Then, while I was at a conference a couple of weeks ago, I posted this outfit,
Yep. I’m a tallish girl (5’7″). I have always primarily worn flat shoes (for a lot of years, I wore 8-hole Doc Martens almost exclusively). I walk with a long stride. I have wide, square shoulders — no gently sloping Victorian cameo shoulder-line here. Put a blazer and pants on me, and no matter how much makeup I’m wearing, someone’s going to panhandle me using the wrong pronoun. I got addressed as if I were a man by a street dude on the boardwalk in Biloxi, wearing that same (quite girlie, IMO) red corduroy blazer that’s pictured above. There’s just something about my body and my body language. Despite being a 36D with a near-ideal “hourglass” 40/30/41 set of measurements, I can very easily read as ambiguous.
So on to Terri’s question. Why wear oversized clothing? In graduate school, I wouldn’t say I was deliberately “butch”, but I definitely worked my size by wearing oversized clothing that increased my perceived mass. But in light of the above, shouldn’t I be dressing to minimize myself however possible? The answer is, it depends on what my goal is. If my goal is to be perceived as dainty and feminine, perhaps I should dress to minimize. But what if my goal is to be perceived as a successful scientist and a leader in my field?
We all know from numerous studies that being tall results in increased lifetime income. This is true both for men and, to a lesser extent, for women. Another thing we know, from anecdote if nothing else, is that increased bulk is perceived as serious. A friend of mine recently told me of a good friend of hers, a smart and talented but very slight Asian man, who was shooting to move up in management status in a biotechnology company, was essentially told by the powers that be at his company that he was too small to be in management. Among the large thick-bodied American silverbacks, he did not have sufficient weight to have authority. As a young woman starting out in the world of science, I had to do something to create weight and authority. So for years, I’ve worn slightly larger than me clothing to create a larger than life persona. For a while, I even gained quite a bit of weight to fill the larger clothes.
But there are other reasons behind my oversized style, as well. I’m very resistant to sexualizing myself or my clothes. I grew up in the Midwest, among pretty conservative and privacy-loving people. I reached adulthood before the current trend of 5″ heels and high hemlines hit. I feel pretty strongly about appropriate attire. There’s no reason on earth for me to be sexy from day to day — it doesn’t serve my main goals, and might actually harm them.
So now it’s gotten to a point where, if I put on the traditional trappings of “sexy” femininity, strappy dainty shoes, lacy clingy fabrics, little clothes that expose a lot of skin, I feel like a gorilla in a ballerina costume. Steph recently wrote a long post about finding the styles that suit us both inside and out. I don’t know if this external style is the most flattering to me as a woman, or if it’s somewhere that I consciously wanted to go and considered all the implications of, but at this time in my life the style where I’m most at home is large and graphic and authoritative and not too sexy.