The Cumbersome Beauty: Why Fashion Can Be So Exhausting

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Bengali women wear pants.

You're saying to yourself: "yeah, so?" But I found it really interesting. Living in the US, my common stereotype of women's fashion was that it was caught up in skirts. Skirts keep women (in that context) from participating in strenuous activities, such as sports and labor. So, misguided me thought that Bengali women were thus more able to move around and benefited based on their wearing pants. Wrong. Pants do not equal empowerment. Here's why:

In fact, pants are pretty cumbersome. When you have to use a squat toilet and it's socially acceptable for men to wear lungis (which are basically like long skirts), and they can go to the bathroom easier than you can. Women also wear more clothing than men, even when it's hot. All these other pieces of clothing have various functions, most of which are to keep your modesty. These fashion items all serve to make it more difficult for women to move around (even saris, which are just long stretches of fabric, need to be tied in certain ways and maintained - don't want them slipping off and exposing you!).

Much of the idea of fashion throughout the ages has been to show off your status in society. The more intricate, flashy, and challenging to put on, the more likely it was that you were in the leisure class because you would (presumably) have time to put it on and take it off. This is true of both men and women's fashion. However, since women were considered more as property, their fashion often had greater symbolism of the whole household's net worth and thus had to be more elaborate.

Since everyone at all classes wanted to emulate the leisure class, fashion has always shifted in that direction, even though now (because of industrialization) everyone can theoretically wear what the rich people wear. So, going by trends of the current day, things become weirder and weirder in high fashion as a remnant of that distinction.

So, pants.

For Western women, they take on the symbolism of "liberation" as they are a male-associated garment now being accessed by women. However, for South Asian women, they are consistently worn by women and therefore no more liberating than any other piece of clothing without which a woman is acting socially unacceptable (bras, anyone?). Cheers to learning about the history of what we wear!