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?