Tag Archives: feminism

The one with the short fat hairy legs

I forgot to shave my legs this morning. I remember thinking as I was brushing my teeth that I should do them, and then I got in the shower and didn’t think about them again until I was sitting and my desk and it struck me that they felt a bit sandpapery. By which point it was far too late to do anything about it.

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I do always feel self-conscious about the hair on my legs; it’s thick and dark and grows fast. Actually, I feel self-conscious about going bare-legged generally, probably because of the name-calling I had to endure at school for having hairy legs; I developed early physically but was emotionally fairly young for my age in a lot of ways, and as I read Doctor Who Magazine instead of Girl or Jackie I had no idea that I was supposed to remove the hair that had started growing on my legs, rather than just accepting it as I had had to accept growing breasts and starting my periods, until people started shouting at me in the playground to shave my legs. At which point, of course, I became dead set against the idea and brazened it out until the end of fifth year, taunting notwithstanding.

I still don’t much like shaving my legs, but these days I normally do them every couple of days in the summer. I don’t bother in the winter, when my legs are always covered, but I think depilation of some kind is pretty much de rigeur for anyone wanting to wear a skirt with bare legs in a professional context. So I suppose it is sort of a choice, but I think that choosing not to shave my legs would also mean choosing to wear trousers or opaque tights to work all summer, and as I don’t like trousers and tights would be far too hot shaving seems like the least bad option. And going to work with slightly stubbly legs today doesn’t appear to have had any dire consequences, though I really must remember to shave them tomorrow morning.

Simplicity

I don’t think you can beat the simplicity of a drapy summer dress in a nice cool natural fibre and a pair of sandals on a hot day.

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Necklace – made by Helen
Dress – East
Sandals – Greenshoes

Sadly, despite having quite a lot of summer dresses, few of them are suitable for really hot weather. The main problem is that I have a short torso and a large bust and about 75% of available dresses have necklines which are too low to wear to work without a camoisole under them, and funnily enough when the temperature is in the high 20s the last thing I want to be doing is wearing a camisole. (I decided last summer that I wasn’t going to buy any more summer dresses that needed camisoles for modesty, but that has mostly just meant I have bought far fewer summer dresses than I would have liked to this year, and rejected an awful lot of otherwise-lovely things straight away. This purple dress is one of the very few successes.)

And then, the dresses which don’t have deep necklines all tend to be either sleeveless, or short, or both. And while I absolutely agree with Ros that any woman can wear sleeveless things if she wants, I’m not really comfortable with having that much skin on show in the office. And the same thing goes for skirts above the knee with bare legs. Yes, other people do both of these, sometimes even at the same time, and look fine, but personally I prefer not to. Given that men at work will always be wearing trousers and at least short-sleeved shirts, I feel uncomfortable and semi-naked if I don’t at least have my shoulders and knees covered up. (I don’t think this is unfeminist of me. Is it? I firmly believe I have the right to wear whatever I like, but I also believe I have the responsibility to adhere to relevant dress codes.)

It is a shame – I tried on a lovely dress in the Monsoon sale at lunchtime, pink with a white print, fitted bodice, full skirt, fairly high neck, and I might even have overlooked the lack of sleeves if the skirt had been a bit longer, but as it was the message it projected was definitely ‘pixie’ rather than ‘mature professional’. Whereas the lovely thing about this purple dress is that it does manage to look perfectly professional despite being cool and summery.

Anyway, this is really just another rehashing of Why I Need To Learn To Make My Own Dresses. Because then I could make lots of lovely just-below-the-knee dresses with short sleeves and necklines that didn’t show off too much cleavage, and cast my camisoles to the wind (or, y’know, just save them for colder days when I’m glad of the extra warmth). I’ve got the rest of this week off work, so maybe I’ll even get some sewing done. (Well, maybe. At the very least I want to take the two black sacks of unwanted clothes cluttering my room up to the charity shop. And finish my Cinnamon Girl cardigan. And catch up on my sleep before our financial year end. And possibly go to London to meet up with Louise at Nest. Anything else is going to be a bonus.)

