It definitely isn’t news to most of us that women are way more likely to wear uncomfortable or distracting clothing (and bear the consequences) than men are. But it’s time we rethink just how much we’re willing to sacrifice for the perfect outfit. It’s important to consider any harmful narratives we could perpetuate when we suffer in the name of style.
“Beauty” is Pain
Anyone with an interest in the world of fashion can tell you that physical comfort is hardly a consideration amongst leading designers. For example, some of the past year’s defining trends included sky-high platforms (think Valentino’s fuchsia pumps or Versace’s Medusa Aevitas) and the micro-mini skirt (think Diesel’s controversial rubber belt-esque creation or that Miu Miu chino mini).
Fashion consumers have come to readily accept this disregard for functionality as the norm. However, research shows we might be overlooking some serious consequences. Tight clothing can have physical impacts from impacting hear rate and blood flow to affecting organ function and saliva production.
Recently, scientists have started to investigate how clothing impacts the brain. One study found that a tight outfit could impact your brain wave activity, making it look more like what would be expected of brain experiencing intense emotions like fear or anger.
Wearing uncomfortable clothing – anything that causes physical discomfort, is restrictive or requires constant monitoring or adjusting – can actually damage your self-esteem. It’s associated with a phenomenon called “Chronic Body Vigilance”, something that most women will probably find themselves all too familiar with.
Experiencing Chronic Body Vigilance is essentially being constantly worried about how your body looks to others. When your clothing doesn’t feel right, it’s difficult to focus on anything besides your body and how it’s being perceived. Enduring Chronic Body Vigilance is also associated with high levels of self-objectification, body dissatisfaction and body shame.
The Comfort Gap
Unsurprisingly, women are a lot more likely than men to wear uncomfortable clothing and bear the physical and psychological impacts it can cause. When men do wear uncomfortable clothing, they report the most common reason for doing so is to meet work environment requirements. Women’s primary reason women for wearing uncomfortable clothes however, is for style purposes or to appear attractive.
The second most common reason is that more comfortable options were not available to them. Both of these reasons result from major failures of the fashion industry. Women shouldn’t have to choose between clothing that comfortably reflects their identity or that comfortably fits their body. For example, studies show that the maternity wear market needs to reflect current fashion trends. It must address the desire for more comfortable yet fitted clothing that reveals a pregnant woman’s body shape for fashion and assurance purposes.
Further, it’s no secret that brands are still falling short when it comes to catering to all body types with options that are both well-fitting and on-trend. Clearly, women are suffering in the name of fashion much more than men and it’s affecting our wellness.
Men’s clothing consistently prioritising functionality while women’s clothing almost solely prioritises appearance. This sends the message than men’s bodies are for doing and women’s bodies are for looking at.
When women sacrifice physical and psychological wellness for fashion, we buy into this narrative at our own expense. Resigning ourselves to suffering in the name of style co-signs the idea that how we look is more important than how we feel or what we can do.
Women need to start empowering ourselves by dressing in clothing that is well-aligned with both our self-image and physical needs. Women shouldn’t need to forfeit either fashion or functionality. It’s time that we demand more from brands by investing only in pieces that fit our taste and body alike.