelSmith’s dudely clothes, on the other hand, are for the adventurous, non-nonsense man of action. They all have action-y names. The Correspondent’s Jacket. The Venture Vest. The Great Escape Shirt. "Span the globe in suave-savvy microfiber!" "Bring on the dusty backroads and the unexpected downpours!" "A great safari jacket is rugged and capacious!" The emphasis is on "tough travel," "top-gun styling,"  "suave sophistication," and "the classic days of aviation." The men are not, as are the women, encouraged to "curl up" in the clothes, or to "scrunch them" into their bags, although they are permitted to "roll them into a ball and stuff them."

Each men’s garment is made with 267 pockets to load up with "the tools of the trade–notebook, camera, binoculars, and more." It will come as no great surprise that the women’s clothes only have a couple pockets; that’s because a woman naturally prefers to be weighed down with tote bags and purses; binoculars make her look fat. In the one instance where I came across a woman’s version of a "male" garment–a photo vest the sole purpose of which is a pocket delivery device–it naturally had fewer pockets than the dude model.

It will shock no one when I reveal that TravelSmith declines to describe guy-products in terms of slimming, losing 5 pounds, bingeing, magic, romance, miracles, or rampaging uncontrolled "tummies." There are no dresses, purses, sleeveless polos, tunics, "poet" shirts, or "romantic portrait necklines" offered for men. I can’t buy a Varsity Blazer in my size. And the bomber jackets sure as hell don’t come in fuchsia. The natural order is preserved. Thanks, TravelSmith!


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  1. Chris Clarke

    I need a fuchsia bomber jacket.

    Then again, when we first moved to the occasionally stultifying little town in which I now reside, I was verbally gaybashed twice in succession for wearing a faded salmon-colored tank top.

    Maybe it was the tummy thing. I’ve got some major tummage.

  2. Chris Clarke

    Oh, and there’s something about this story that made me think of this series of Twisty posts. Not sure what.

  3. Grandma Blue

    Dear god, what women are made to go through and feel is appalling. I starved myself, or worse, for years, just to make sure I was “appealing” enough. I still look in the mirror and no matter how thin I am I look fat to myself.

    I hate this stuff. I hate that women’s magazines are 1/2 “great recipes to cook for your family” and the other 1/2 “how to lose 10 lbs fast”.

    I hate that so many of my female family members have varying eating disorders.

    I’m with you. It’s the patriarchy.

  4. norbizness

    To quote Rodney Dangerfield, who secretly battled patriarchy like a motherfucker possessed in his off-time (it’s true) in Caddyshack: “Nice Secret Power Liner Dress! You buy an outfit like that, I bet you get a free bowl of soup!”

  5. ae

    Ha! Saw this catalog just this weekend at my grandmother’s house and did note w/ much chagrin that it was damn near impossible to purchase any f*cking apparel for the ladies that included that brand new technology, so cutting edge and avant-garde as to seem magical, maybe you’ve heard of it: the pocket. What in the ever-lovin’ hell is wrong w/ fashion sadists? I need f*cking pockets (when I’m travelling), though I know something so esoteric and fantastical could have unflattering consequences for my ass. God. It’s like asking water from the moon.

    This calls to mind a t-shirt my pal saw at our local Pride parade yesterday: Does my fat ass make my ass look big? That is so Zen I am adopting it as my personal motto.

  6. Kyra

    Yes! Pockets! POCKETS, dammit, I want pockets in my clothing! Oh high-and-mighty lords of fashion in misogyny’s back pocket (yes, misogyny has pockets, why the fuck can’t I?), I do not want to have to drag a purse with me in order to carry keys and a wallet! Such things belong in POCKETS!