Parrot among the magpies

Even in a not-terribly-formal office environment like mine, workwear tends towards neutrals. Men, by and large, are in dark trousers and pale shirts, sometimes suits; among the women there tends to be a lot of black and navy, and in the summer quite a lot of beige/cream colours. Sometimes when I’m sitting in meetings (especially when a lot of the other people in the meeting are men) I feel rather like a parrot that’s accidentally ended up in the middle of a flock of magpies.

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Necklace – Fair Trade shop
Dress and cardigan – Monsoon
Shoes – Heavenly Feet

I love colour, and I would hate to be stuck in neutrals all day at work. I think it does set me apart, though. People often remark on how colourful I look, and while the ones who say that to mean definitely mean it as a compliment, I do worry sometimes if the way I dress could be seen as too quirky and playful for a serious professional, and wonder if I should tone things down a bit to fit in more. Though I don’t really feel the need to camouflage myself in the way I did years ago when I had a wardrobe full of suits and always felt that the person I was at work was only a pale shadow of the real me. And, as this mostly happens in meetings where I’m surrounded by men, I wonder if what’s really at play, deep down, is a worry that I look feminine to the point of being girly and that looking feminine isn’t appropriate to a business environment, in which case I should damn well continue to wear what I like and prove that how I look has absolutely no bearing on my business abilities.

Throwing off the shackles of modesty

This is a more considered response to the Feminist Fashion Bloggers‘ monthly topic of fashion and sexuality than Wednesday’s rather brief post managed to be. Thanks to the commenters on that post for helping me to clarify my thinking, both those who pointed out that if one is well-endowed it’s almost impossible to avoid showing at least some cleavage unless one only wears high-necked tops (which are quite hard to find, certainly in non-casual styles) and the person who said that she thought any amount of cleavage was totally inappropriate for the office because it would be distracting to male colleagues, which did give me pause for thought (although if that commenter is reading I would like to make it clear that it didn’t take me a couple of days to approve your comment because I disagreed with you, it ended up in spam by mistake).

I have a lot of problems with the term ‘modesty’ when applied to dress; it comes with a lot of religious and cultural baggage about how women should ensure they don’t lead men into temptation by dressing provocatively which I fundamentally disagree with. Men are adults, and they should be responsible for controlling their own impulses just as much as women are responsible for controlling theirs. (Franca has a couple of interesting posts on the subject, if anyone wants to read more.) And if asked, I would have vehemently denied that my preference for tops with sleeves, moderately high necklines, and never going bare-legged when wearing skirts above the knee had nothing to do with that kind of residual Victorian-values attitude. I’d have said it was just personal preference, and maybe partly to do with not wanting to be chilly (there is a certain amount of truth to that, although in fact I am someone who feels the heat more than the cold; but for the last few years I did work in an incredibly cold building).

The trouble with the ‘personal preference’ argument is that none of us exist in a vacuum. Yes, of course in a perfect world we could all make completely free choices, but as it it we’re influenced by a whole lot of cultural baggage we may not even be aware of. And actually, deep down, I know that while I’m happy with my figure, I still haven’t completely made my peace with the actual physical nature of my body; the blotches and visible veins and stubble on my legs, the pudginess of my upper arms, and, particularly, the rather generous proportions of my bust. I’ve never been comfortable with my breasts. I developed very early, and was wearing a B-cup bra in my last year of junior school; a succession of hormonal contraceptives seems to have caused them to keep growing until I’m now wearing a GG and determined never to change pill brands again. And big breasts are problematic in our society, because breasts are so sexualised (I live in the land of the Page 3 girl, and if I was the kind of person to seek explanations for my current issues in my childhood I might wonder just what effect the old copies of the Sun we had to protect the desks in my junior school when we were painting had on my developing psyche), and it’s not easy for me to accept them as just an ordinary part of me. Instead,they seem to symbolise an overt sexuality which really, really isn’t me; I’m quite a private person and would prefer to keep the sexual aspects of myself between me and my other half.

