Updated: Aug 11
'The escapologist,' 2016, oil on fabric
As a fan of Suits and The Good Wife, you'd be forgiven for thinking that female lawyers and secretaries are all getting around in 4 inch heels, pencil skirts and long wavy hair. The super stylish, expensive outfits are paraded down office corridors like the catwalk at Fashion Week. The reality, however, is much more boring. Have you ever tried walking to the train station in stilettos, down the hill, carrying a laptop… and a handbag… and an umbrella because it looks like rain and you can’t risk fizzy hair? Well, don’t try it at home folks, you’ll probably sprain an ankle.
Whilst in the city of Melbourne the other day I did a quick survey of what people were wearing. Taking note of number of everyday people wearing skirts (or dresses) in my office and in Bourke Street Mall, I struggled to find anyone at all. A quick survey of people on a Thursday afternoon found that 99% of the population were wearing pants. Granted, it was raining and cold, but that only further proves my point that men’s clothing is more practical... and far warmer.
As for the typical female lawyer, you're more likely to find her wearing a pant suit and flat shoes, or a knee-length skirt with a sensible court shoe. Yes, a court shoe for a court of law. And forget the long, coiffed, free flowing hair. In a real life, office hair must be restrained. In fact, you should avoid anything too bright, frilly or sexy as you might bring undue attention to the fact that you’re a woman. After all, the more feminine you are, less intelligent you look, right?
'Carolyn,' 2012, oil on fabric
Don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t excuse you from the minimum beauty standards required of women. There is no such thing as wearing the same suit every other day and rocking up to the office, make-up free with a short haircut that requires little beyond a comb-through. Research shows that grooming practices, such as applying makeup, clothes and hair styling, accounted for nearly all of the salary differences between women. Whilst grooming is important for both sexes, it’s particularly important for women in the workforce. They found that the less attractive but more well-groomed women earned significantly more than the very attractive women who weren't well-groomed. Basically, you must be well-groomed, but not sexy or attractive. Being hot makes you less qualified to do your job, apparently.
In a recent campaign against same sex marriage, a mother is worried that her son will be allowed to wear a dress to school. Well, I let me assure you, our boys will not be rushing to the local uniform shop to grab the last school dresses before they sell out. I mean, if men (and boys) really wanted to dress like women they would have done so decades ago. Instead women have started dressing like men. In nearly every culture, the traditional woman’s attire is more restrictive than men’s. From high heels, to full skirts, veils, corsets, bustles, foot bindings and puffed sleeves, women have had to endure some interesting fashion trends (personally I’m a big fan of puffed sleeves). Removing gender from school uniforms will more likely result in girls wearing shorts and pants, if they don’t already.
My prediction for the future of fashion is androgyny. As equality between the sexes becomes the norm, the lines of distinction will blur. In fact, the trend has already begun with several gender-neutral clothing brands coming onto the market, offering clothes for both adults and children. Examples include CharlieBoy, Wildfang and Androgyny (just in case the name doesn’t give it away). If you’re looking for a some androgynous inspiration, look no further than style icons Ruby Rose, Tilda Swinton, David Bowie and Annie Lennox, just to name a few. It's good news. The future of women’s clothing looks bright…and comfortable.
About the artist
Leah is a Melbourne artist who making figurative work about womanhood and girlhood. She loves all things patterned and often incorporates it into her art. Stay in touch by signing up to email updates here or follow her artist journey on social media @leahmarianiartspace.
Top: 'The Escapologist' by Leah Mariani, 2016, 64cm x 64cm, sold.
Middle: 'Carolyn' by Leah Mariani, 2012, 40cm x 30cm, sold.
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