Gender Inequality in Clothing

By Hailley Smart

Photo by Marco Verch

All clothes are not created equal. While you would think that the only difference between men’s and women’s clothing is the physical appearance of it, that just simply isn’t true. Clothing is meant to be a way to physically represent who we are, a symbol of our fights and struggles, and not a clear divide between the genders. Women’s fashion is held in a different opinion, made of cheaper materials, and is not designed with the needs of women in mind.

One of the first and most harmful ways in which female clothing is unequal is due to the public opinion and mindset of it. The female fashion industry is seen as superficial, and putting an emphasis on the clothing you wear is viewed as vain. And yet, not putting effort into looking the absolute best deems a woman a slacker, lazy, or simply unpretty. Feminist Naomi Wolf once wrote in her book The Beauty Myth that “The way we looked determined our value to society.” Those who dress in female marketed clothing are judged by whether or not they conform to how that garment should look. The public mindset of female clothing is predominately that a woman’s worth is intrinsically and unconsciously linked to her appearance. This is an opinion that is often reinforced by the media that we consume as a culture. How many shows have you seen where the female character spends an inordinate amount of time deciding what to wear? I bet if you stop to think about it, you’ll find yourself surprised by how many there are. But this does not hold true for male’s clothing. With the exception of high end fashion, the men’s fashion world is viewed as more acceptable. GQ, one of the world’s leading men’s fashion companies, claims in an article on the clothing price difference that “Men are thought to approach buying clothes with more pragmatism”. Whereas women’s clothing is viewed as a physical representation of their worth, men’s clothing is just clothing. And that’s not even digging into the issues of dress codes and the way they reflect on the clothing.

Yet the way in which women’s clothing is viewed is not the only issue and inequality problem within the fashion world. The next problem comes in the form of the clothes themselves. Clothing marketed to women is quite often made out of lower quality materials. The main reason this is true is due to the mindset of fast fashion. Merriam-Webster defines fast fashion as “an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly available to consumers”. Due to the speed in which they are trying to mimic runway trends, many brands are willing to sacrifice the quality of the material for the speed in which they can mass produce it. The other contributing factor is the briefness in time that women fashion trends are expected to last. Due to the ideology that the primary aspects of female’s clothing are expected to change with each new season, women’s clothing is not required to uphold more than a year’s worth of wear. One month the highlight of women’s clothing may be a certain style of dress or a specific cut of pants, and a few months later it is something totally different and what used to be all the rage is now outdated. Guy’s clothing stays the same season after season. While this is not always true of the world in actuality, the fashion industry is based on this mentality. And it is due to this view set that women’s clothing is not upheld to the same standard of material quality.

The final way in which women’s clothing is unequal is in the intended designs. Despite being marketed for women to wear, most female fashion is not made with women’s needs in mind nor designed by women designers. To begin with, the majority of designers in female fashion are actually men. In a study done by Business of Fashion, an independent news site dedicated to digging into the fashion world, “just 40 percent of womenswear brands [are] led by female designers”. Not to mention that according to Glamour “only 14% of womenswear brands are run by a female CEO”. That means that the majority of brands that are marketing clothing towards women are not actually run by women and that an overwhelming amount of the clothing women are expected to wear are not designed by women. But what does this mean on a practical level? The main thing this means is that women’s clothing is not designed to be functional. For an example, let’s look into pockets. The first main issue with the lack of pockets in women’s clothing is the fact that it requires women to carry around purses to be able to hold their stuff. In fact Christian Dior is attributed to have once said, “Men have pockets to keep things in, women for decoration.” The majority of women’s clothing produced nowadays either have very shallow pockets that hardly exist or fake ones entirely. This is an issue that has become very controversial (and has a fascinating history that I highly recommend looking into) and shows just one of many ways in which clothing is not actually designed for the functionality of what women really want or need.

All in all, there are many ways in which women’s clothing is unequal to men’s clothing-a few of which we have touched on-and there are even more ways that this truly affects more than just the garments that we wear. If you are wanting to look into some of the issues with the lack of equality in female fashion I suggest digging into the inequality in sizes, prices (the ‘pink tax’), and the fashion world’s lack of women execs.

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