When working through the tangle of my own mind it often helps to try to think of how it would seem to me if I was another person. Do I think that other large-breasted women at work are dressing too sexily and look unprofessional when they show a small amount of cleavage? No, of course I don’t. So would they think that of me if I did? Almost certainly not. Should I allow a culture which views women as primarily sex objects affect my relationship with my own body to the extent that I feel I have to make extreme efforts to cover myself up if I don’t want to be viewed as a sex object rather than an accountant, a manager, a friend, a colleague, a knitter, and above all a person? No I bloody well shouldn’t.

Obviously, I’m not going to stop wearing shawls, because I love my shawls. But it it’s too warm to have a shawl on I’m not going to fret. And I’m damn well going to make a Sorbetto and hopefully wear it to work if the weather is hot, even if it is – shock horror! – sleeveless.

Bare-faced cheek

I realised this morning that my tights and vest were a slightly different shade of purple from my dress, but I was right out of inspiration so decided to stick with it and add a couple of other purples to make it look more intentional. Possibly I should have worn purple shoes, too, but these ones are new, acquired yesterday lunchtime from Shuropody (which isn’t a shop I normally go to, but clearly I should as these are exactly what I’ve been looking for for weeks – and actually fit me really well) and I couldn’t resist wearing them.

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Necklace – made by Helen
Jacket – bought second-hand from friend
Vest – Debenhams
Dress – East
Tights – M&S
Shoes – Shuropody

Franca is hosting a round-up of posts on the theme of ‘no make-up’ today. I guess I qualify, as I never do wear make-up; the only photo of me with make-up on you’ll find on this blog is the one I posted on my wedding anniversary, because everyone told me I’d regret it if I didn’t have my make-up done for the wedding and looked washed out on the photos. I’m not actually sure that I would have done, but anyway. Normally, I don’t wear make-up, and these days I don’t even own any (I did buy some once, in my final year of university, for going out, but that was a long time ago now and I ended up chucking it all out a few years ago on the grounds that even if I wanted to wear make-up wearing fifteen-year-old make-up probably wouldn’t be a good idea).

I’d quite like to be able to say that I don’t wear make-up because of my feminist principles, but I suspect that really it’s mainly due to laziness and just not being all that bothered about what my face looks like. I like clothes, and I’m happy to spend time in the mornings picking things out and putting together an outfit. I’m not prepared to spend an extra ten minutes faffing around with make-up, and I’m lucky enough to have managed to avoid internalising the idea that without it I don’t look groomed or socially acceptable (I put this good fortune down to (a) having a feminist mother who didn’t wear make-up either and (b) preferring Doctor Who Magazine to the kind of girls’ magazine which had make-up tutorials and beauty articles). I am also lucky enough to have good skin, although I do wonder if that’s partly down to the fact that I don’t use make-up and only wash my face with water – certainly back when I used to wear make-up occasionally I often found I’d get spots a few days later.

It does make me sad that the idea that make-up is just part of good grooming seems to be so prevalent still – not the make-up bit per se, but the fact that ‘good grooming’ for women is thought so much more than just ‘clean and tidy without food spilt down your clothes’, which as far as I can see pretty much covers it for men.

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple

As you may have noticed, I am rather partial to wearing purple.

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Scarf – Flowers in the Rain
Jacket – Jigsaw
Dress – Gap
Tights – M&S
Shoes – Clarks

I don’t consider myself to be old, but as I approach the end of my thirties I am becoming increasingly aware that I’m not really young any more. The amount of grey in my hair is increasingly steadily, to the point where I now have something of a white streak in my fringe, and my body shape has changed too. I used to have a large bust and a tendency to put weight on round my middle but have quite narrow hips and thinnish legs and arms; now I seem to be much more pear-shaped, with weight going to my bum and upper thighs in a way I’m sure it never used to. (This may, of course, be at least partly to do with walking more.)

