What do you think you’re wearing?

As an unapologetic feminist, who has modest leanings when it comes to fashion, I have to say that this business with the gal thrown out of her homeschool prom because the dads couldn’t stop looking has got me thinking.  What is considered appropriate?  And who or what determines this?

Let’s get a few points out of the way:  I sympathize with this high school girl, Claire, I really do.  I actually had a very similar dress (silver, sparkly, mid-thigh) when I was in high school that I wore to a performance poetry show we put on for the school.

My sparkly dress probably came to my fingertips, too.

My sparkly dress probably came to my fingertips, too.

I am of average height, so what comes to my fingertips doesn’t look the same as what comes to the fingertips of a girl that’s 5′-9″.  If the to-the-fingertip, the only dress code used by Claire’s homeschool prom, does not seem appropriate on some body types, then it’s not a good rule of thumb.  What is, then?  Using however many inches above the knee?  Or is it a gut reaction to someone’s dress?  Like I said, for a 17 year old’s dress, it wasn’t shocking.  It was youthfully appropriate to me.  She said she’s curvy, but I’d agree with her other description of herself, that she’s got a woman’s figure.


Picture of Claire’s dress from her blog post.

The other side of the story is the adults’ reaction.  The female chaperone in charge was furious because the dads, the male chaperones, were oogling her, and that she was causing “impure thoughts” with the boys at the dance.  Is that this girl’s fault?  I am frankly grossed out that it’s up to women to cover up because men can’t control their boners.   I do believe this is also what the Jezabel piece talks about as well.  It’s basically a feminist foundation point, the framework of overturning rape culture and slut-shaming.  Women are not “asking for it” by wearing certain articles of clothing.  Take this cartoon, for instance.


If it’s hot, I’m going to wear a tank and shorts, no question.  I live in Texas.  That sweltering heat lasts most of the year.  I’m not “asking for it” by trying to stay weather-appropriate.  So then is it appropriate to wear a summer outfit to a job interview?  To visit a client?  To take my kids to a school function?  Here’s where I can see the other side.  I don’t feel comfortable showing cleavage, but that’s on me.  Unless we’re out to dinner, or at club (Ha!  Let’s pretend I want to do that while having small children), or at a body of water, showing acres of boob is most likely not appropriate.  Not because the woman is asking for trouble, or a slut.  Then why?  This is the crux of my inner dialogue about the whole thing.

When I was growing up, about the age in my sparkly dress above, I did indeed try to go to a club in inappropriate clothing, according to my mother.  I wore a bra under a sheer top, and when my mom caught sight of me about to leave, she told me to change so that I didn’t look like a “street walker.”  I wasn’t going to a club to grind up on someone (ew), but I was going to dance, and I’m frankly glad she helped me avoid creepers coming up to me, when I just wanted to express myself corporally.  (To the dudes that get off on yelling crap at women on the street – you deserve every retching sound I’ve yelled back at you.)  Would I have been “asking for it” by wearing what my mother so euphemistically called “street walker” clothing?  Unintentionally, yes.  Let me say for clarity’s sake that I mean unwanted attention, and not getting raped.  Nobody, and I mean nobody, can ask for rape in what they say, do, or where they go.  This girl was wearing sweats when she got raped.  I think it’s insulting to men to say they can’t keep themselves from raping just by seeing an attractive woman.

And since I’m also a vocal lactivist (that’s a an activist breast-feeder), is it appropriate to BF anywhere?  Yes, absolutely.  Feeding a child in the bathroom is gross.  But what about covering up?  I don’t usually.  Ans’ head covers what’s left of my deflated breasts, and she wouldn’t allow a cover at 20 months anyways.  But I must confess there are times when I feel the urge to cover.  If I were in front of a client, or at my mom’s private school before she retired – I covered.  If I was at a kid’s birthday party, or in front of friends or other parents, I didn’t care.  But it was me, I was the one who cared.  I felt a certain level of comfort to BF in front of people I know, or who I would assume understand vs people who I feel like I need to impress.  One last point on this – it’s never a sexual act, the side breast that might show.  It’s not immodest to bare breasts to feed a child – ever.


UNT ad campaign about breastfeeding in stalls

To whittle down my point – aside from rape (we can all agree by now that clothes don’t instigate it), summer casual clothes, the night life, and pool parties, there seems to be a time and place that certain types of clothes are indeed appropriate.  Work attire, if in the professional world, can be flattering, form-fitting, but not sexualized, in my opinion.  Going to daytime events involving adolescent children (like at a school function) can be casual and weather appropriate, but probably shouldn’t show acres of cleavage.  Formal events like funerals or weddings probably require some level of conceal, don’t reveal, although that’s probably arguable at weddings…  I think my modesty really connects to what kind of attention I am looking for – I don’t appreciate guys hitting on me, so I exude an air of unavailability, including with how I dress myself.  But do I think those that do are sluts?  Nah.  I just think there are more flattering outfits they could be wearing.  But that’s just me.

What do you think?  Is there such a thing as “appropriate” clothing?  Or should we dress in what makes us comfortable and not internalize other people’s reactions?

Feminist Jells.





One thought on “What do you think you’re wearing?

  1. Life’s not fair to women. On the one hand, we many times are treated unfairly in life regarding opportunities and success. On the other hand, many of us have the miraculous joy of bringing forth life in our own bodies and nurturing it to adulthood.

    I have to admit though that I feel more comfortable when people are dressed appropriately. Modesty does have a lot to recommend it, mostly in terms of communication and comfort. You usually don’t have to worry about a wardrobe malfunction, for one thing.

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