    And when (if) you give us pockets, how about, GIVE US BIG ONES!!! My brother walks around with a wallet the size of a softball, a ring of keys that weighs three pounds if it weighs an ounce, and enough pliers, screwdrivers and other tools to set up shop as an electrician, mechanic, and computer repairman all at once! IN HIS POCKETS! Me? I cannot carry around the key to my dad’s car comfortably because the remote control is too big! I searched for WEEKS for a wallet I could fit comfortably in my back pocket, and it wouldn’t fit in the last three pairs of jeans that I tried. I have a bottle of eyedrops that jabs me in the femoral artery with every step I take, chapstick that is outlined like a tiny misplaced penis, and checks that bring up error messages because the machines don’t like it when they’re folded!

    Gods forbid I ever get a cell phone.

    Fucking patriarchy.

  7. Christopher

    Of course, the flip side of this is that men aren’t allowed to carry purses, and the clothes with pockets generally just aren’t that great for summer-wear.

    Sure my jacket has enough room for for a book and sketch-pad and foreign-language flashcards and all the other crap I carry for long bus-rides, but dang-it, I can’t wear a jacket in the middle of summer.

    And if you keep your stuff in your pants pockets, you have to remember to empty them at the end of the day and pick everything else up and pack it the next day. And you have to spend a lot of time sitting on it.

    Maybe this is just another “what about the men” rant, but frankly, patriarchal fashion norms make everybody miserable.

    Damn fashion.

  8. Emma

    And if you keep your stuff in your pants pockets, you have to remember to empty them at the end of the day and pick everything else up and pack it the next day.

    The more you get sucked into the hideous morass of office apparel, the more it becomes apparent that you are expected to have 43214321432 bags rather than just the one-at-a-time that used to suffice. I’m fairly organised, but I’ve been caught out a bunch of times by leaving some crucial element of the crap I carry about daily in another bag.

  9. Emma

    Also: who wants to travel feeling their ‘tummy’ being squished? Isn’t aeroplane/airport food enough of an affront to digestive wellness without all of your organs being mashed?

  10. BitingBeaver

    Twisty, you are the Queen of Patriarchy blaming! This ill-conceived notion that women *should* be anorexic waifs is utterly ridiculous. My first husband used to give me weekly ‘weigh ins’ and then, if I had *gasp* gained a few pounds he would encourage me to starve myself for several days to lose it. Mind you, at the time I was also a stripper and my size 6’s were too big.

    *le sigh* it was a good day indeed when I sent him packing.

    In any case, I’ve managed to work around the purse issue (since I frigging HATE carrying a purse and always, always, leave the damn thing sitting in a restaurant) I now carry a fanny pack. I sure as hell can’t leave it behind when it’s strapped to my person.

  11. yclepta

    So much about pockets – I need to put my four-penn’th in …
    I started using a handbag at about 12 years old. It was a sign of being grown up.
    I “gave up” carrying a handbag around all the time a few years ago. This was possile because I wear no make-up and if I carry anything it’s a couple of tissues (as there is often no paper in the public toilet). I usually wear clothes with pockets ( albeit small useless ones).
    Depends on where we’re going, if it’s a day trip somewhere, I take a rucksack type thingy with camera, bottle of water, mobile etc
    If I’m out with my partner for the evening he carries his wallet and keys anyway so I need nothing. Sometimes I take a very small bag and carry that stuff instead of him – he hates pockets full of crap – it’s uncomfortable to sit around. I agree the rules are crap for men too. The point is it’s just crap.

    As for clothes that slim – it assumes we need to be slim! Oppressive rubbish!!!

  12. delphyne

    Ah, pockets. The last time I had a decent pocket was in the blazer of my school uniform and that’s only because it was unisex. I could fit a lot of stuff in that pocket.

    “Fashion, as the patriarchy-blamer knows, perpetuates misogyny by creating fake “differences” between men and women, exaggerating them to delineate the concomitant difference in status, and enforcing them until they are perceived as “natural.””

    Yes, yes, yes and yes again. God forbid you should ever notice this however – even in so-called feminist circles. Women are just exercising their freedom of choice to be trussed up like chickens and crippled donchaknow?

  13. Twisty

    Christopher, I like you, and that’s why I’m going to let you in on a little secret. It’s a secret girl secret, though, so mum’s the word!