I know that as a woman I’m supposed to dread ageing. I’m supposed to spend a fortune on creams and lotions to ease away wrinkles, hairdye to cover the grey, gyms to keep my body looking like a 21-year-old’s. I don’t, though. I’m far too lazy and mean to spend time and money on all of that stuff, anyway, but I’ve never really seen the point anyway. I don’t particularly want to look younger. I’m a much happier person now than I was in my teens, my twenties, even my early thirties; I’ve learnt from my experiences and worked hard to get where I am, and I don’t want to deny that by trying to look younger than I am.

I don’t think that’s why I wear so much purple, but I have just finished making myself a red hat. Though I think that it does go with my purple coat, and that it suits me.

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The yarn is Cascade 220, in Tibetan Red, and I used about one and a fifth skeins. I didn’t much enjoy the knitting – the hat is on 2.75mm needles and knitting an aran weight yarn at that tight a gauge is really tough going – but I like the hat a lot, and it’s lovely and cosy.

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I am a little worried that it makes me look like Paddington Bear, though. I am off to Glasgow tomorrow for the Glasgow School of Yarn; perhaps I need a label that says ‘Please look after this accountant’?

(This post is at least partly in response to the Feminist Fashion Bloggers‘ monthly theme of ‘Youth and Ageing’, though it got a bit sidetracked by knitting. Quelle surprise!)

Like some kind of 50s housewife

This is a belated post on this month’s Feminist Fashion Bloggers topic of dating and relationship. As well as being late, it’s rather more about knitting than it is about fashion, as I thought I’d write about the vexed question of knitting for one’s significant other. Given that people still question whether women who knit can also be feminists, where does that leave women who knit for the men in their lives? How much more traditional and unreconstructed can you get?

I quite often knit for my husband. I’ve never made him a jumper, and probably never will (not because I’m afraid of the sweater curse, but because he’s 6’1″ and solidly built and likes fine-knit jumpers and I am not actually insane), but I’ve made him a woolly hat and handwarmers and eleven pairs of socks so far, with a twelfth on the needles right now.

Tim's socks

However, I would argue very strongly that this doesn’t make me downtrodden. After all, it’s not as though I’m making him socks out of necessity; he can get perfectly good socks in Marks and Spencers. I make him socks because he likes them, and because I enjoy doing things that make him happy, and I also enjoy making socks and don’t have a great deal of use for them myself given that I generally wear skirts with either bare legs or tights. And while I’m wary of the school of thought that says that whatever a woman chooses to do is a feminist act, because we don’t exist in a vacuum and our choices are always influenced by social and cultural factors, and our society and culture are still profoundly shaped by centuries of male domination, I think that generally speaking doing things because they make the people we love happy is a pretty good thing. And I still mutter darkly about the patriarchy every time he asks me to sew a button on for him, and then swear a lot every time I prick my finger with the needle.

The busy girl buys beauty

This month the Feminist Fashion Bloggers are considering women in the media and popular culture. Obviously, media and popular culture is a pretty wide field, but what immediately came to mind was magazines.

Now, I have a pretty ambivalent relationship with magazines, and have done ever since I graduated from the kind of comics which just had cartoon stories in to the ones which had articles on fashion and beauty and pictures of pop stars I was supposed to fancy; I just wasn’t interested in the kinds of things the magazines told me I should be interested in. Even at the age of ten or eleven I could dimly sense that my Girl and Jackie magazines were trying to push a lifestyle that I didn’t really want; eventually I ditched them in favour of a subscription to Doctor Who Magazine, and later the NME and Melody Maker. In my twenties I did occasionally buy Cosmopolitan and later Red and Marie Claire, if only to look at the pictures of clothes and read the career advice articles, although I haven’t done so for a few years; I was getting increasingly fed up with the magazines’ assumption that their readers would all have or want to have children, and the final straw was when my eye was caught by a column on the beuaty pages (which I never really read) suggesting that it was perfectly natural and understandable that men would find ‘ungroomed’ female pubic hair repulsive, at which point I threw the magazine across the room and decided I could do without spending rather a lot of money on something which was trying to tell me that my body was disgusting.

