Friend Friday Guest Post: Size Matters.

For this week’s Friend Friday, the lovely Cynthia from Be Fabulous Daily has written a guest post for your delectation.  
Click here to read my guest post on her blog ( there may be a delay, as we’re in different time zones!). Enjoy!

Mrs Bossa xx

* * * * *

A few weeks ago I posted a personal style retrospective and mentioned in passing that, during grad school, I had started buying my clothing somewhat oversized. Reader Terri suggested that I should write about why I thought I did that.

Then, while I was at a conference a couple of weeks ago, I posted this outfit,

which prompted a comment (also from Terri, who likes to ponder the interesting stuff — you should read her blog) that the conference was bringing out a side of me that she had not previously seen. Well…maybe that was the side that sometimes gets mistaken for a man.


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.

For more about why I dress the way I do, check out Be Fabulous Daily.
Do you transgress against parts of the gender ideal when you dress? How? And why?


7 thoughts on “Friend Friday Guest Post: Size Matters.

  1. Ok what an amazing post!! Firstly because you are the only other blogger I have found who is also a scientist in real life!I can totally relate, at conference the girls in their DVF wrap dresses might look pretty but it is the ball buster suit which gets you listened to. I also do the masculine clothes thing but I dont think many people notice, I think it is the hair that detracts from it. I always buy my clothes in at least a size up and I also hate to look 'sexy' I would never wear strappy. On my way to my PhD viva my supervisor said to me 'you know you don't actually have to fight these people phsyically' as I was wearing a pair of ankle boots with a metal toe cap, I hadnt considered it before but I guess I do dress 'for battle'. I also very rarely wear flats at 5.2" I do feel like I need to be able to look people in the eye so always the heels.I will certainly be checking out your blog! P

  2. Some interesting points, I think for a lot of us there are issues around what we wear in our professional life. I have a friend who is an academic, but also happens to love vintage – if she wears a sparkly party dress to an evening do at a conference people will just assume that she is a bimbo before finding out what she does. It is hard to know whether to challenge these sterotypes by saying 'I dress how I want' and not playing into masculine expectations (you must look mannish or you are not perceived as 'serious'), or think of your career and play to type. It annoys me quite a bit that so many people don't understand that you can wear nail polish and still have a brain.

  3. Hi Penny, yeah, it is hard to know what to do. I think part of what I was coming around to in this post is that I've dressed this way so long that it is my style. I feel uncomfortable styling myself super-feminine because I want to be taken seriously, and it sort of doesn't suit my build anyway. Hi Pearl, there are actually several bloggers out there that I know of who are scientists — Julia of Polka Dot Biker Shorts, Dr. Da of Weather Geeque Chique (who actually works at the same place I do but we haven't managed to have a meetup yet) and the blogger at Bird on My Shirt. I keep looking for more fashionable scientists so if you find anyone let me know.Nice to meet you! — Cynthia

  4. Hi all! Thechemist-coture is also a style blogging scientist – although not a woman. Audi of Fashion for Nerds is also a scientist and has some seriously kick-ass style. Milli of Interobangs Anonymous is a scientist, too. Cynthia, we are the same height, and while I'm not a scientist, I am an academic, as you know. I feel that at times I have tried to increase my mass vertically rather than horizontally. I love thick heels that allow me to make noise as I walk and give me even more height. I have been mistaken for a man on the phone many times. Sometimes I cross dress. While I consider myself femme, I enjoy playing with androgyny, sexuality, and my many more "masculine" characteristics as well.

  5. Cynthia–thanks for the mention. For many years, I too, have favored an androgynous style…for similar reasons I think. I've been in my position long enough now that I am respected for my intellect and performance. I was probably the last one to recognize that…and begin to relax into a more female profile.

  6. hi Cynthia! and thank you for the mention! believe it or not, i myself have been mistaken for a man. i think it's partly the shoulders. but – mr. e has also been mistaken for a woman. his shoulders are twice as wide as his butt, he has grizzled hair and features,etc. but he is short and slight. when i think back on it, both he and i have been 'mistaken' by people who deal with lots and lots of folks very quickly – restaurant hostesses, panhandlers, bus drivers…so there is a laziness/overwork factor ON TOP OF all the other factors you sounds as if you know where you are, and why and how you got there style-wise. you don't sound totally happy and at ease with it, though. and you sound as if you don't know where to go other than where you are…if that's the case, to me the next step would be finding some ideas of 'where to go' and then trying them out, bit by bit. i know you're on the GAAD, and frankly this is good since you won't go out and blow a bunch of moola on experiments. so the first step would be to collect some images of outfits – ones that seem like you would like to try dressing that way. don't worry about flattery, practicality, etc. to begin – just find some looks you like.then you can analyze these looks for elements that you can 'try out', bit by bit. this, to me, is the beauty of style blogs – so many wonderful looks from which to take inspiration!! anyways, sorry for the tome. this is a very thought-provoking post. we sure live in a weird society, though. best of luck!!! take care, steph

  7. Excellent post. I've tried to "man up" before. I wore VERY baggy clothes as a teen, shaved my head in college, and have a bad habit of speaking lower than is comfortable— I'm a high soprano, but I guess I associate low voices with "serious" people.Many of my mixed feelings about "femininity" stem from my fear of commodification— what if I doll up, look great, and people won't accept me any other way? What if I do my best to be beautiful and fail? What happens when you loathe objectification, but fear not meriting objectification? =)

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