    You really needn’t put yourself to all the trouble and emotional pain of alluding to the suffering of men in discussions about the effects of patriarchy on women. Why? Because, as it is a basic survival strategy for members of an oppressed class to know everything they can about their oppressor, women–especially women who read this blog–already know all about the terrible hardships men suffer at the hands of patriarchy. The heartbreak of not being able to carry a $2000 Hermes handbag. The nightly torture of emptying the pockets. We know about these dreadful oppressions, Christopher. And our hearts bleed for you. They bleed as no hearts have ever bled before.

    Godspeed, man!


  14. Sarah Brodwall

    Hmmm. Anyone know where I can get a t-shirt that says “Do I look fot in this?” in size 4x? :)

    I do find the whole pocket/purse issue very interesting. I can definitely see how withholding pockets from women is another nefarious tool of the patriarchy. But I’m not havin’ any of it! I haven’t carried a purse since high school, opting instead to carry around a small wallet/keychain combo. I take that with me wherever I go in one pocket, and my little mobile in my other pocket. I don’t understand the need to carry more than that (although the kleenex does make sense). I feel so much more free when I’m not encumbered with a massive purse filled with makeup, hairbrush, day planner, feminine sanitary items, etc. It even affects the way I walk. I highly recommend trying to go without a purse if you haven’t done so before. It’s a ball-and-chain you can do without.

  15. Sarah Brodwall

    Uh…try “fat”, not “fot”. Duh. Next time I’ll preview.

  16. Sam

    When I started riding my bike I dropped a few sizes. Over time I noticed the pants I was trying on at my new smaller size had considerably less pockets than the ones I used to wear, and I’ve never been a big woman. The standard two/three pockets in front and two in back devolved into one shallow back right pocket.

  17. Steph

    Also all those slimming fabrics don’t breathe well and make you incredibly hot and uncomfortable–so you have to move less to avoid feeling bad.

    Corsets anyone? Nothing’s changed except the fabric.

    Oh and we get to show off more of our bodies for male titilation and judgement.

  18. Tony Patti

    Dearest Twisty,

    Sexy, cute, fun clothes that show a lot of skin and turn men on are not “Stripper-y”! They are “empowering”, and all true feminists should wear them as much as possible!


    The Patriarchy (It’s not my fault!)

    PS: Men suffer too! But we suffer even more when deprived of the stimulation of a truly empowered feminist in a nice bikini or something!! It’s not my fault!!!

  19. Tony Patti

    I urge any and all women to buy things in the men’s department as often as expedient. When I wanted some tight rock and roll pants I had to buy them from the women’s department. Unlined, lightweight pants are easier to find in the women’s department, too. Finding the right fit might be a little difficult, but sometimes practicality trumps the perfect fit.

    I love my cargo pants. And if my Powerbook case isn’t a man-purse, what is?

    There was a time, oh my beloved ones who aren’t so fortunate as to have had daily personal contact, no matter how superficial, with our blog-hostess, when Twisty would dress up in the most beautiful male drag you could ever wish to see, even including a tiny moustache at times. It was exquisite, and for me, as a man, inspirational, since she showed me what fun could be had when dressing oneself became theater.

    For quite a while dressing has become a matter of practicality rather than fun, though, but I’m still staunchly opposed to respecting the arbitrary lines that divide men’s from women’s clothes, though I will probably never bother to master the arcane art of buttoning backwards. And BTW, who came up with that crazy rule?

  20. Q Grrl

    “Does my fat ass make my ass look big? ”

    Damn, and my fat girlfriend and my fat self stayed home from pride on Saturday (we got stuck in bed, so to speak). … that T-shirt alone would have made the effort to tear ourselves away from ourselves worth it.

    [of note: I live close enough to 9th Street and Duke that I could hear “The Electric Slide” from my front porch Sat. morning. Nothing like feeling the queerness — and all before noon!]

  21. Chris Clarke

    They bleed as no hearts have ever bled before.

    The sound you hear is the one that is made when a sip of Sadaf Brand Cardamom-Flavored Black Tea goes down my trachea instead of my esophagus.


