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Hey ladies! What are you wearing today?

If you are like me, you prefer casual but trendy outfits that offer a glimpse into your own personal style. From jeans to chic blazers to summer dresses, American women tend to enjoy dressing in less formal attire than women of the late 19th and early 20th centuries (i.e. when hats and gloves were considered a wardrobe necessity).

Do you prefer to wear casual attire as well? If so, bad news. You are a slob.

Linda Przybyszewski, an Associate Professor at the University of Notre Dame, teaches students about 19th and 20th century fashion in the United States in her class, “A Nation of Slobs: The Art, Ethics, and Economics of Dress in Modern America.” The class description states that students will “consider whether [fashion trends] represented freedom or the downfall of western civilization;” however, judging from the class title one can assume Przybysewski believes the latter.

Sure, I agree that women’s fashion over the past 100 years has become much more informal. However, I strongly disagree with the notion that such informal fashion trends have made women so-called slobs and it definitely does not represent the downfall of western civilization.

In an interview with CBS, Przybysewski explains her opinions regarding modern fashion, at one point stating that “style just slipped into simplicity and eventually slipped into stupidity.” Although my feminist self found much of the interview simply outrageous, one part in particular made me livid. Przybysewski praises the following description of a young school girl:

“At schoolmates’ glamorous displays, not only eyes, but eyebrows, raise.”

In my opinion, this rhythmic depiction glamorizes the objectification of women by emphasizing the importance of a young girl’s wardrobe over the importance of her studies. Przybysewski further objectifies women as she longingly reminisces about the days when women’s fashion made [male] “heads turn,” referencing classic movies such as Funny Face, After the Thin Man, and Gilda.

Although Przybysewski never deems specifically women’s sloppiness as more detrimental to society than men’s, we can assume her ideas of sloppiness focus mainly on women’s fashion since she neglects to ever mention men in her argument. Rather, Przybysewski focuses solely on the evolution of women’s “sloppiness” using magazines, illustrations, and (unbeknownst to them) current female students.

Not once does Przybysewski describe how changing fashion trends empowered women to shed their corsets in exchange for a more comfortable, practical look. Not once does Przybysewski refer to the correlation between fashion trends and women’s rising political, social and economic power. Not once does Przybysewski declare that a woman’s actions and words are more important than her dress.

Instead, Przybysewski’s teachings only reinforce the idea that women should be seen and not heard.

In a nation where female CEOs earn only 74.5 percent as much as male CEOs, constantly scrutinizing women for their fashion sense rather than concentrating on their education and/or leadership ability inevitably delays gender equality. Did anyone criticize former Apple CEO Steve Jobs on his iconic black turtleneck and jeans? No. Instead, the world rightfully appreciated his undeniable impact on the advancement of computer technology and articles like this one cheerfully “admired” his wardrobe evolution (or lack thereof).

Unfortunately, today’s gendered reality suggests Przybysewski is not alone in her beliefs. While Przybysewski teaches our nation’s youth that a woman’s wardrobe is of extraordinary importance, the media simultaneously dissects and critiques female celebrities’ and political leaders’ fashion, thus reinforcing Przybysewski’s ideals.

In order to achieve complete gender equality, we must stop judging women on their outward appearance and start listening to their voices. Don’t you think it’s time?

Share your thoughts

16 Responses

  1. There’re other ways to look at her argument. When we first meet a stranger, we know nothing about their personalities, work ethics, diligence, efficiency, so on and so forth. The only thing we can rely on – at first – is appearance.

    A person who dresses well tends to be looked upon more favourably than one who doesn’t, because of the time and effort involved in selecting an outfit, shoes, accessories, so on and so forth. This applies to both genders.

    She writes about women perhaps because she views them as more important, not because the above doesn’t apply to men.

    Work and capabilities are part of a person, yes. Appearance is also another facet of our personalities. It shows whether we make an effort or squeeze out time for it.

    I like my job and am recognised for my contribution. But I also like stepping out of the house in a presentable outfit, feeling confident and competent.

    Just another perspective : )

  2. I can sort of understand were she is coming from I mean I go into Walmart and see people in their underwear literally or in their pjs America use to be a country that took pride in the way the looked even during the 50s when African Americans were being treated horribly barely being paid any money if you look at pictures of them they still manage to dress in suits dresses now I’m not saying that today we have to dress in 3 piece suits but at least make an effort I’m raising 2 kids by myself so I know how hard it can be but while I tell them their education is the most important thing to succeed how you look does play a factor it’s a shallow world out their and I don’t care how smart you may be if you don’t look the part it’s to get a Job people will not approach if it appears that you create no effort so you could miss out on chances and it will always matter more to women rather we like it or not but we can do is look at women like Jackie Kennedy or kerry Washington who are known for their fashion but also how smart,classy, and successful they are/were rather we like it or not a women’s apparel will always matter more than men but we can still dress nice and still show that we are more than our clothes will it take more sure but we are strong

  3. Living in a country that has a female Prime Minister, it frustrates me to no end when I hear people commenting on what ‘Julia wore today’ rather than her policies or merit as a leader.
    How progressive are we if when we finally elect a female leader, we then criticise her on her fashion and hair choices?

    1. Yes! The world needs to respect women by not judging them for random insignificant details. Men are not held to such standards and, in order to fully achieve gender equality, women should not be either.

  4. *stands up and applauds*

    If she doesn’t like casual clothes, she doesn’t have to wear them. Period. No need to judge others. I have no desire to return to “the good ol’ days” of spending hours preparing the my face and body for the world. As I recall, men weren’t spending copious amounts of time on their appearance even during the periods she so admires.

    1. Agreed! Women should be free to express themselves through fashion and therefore, wear whatever they so desire!

  5. I wonder if this “woman” has children? As much as I would love to wear my hat and gloves everyday, Im not sure how practical that would be while working in a warehouse and then taking care of my 3 kids (ages 5,4, and 17 months). This reminds me of a professor I had in college (class was called Women in Western Religion) and she started the class asking what we all wanted to do after college. When I said that I wanted to get married and have kids and take care of my family she actually asked me why I was wasting my money and another students space by going to school if my education was going to be wasted.

    1. Wow. I’m sorry you had to experience that from a professor. We believe that women are empowered if/when they have the ability to make choices for themselves. Whether you decide to work on Wall Street, to become a politician, or to become a loving mother and wife is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is that YOU made the decision. Thank you for sharing your story! We look forward to seeing more of your comments on future Girls’ Globe articles.

  6. “Not once does Przybysewski declare that a woman’s actions and words are more important than her dress.” I couldn’t agree with you more!

  7. I really feel that this prof’s theories represent her personal need for this country to head in the opposite direction of the progress the feminist movement has made. Quite baffling, especially considering that she is a woman.

    1. Thank you for your comment! I totally agree! The scary thing is that she preaches her ideas on fashion and its importance to young minds.

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