Since then, the only magazines I’ve bought have been craft magazines, but those aren’t perfect either. A lot of the knitting magazines are aimed at more traditional knitters, and are full of patterns for children’s clothes and stuffed toys. I do like some of the newer magazines, though; Knitting and The Knitter in particular generally concentrate on garment patterns in mainly adult sizes, and Yarn Forward (now Knit) has done in the past although recently there have been fewer patterns I’ve liked. I also find that The Knitter in particular has interesting articles about the history of knitting. On the other hand, I don’t buy them all that often as they aren’t cheap and I’ll only buy them if there’s at least one pattern I might want to make. And there is still a tendency to include patterns for children’s clothes and soft furnishings which makes me feel that as a child-free and not-particularly-domestic knitter I’m perhaps not quite the person they’re aimed at.

I feel this even more with a couple of new titles that have been launched recently, Mollie Makes and Handmade Living. Given my new interest in sewing I was initially attracted by the idea of magazines which weren’t limited to a single craft, but in reality the magazines seem to be buying in to the cosily-domestic vibe of Kirstie Allsopp and Cath Kidston which doesn’t really chime with my interests. I love crafting and being able to make things, but I want to make clothes, not soft furnishings or cosies for everything in sight (teapots excepted, but then again teacosies serve the useful purpose of keeping your tea warm). When it comes to interior design, I like minimalism. (In fact, I would say the same thing about clothes; I like simple, unfussy shapes in bright colours or bold patterns, rather than frills.) The domestic idyll just isn’t for me. More generally, I’m a little conflicted about these magazines. On the one hand, I don’t really agree with the way they relegate the mainly-female activity of crafting so firmly to the domestic sphere (what about laptop cosies, or colourful handmade accessories to brighten your office desk? Although of course, as both magazines are so new, those may well come), but on the other I am a great supporter of this modern version of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and want to see it spread, and I know people who get an enormous amount of pleasure from making beautiful things for their homes. But then again, it was mentioned in the comments to a post on this subject a few months ago that crafting is not necessarily a step away from consumer culture, and I think that perhaps one of the things that makes me a little uneasy about the proliferation of crafty lifestyle magazines is that it can be viewed as the publishers trying to cash in on the popularity of crafting and thrifting and to draw what started out as a reaction against consumer culture into the mainstream.

In the end, I suppose all I can really say is that none of the magazines I occasionally read has ever felt as though it was actually aimed at me; instead, they’ve mostly left me feeling like an outsider looking in on a world I don’t belong to. But then, I’m not sure that matters any more. Why do I need a monthly printed magazine when I have the Internet, and can assemble my own magazine from blogs and Twitter and Ravelry and news sites where content is updated hourly or daily and I can tailor what I read to my own preferences exactly?

Shortening

I took the plunge and shortened the sleeves of my People Tree dress the other weekend. I’m actually really pleased with how it’s turned out; it’s much more suitable for summer now.

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Dress – People Tree
Leggings – M&S
Shoes – Jones Bootmaker

It was really quite straightforward; I tried on the dress and pinned where I wanted the sleeves to hit, measured the distance from the original cuff to the pins and marked a line across the sleeve and then a parallel line about an inch further down and cut along the lower line. Then I folded a hem along the first line, pinned it and pressed the fold, and sewed a couple of rows of stretch stitch before trimming the hem close to the outer row. Close to, you can see that the stitching is a bit wonky, but it’s not obvious from any distance.