  22. octopod

    I have to say, I think a large part of the reason I haven’t felt the oppression the same way as many women is that my wonderful parents never made me stop treating dressing oneself as theater. I continue, though nominally adult, to wear a cloak on a regular basis. My everyday outfits are piratical, and my formal wear Victorian and masculine. Not sure if I’ll be able to keep this up after college, but I’ll damned well try.
    The buttons thing: apparently (this is what I’ve heard), women’s buttons are on the other side because women were expected to have a servant dress them – thus putting the buttons on the other side to make it easier for the presumably right-handed servant. Yup, as usual, you can blame the patriarchy.
    Regarding pockets, I distinctly recall being able to get cargo pants in a number of Establishment-run places when I was younger, but not anymore. Was it a brief aping-the-males sort of trend, associated with the fashionable skater thing that was going on for a little while, or was I absentmindedly buying clothes in the boys’ section? (This is entirely possible; don’t scoff.) Does anyone else remember this?
    …I miss that trend, if it ever existed. :-p Then again, I’m a hoarder. My “purse” is larger than my head and contains things like fireworks, a monkey wrench, and two different gauges of copper wire. In lieu of pockets, I’ve taken to carrying a gigantic heap of watch, keys, ID, laser pointer, lunchbox, etc. (possibly an exaggeration) on a carabiner at my belt – it’s a system, although somewhat clanky.
    Sorry to rant, but this is a pet issue. My mother needs to have her pager at all times, being a surgeon, and can hardly find pants with enough pockets to clip it on. This might be the “skinny women don’t get pockets” thing again, alluded to by Sam above.

  23. d.e.i.x.i.s.

    Aww, I like corsets :-( Then again, I’m one spooky motherfucker. I used to dress like a lunatic on a daily basis, but I’m over it & now I just do extreme when I go to spooky clubs or if I really feel like it. Though my entire wardrobe is still overwhelmingly monochrome.

    And I loves me some purse. I feel weird without one. I like having lots of stuff with me from scissors to safety pins to duct tape to books, fucking everything. I love my garments with generous pocket space, but there’s the pocket-emptying issue addressed above & I just like having a bag filled with random shit slung over my shoulder.

  24. Sara

    About that pockets thing —

    L. L. Bean, where I buy most of my largely fashion-proof wardrobe (jeans, chinos, size 18 thank you very much), made me laugh unexpectedly this spring when I noticed for the first-time that they were offering one of their popular (with fisherfolk and photographers alike) fishing vests in women’s sizes, and even had it available in pale pink. Ironically, I do not remember them offering it in a size large enough to accommodate my very female chest. Tant pis. Would’ve looked simply fab chock full of film and topped by a fuchsia bomber jacket, non?

  25. Josef K

    When you guys talk about “purses”, you mean handbags, right? If so, don’t you have manbags in the U.S.? Or are they considered effeminate? They’re quite the thing in Britain, although of course they only come in black, navy and khaki, or else they’d be women’s handbags, wouldn’t they?
    In Continental Europe, it seems to be fine for men to carry handbags, and has done since the 1960s.
    … Just my British two penn’orth, gorblimey luvaduck.

  26. shannon

    My ‘purse’ is my backpack. I always have a metric f*ckton of stuff on my back. I even carry my groceries in it. Men can carry messanger bags, which are called man purses by some.

  27. gail davis

    I’d be interested in your review of Cabela’s (www.cabelas.com). If you are not into guns and hunting just get past that and look at the fact that some (not all) of the womens cloths are the same as the mens.

    From Cabela’s I am able to buy pants with lots of deep pockets. They also have some shirts that have real pockets, not just a postage stamp covering the nipple area.

  28. ae

    I’ve never carried a purse. Purses seem designed by lions to slow down antelopes. Is it just me? And what’s with all the futzing required w/ the lipstick and the rest of the bullshit? I’ve got too much on my mind already; I don’t need The Man distracting me w/ his bullshit, too. Plus, I’m not everyone’s mom. Get your own handwipes.

