Thursday, September 15, 2016

Finding Your Inner Unicorn

William Shakespeare wrote: For the apparel oft proclaims the man.” A more familiar axiom is “clothes make the man.”

We all have favorite clothes. The clothes that make us look and feel like a million bucks. When we wear them, there’s an extra spring in our step – and we project an air of confidence. In the photo attached to this column, I’m wearing a purple silk blouse that was my favorite. It was my lucky shirt. The last time I wore it was to a job interview. I was drinking a cup of coffee in the car, hit a frost heave, and spilled coffee down the front of the shirt. In spite of the big coffee stain, I got the job. The stain never came out.

Clothes serve a variety of functions. They cover us, protect us, and keep us warm and dry. Some of us wear uniforms so that we can be easily identified as a member of the military, or perhaps a fire fighter, EMT, or police officer. Various types of clothing can also be part of ceremonies, rituals, or special occasions. Clothes can reflect how we feel, and just like mom always told you, clothes project a message. We do judge books by their covers.

My granddaughter will soon be seven. She just started second grade. I’ve been doing some back to school/birthday shopping for her. It’s been quite a learning experience.

I traipsed through some stores and then did some online shopping, and found some universal truths. Clothes for girls are mostly awful. There is no shortage of gaudy pink, cheap polyester covered with ruffles and sparkles. Faux worn and torn jeans are a big thing this year. It’s almost impossible to find a plain shirt that isn’t tarted up with lace, sequins or glitter – and that is in addition to the graphics.

Somewhere along the way, Disney decided they could sell the bejeebers out of princess crap, and began to invent new princesses to tie merchandise to, and market the heck out of it to girls and their parents. This seems to have coincided with the backlash against feminism.

Boy’s clothes haven’t changed much over the decades. Their shirts feature superheroes like Spiderman, Batman, or Captain America. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are popular again. There are shirts with dinosaurs or racecars. There are sports themed shirts, with soccer balls or basketballs, or slogans such as, “Start Fast Finish Faster,” or “Any Game Any Time.” Boy’s shirts come in plaid or stripes, and they also come in plain colors. Boys and girls both wear blue. Only girls wear pink.

The graphics on clothing for girls is an entirely different matter.
In my admittedly unscientific study, the number one graphic for a girl’s shirt is a heart. It can be covered with small hearts, or have one large. Some have the word “LOVE” inside the heart. LOVE with a heart shape replacing the O is common. Others have “There is No One Like Me” inside a big heart shape, or “Do What You Love,” inside a graphic heart. Other slogans I found: “Follow Our Dreams, They Know the Way,” “Keep Dreaming and Follow Your Destiny,” “Throw Kindness Around Like Confetti,” “Live, Love, Dream,” “Believe,” “Always Beautiful,” “Happiness is a State of Mind,” “Let Your Heart Shine,” “Lead Your Own Way,” “Let Your Light Shine,” “Happy Girls Shine Brighter,” and “Dream Big, Sparkle More, Shine Bright.” There were shirts with pictures of Barbie, kittens, unicorns, butterflies, or ballerinas. “Find your inner unicorn,” one tee shirt advises. Any sports themed shirts for girls were pink and often involved ruffles. One girls clothing company is called, “Self Esteem,” and produces clothing that seems likely to create just the opposite. Would a boy wear a vest that has tiny writing all over it reading, “Love you to the moon and back?” Do girls require so much extra reassurance that they are loved that it is necessary to print it on their clothing?

There is plenty of money to be made in selling products to girls and women. Not so much for boys and men, because they aren’t taught from the cradle to be insecure. Boys do not wear shirts telling them that happiness is a state of mind. There are no hearts emblazoned upon their clothes, or messages of love. Why doesn’t boys clothing tell them to love, to smile, to sparkle more, or follow their dreams? What kind of message does this clothing send to our girl children? What does it prepare them for? Why does a seven year old need to hear that “happiness is a state of mind?” Are we sending them off to a Zen retreat or preparing them for a lifetime of second-class citizenry?

These girls will grow to adulthood in a world where what they look like is how they are judged. We’re seeing the end result of that in the current endless presidential election cycle. If girls clothing is being designed to reinforce self esteem and steer them toward success we’re already doing something wrong.

All those hearts, all that admonition about love made me wonder. Is love an activity solely for girls?

Judging on the basis of clothing alone, we seem to expect boys to love dinosaurs and sports. We expect girls to love, smile, dream, and sparkle. It explains a lot. Dreaming is good. Dreaming isn’t threatening. One shirt read, “Future Princess” with a slash through the Princess and under it read, “Boss.” If we really want that girl to be a boss, why would the shirt need to even mention princesses? Is this a form of training, or grooming? Do we need to get girls focused on love early so they’ll grow up to love the boys who aren’t being programmed to love? So that they’ll be ready to settle for less?

I haven’t finished shopping, but after all of this, I sent my granddaughter a tee shirt that says, “Future Brain Surgeon.”

If clothes really do make the man (or woman) what kind of men and women are we trying to create?

Published as an op-ed in the September 16 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper 


tworavens said...

I'm glad you're addressing this. I have many conversations about this with friends who are also grandparents. And I continue to be disappointed with my own gender regarding poor choices in fashion and other areas of life.

Mothers who choose not to "Cinderella" their little girls always come under heavy attack from their peers. It appears that the female gender has little interest in its own gender support. Females continue to pursue dreadful fashions ranging from 6" spike heels to plunging necklines. Not to mention all the costly cosmetic surgery. All in an effort no doubt to garner as much male attention as possible, regardless of excuses to the contrary. In my twenties I would ask friends why they would flaunt themselves by entering wet t-shirt contests etc. "It's fun" which is not an answer and certainly not worthy of anyone with a half intellect.

The young female pursuit today of pole dancing (this is not exercise - again, the excuses), as well as awful fashion choices make me lament that our gender will ever advance beyond the fantasy of the "Virginia Slims".

As for the signage - you are so right. It's appalling and extends into every area of life as well as every room in the home. Does one really need a "kitchen" sign in the kitchen, or a sign that instructs "eat"? The camouflage clothing that has become ubiquitous in its ugliness is nothing more than a toxic sign of our violent and ugly present. Our society appears unwilling to change for something better and our gender is doing nothing to evolve quietly and graciously toward a higher standard.

LakeLadyNH said...

I have a boy (11) and a girl (9), and I can assure you that boys' clothes also include these self-esteem messages. My solution: Purchase solid bottoms paired with marbled, striped or constrasting solid tops, with occasional polka dots for my daughter. No princess or Tony Hawk for us.
To avoid the crass daisy dukes in disguise for little girls, purchase athletic, bermuda or sport shorts. Boys' cargo shorts in neutral colors also work for girls, and are typically less expensive that girls' shorts.
We shop almost exclusively at Kohls and Old Navy. Occasionally we find clothes at Walmart that fit our bill, specifically Danskins for my daughter. Way more bang for your buck at these stores, especially since kids grow so fast and styles change even faster.
My kids get so many compliments about how nicely dressed they are -- with none of the so-called self-esteem crapola.
AND I get to buy they way more clothing than their friends have whose parents/grandparents buy into the branding business.