Dresses with leggings really seem to be my outfit of choice at the moment. As a non-trouser-wearer, I really like how leggings keep my legs warm without looking quite as wintery as tights do, and I tend to find them easier to co-ordinate with dresses than with skirts and tops; that sometimes works but can end up looking as though I’m wearing too many disparate elements. Having not worn leggings since my student days, I find I’m very pleased they’ve come back into style, though I am rather saddened by a lot of the discussions I see on style blogs where many bloggers appear to have taken it on themselves to inform the world that ‘Leggings are not pants’.

As a speaker of British English, my first reaction to that is that of course they’re not, because pants are underwear. My second is to channel the lovely Kate and find myself possessed with a strong impulse to tell the speakers to get the hell out of women’s wardrobes. So far, this time round, I’ve tended to view my leggings as a summer tights-substitute, and also taken advantage of their thickness to render slightly-too-short-for-comfort skirts suitable for the office, but still, when it comes to it leggings are basically a skinny version of tracksuit/yoga trousers and while they’re pretty casual and very figure-hugging they are perfectly decent when worn on their own. Back when I was a student my default winter outfits tended to involve leggings worn with a woolly jumper and Doc Marten boots, and while the jumpers were M&S men’s ones and fairly baggy they were definitely jumpers and not tunics. I don’t think I’d do that now, but given how much pressure women are under to hate their ‘wobbly bits’ and worry about whether their bums look big I’m far more inclined to cheer any woman who’s unselfconscious enough to wear leggings without a skirt than I am to castigate her!

Imperfections

Last time I wore this dress, I decided it was a bit too short to wear for work with tights, so today I decided to wear it over leggings instead.

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Scarf – blog giveaway
Dress – Fat Face
Leggings – M&S
Shoes – Jones Bootmaker

I loved this outfit. Soft and comfortable and stretchy, I think a jersey dress and leggings has got to be the closest thing there is to wearing pyjamas while still looking smart enough for work, while the full skirt and the little scarf made me feel a bit 1950s-glamorous as well.

I couldn’t help thinking, though, of a post I’d read on another style blog recently where the blogger said she would never wear a jersey dress without ‘shapewear’ underneath. Now, I feel a bit conflicted about this. On the one hand, I don’t think anyone’s clothing choices are anyone’s business but their own, and if people want to wear magic underwear* or burqas or six-inch platform boots then I completely support their right to do so, but I still can’t help thinking that there’s something wrong with a society where a slim, fit twentysomething self-identified feminist feels so self-conscious about her body that she has to resort to heavy-duty elastic and lycra to cover up perceived ‘imperfections’**.

Cat wrote a fantastic post the other day debunking the whole ‘real women hve curves’ thing. I completely agree. Real women come in all shapes and sizes; some have curves, some have angles, some go pretty much straight up and down. Some have big breasts/thighs/bums/stomachs, some have small. But I’d warrant that there’s one thing every woman has: flaws. Lumps, bumps, cellulite, hair, moles, dry skin, spots, grey hairs, scars, birthmarks, whatever. I don’t believe even supermodels actually look like the airbrushed Barbie-doll images peddled by the media. And I can’t help feeling that the more women buy in to an industry which dangles the carrot of achieving that ‘perfection’, the more we’re in thrall to that industry and enabling a society where we’re even supposed to worry about how attractive our armpits are.

Anyway, I’m probably ten years older than the other blogger; I’m certainly considerably less thin and less fit than she is, and I’m jolly well going to carry on wearing jersey dresses without any kind of shapewear and think I look good in them, too.

*Every time I see ‘Magic Knickers’ in the shops I think that genuinely magic underwear would do something a damn sight more interesting than just make the wearer look a bit thinner. Conveying the power of flight, perhaps, or simply the ability to transfigure small items of office stationery into sushi/chocolate as required…

**While I wouldn’t personally ever choose to wear the things, I have been convinced by the arguments of friends who choose to wear shapewear as a stand-in for vintage corsetry and structured undergarments with vintage dresses, and I can also understand why people might choose to wear it for special occasions. But not for everyday wear under modern chain-store clothes.