    Q Grrl, howdy neighbor!

    Sarah Brodwall, I’m down w/ “fot,” which read to me as a cross between fat and hot. Nice!

  29. Ron Sullivan

    While I’m flogging sci-fi here (see remark on the corset-piercing entry) I’ll add that Samuel Delaney, who is pretty good about notocong some things, said in something autobiographical more or less that the day he Got It about patriarchal oppression was the day he borrowed a pair of Marilyn Hacker’s jeans and tried to put his hands in the pockets.

  30. Ron Sullivan

    I wonder what that “notocong” is. What a conger eel would have for a backbone if things had shaken out differently on the evolutionary bush?

  31. Kyra

    I haven’t bought jeans in two years. Actually, I don’t think I’ve bought much of anything in two years. I haven’t bought jeans I really *liked* since seventh grade, and those I had to sew cuffs on because they were too short. (Yes, I still have them.)

    Shopping, lately, is an exercise in patriarchy-blaming. Women’s jeans come in two colors: light blue-grey and dark blue-gray. The former looks like they’ve been dipped in urine. It is fucking stupid. They are all skintight, bootcut, made for women who have no leg muscles, and always always always too short for me. And the pockets are so damn tiny I can’t fit my wallet in them. Plus, lately, they come pre-torn, shredded, and slashed—can we all say “planned obsolescence?”

    Then take a look at the men’s section. Gorgeous blues and blacks, cargo pants with all the pockets one can dream about, nice heavy fabric that doesn’t tear if you take a spill off your bike doing twenty mph. Too. Fucking. Big. I have been in love with the dark blue men’s jeans from Mills Fleet Farm for years. But to get them to fit, requires a great deal of intensive labor on that paragon of “women’s work,” the sewing machine.

    Although, given that there’s people who have to use the damn thing for a living, and people who have to sew for a living (barely) without them, I suppose I shouldn’t complain.

    By the way, to all those people who say “patriachy hurts men too,” why the fuck aren’t you fighting with us to end it? I am so sick of the irritating and idiotic non-logic of guys who complain about what the patriarchy does to *them* in order to imply that we should stop trying to overturn it.

  32. Orange

    My two-year-old cargo capri pants are getting old and one of the leg pockets is ripping. But I do love those pants—two ass pockets, two deep front pockets, and two ginormous cargo pockets near the knees. Now those are travel pants, and not an ounce of slimming spandex to be found.

  33. Buffalo Gal

    You can find clothes with pockets if you try – it helps to dress as an aging unisex hippy.

    My thing is guy shoes – they look so comfy with their wide toes and sturdy soles. Alas, my feet are too small* to wear men’s shoes. And LL Bean and New Balance are the only sources I know of for women’s footgear made to accomodate socks rather than stockings. The phrase “fits best with medium socks” is pure poetry. Who, pray tell, wears stockings with sneakers or hiking boots?

    *that’s a cruel joke, because at 5′ tall, I wear a women’s 8 wide.

  34. MsKate

    Now I know why I increasingly find myself scouring clearance racks at REI! Pockets! Lots of Pockets!

    My zip off leg cargo pants that I bought for $24.99 when I ordered my kayak are the berries! They have … get this … NINE pockets. yes 9 pockets! Two in back, three at the waist (one with zipper), two velcro cargo pockets with two more behind them (which I didn’t even find until last week).

    That and they fit like they came to measure me … a sturdy, muscular, short and curvy size 16 … my cyclist legs FIT and I can MOVE in these !!! YES!!!

    You want TRAVEL clothes? These are TRAVEL clothes … NYC with out a purse. Camera, keys, etc. Yessssssss.

    REI does have girly stuff, but it is never without a place to clip a key beaner and at least several pockets. They are a co-op too! http://www.rei.com

  35. LizardBreath

    at 5′ tall, I wear a women’s 8 wide.

    So close — I’m a women’s 9, which gets me into the smallest easily available men’s size. And the shoes are great — I have a pair of black men’s loafers that are the most comfortable thing I’ve ever owned.

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