My Complicated Relationship with Dresses

There’s a queer girl stereotype that we were all super tomboys as kids and only wore denim overalls ever.

Basically that we all looked like this.
Basically that we all looked like this.

I was not that little queer girl. (though I do look adorable in denim overalls fyi)

I liked dresses and dressing up. I also liked jeans and climbing trees (spoiler: I still do) but I genuinely enjoyed dressy, “girly,” things.

But somewhere along the way I developed really complicated feelings about dresses.

Part of it is because I was required to wear dresses or skirts to church every week for my entire life. It was not an option. And as I developed negative feelings about that religion, the association between wearing dresses and attending a church I didn’t agree with was forged. A religion that emphasizes gender roles that I have major problems with. The connection between the attire and the roles is strong, and so my distaste for dresses began.

Part of it is because as a voice major in college, I had to wear dresses for performances, studio classes and auditions. Wearing a dress meant being critiqued and criticized on a deep personal level. It meant getting my hopes up and then having them dashed. At least once a week, usually three or four times, I had to primp and preen and it just felt like so much work.  I’d spend hours straightening, applying and shaving only to be told I was not tall enough, not thin enough, not feminine enough, and also that my singing sucked. I had to take it with a smile and say “thank you for the suggestions.” Putting on dresses for these events was the first in a process where I removed myself from my physical presence, becoming what others wanted me to be and losing myself in the process. So every other moment I wore nerdy t-shirts and jeans, trying to find some sense of self in the clothes I was allowed to choose.

Part of it is because as I realized I was gay and was also introduced to ideas of feminism (which happened around the same time funnily enough) I saw the fucked up expectations of women when it comes to dress and appearance. I saw how men — whose expectations for women’s appearance is the CAUSE of women obsessing about their looks– bitch and moan about what a drag it is to wait for women to shop/do their makeup/get ready to go out, but at the same time if women don’t adhere to some ridiculous and specific idea of beauty they are called “ugly” and “lazy” by men. I saw intelligent women pouring themselves into tiny dresses and big high heels and seventeen tons of make-up to impress some dudebro sporting khakis, a polo and flip flops. I saw how women are completely judged on how they measure up to the totally unattainable and utterly fake and manufactured air-brushed, photo-shopped models that are plastered on every flat surface we see. And I said NO I WILL NOT BE A PART OF THIS!! I will not wear dresses because men think it makes me look pretty and feminine and I am so much more than that. I will not be dressed up like a doll. I am not a doll. I am a person.

Part of it is because when I was a baby dyke I went through that whole “finding myself’ thing most people did in high school and had a super butch phase. I wanted queer friends and queer girlfriends and to attract queer folk it generally helps if they can recognize that you are also queer (though I’ve attracted gay men to me since basically the day I was born.) I wanted to wave my rainbow flag and I thought if I ever wore dresses or heels or “feminine” clothes that no one would know and I’d never have lesbian friends and I’d never get laid. And presenting MOC  did make me feel powerful and developed a part of me that had been neglected since my tree-climbing days. I loved it. And I still love to rock a pantsuit, ties, and vests.

But then, for me, somewhere the mantra that my appearance does not define me or determine my value became an internalized fear that taking time for and pride in my appearance meant I was supporting the patriarchy and betraying my people. I know it doesn’t really make sense, but somehow that’s what it all turned into in my head. It became this thing that other people, superficial people, cared about what they looked like but I was… like… above all that. As if caring at all what I looked like would turn me into a airhead, a bimbo who represented everything about hetero gender roles I despised.

This corresponded with some general dark days of professional uncertainty and considerable personal trauma. Which, you know… probably has something to do with it all too.

As the rest of my life has gradually (too mother fucking slowly, but gradually nonetheless) started to come together I’ve started once again taking pride in my appearance. It makes me feel good, to feel that I look good to me– the only person whose opinion really matters.

And lately, I’ve found myself coming back around to dresses. To skirts and heels and jewelry. I’m secure enough in my sexuality, confident enough that the gays recognize me, that I no longer feel my power or identity are undermined when I go Femmesbian in my appearance. In the last few months I’ve found myself drawn to the flouncy, the pretty, the cute. I just bought several dresses (from eshakti.com — which will TAILOR THAT SHIT TO YOUR MEASUREMENTS FOR DIRT ASS CHEAP so if you have trouble finding dresses that fit you totally check it out) and find myself coveting more. I pulled all my heels from the box at the back of the closet, and since I get to actually sit at my job (as opposed to teaching) I am happily wearing them again. I’ve become the girl at work who wears dresses. Who “always looks put together.” And once in a while I think “Who is this girly girl? Where did all this come from?”

It came from me, from all of me. I can be strong and feminine. I can be powerful and pretty. I don’t have to have only one ‘look.’  I can wear a pantsuit, a tie, and Converse shoes on one day and a dress with heels the next.

 

Seriously, if Amanda Tapping/Helen Magnus can be equally as badass in these two outfits, I can be awesome in pants and in a dress.
Seriously, if Amanda Tapping/Helen Magnus can be equally as badass in these two outfits, I can be awesome in both pants and in a dress.

Is it just me who experiences such angst over how I present myself to the world? Anyone else feel like they’re making some kind of GRAND STATEMENT through clothing/hairstyle choices every time you leave the house?

Or do I just over analyze the fuck out of EVERYTHING?

Cuz.. I mean.. that’s totally possible too.

Thoughts? Questions? Answers? Leave ’em below!

 

 

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2 thoughts on “My Complicated Relationship with Dresses

  1. I, too, was required to wear dresses for church-y events, and since my family was in an almost-cult (long story …), I wore nothing but skirts and dresses for a couple of decades. When I finally broke free of that insanity, I threw all my dresses in the garbage. In. The. Garbage. And I never looked back.

    I am almost at the point where I feel like I could wear a dress or skirt again if I wanted to, but I definitely don’t want to. My choice would be jeans and a nerdy t-shirt. Today is the first day of Spirit Week at the middle school where I work, so I’m wearing my Hogwarts uniform. So I guess my choice would really be jeans and a nerdy t-shirt or anything that involves a cloak because cloaks rock.

    IKWYM about losing your lesbian cred for wearing girly stuff, tho. But honestly, I have short hair because I like my hair short, and I don’t wear makeup or jewelry because I don’t want to, not because I feel like I need to make a statement or wave my rainbow flag. 🙂

    1. Lady I FEEL YOU. Also Hogwarts uniform = awesome so loving that.

      I guess I just wish we could all do/wear whatever we want and not have people make assumptions or judgement. Anyone– in the LGBTQ community or out. Dreams.

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