Policing The Fashion (And Age) Police

Linda Rodin, style over 50, wedge sneakers, wedge sneakers on women over 50, Linda Rodin style

One of my current Style Crushes, Linda Rodin. Image via.

For the first time in a very long time, I’ve deleted a non-spam comment from the moderation queue. I have no problem with dissenting opinions or constructive criticism. I enjoy spirited discussions, which means making allowances for differing (and sometimes very strong) opinions, as long as they’re expressed with respect for others. The comment I deleted was not one of those. It was a high-handed and disparaging remark along the lines of “older women shouldn’t wear x ” and I decided it didn’t belong here.

Women are taught from an early age to police each other. Whether under the guise of religious or moral edicts, or simply a “do’s and don’ts” page in a fashion magazine, we’re encouraged to apply an arbitrary set of standards and pronounce judgment, ostracizing those who transgress.

I’m no different. I was raised by a hyper-critical mother who relentlessly picked apart other women: how they looked/dressed/wore their hair/kept their house/raised their children. I was into my teens before it became clear to me that this running commentary was a result of her own insecurity rather than an objective relaying of some established and unchanging Rules Of Order For Women Everywhere. But even though I began questioning her pronouncements, that habit of seeing through a critical eye took much longer to break (and it still sometimes creeps in). And it’s taken decades to shake off most of that fear of being judged and found wanting by the Arbiters Of Appearance. Criticizing other women’s appearances is a way of keeping us divided, and a way that we participate in our own oppression.

It’s hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head. –Sally Kempton

One of the best things about blogging and the style blogosphere has been seeing so many different expressions of style among women of all ages, ethnicities, sizes, and tastes which has helped me to continue to learn to see with a more unjaundiced eye. That doesn’t mean that every style or choice appeals to me, but rather that I can separate my own preferences from the belief that someone else is doing it “wrong.” And to pay less and less attention to someone else’s rules or “do’s and don’ts.”

I’ve also found that the less I judge others, the less I fear others’ judgments. Allowing room for others’ stylistic self-expression has allowed room for my own. I’m freer to listen to my own voice and follow my own preferences when I take power back from the Fashion Police or Age Police, no matter who they are.

Do you sometimes find yourself still hewing to someone else’s rules or pronouncements? Have you always made up your own rules as you go along (lucky you)? What has helped you to become more open to different expressions of style?

Stay in touch.

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73 Comments

  1. August 17, 2013 / 1:00 am

    Wonderful post, very eloquently written and some fantastic thoughtful comments here too. I would have deleted such a comment too. You’ve given people a lot of food for thought about those voices in our heads which serve to criticise and judge not just our own appearance but those of others. I can’t stand how women do this to each other. Beyond crossing lines of public decency, why should personal expression have to cow tow to societal norms which have historically sought to disempower women anyway, especially as we get older. I love seeing older women break the “rules” and essentially be themselves.
    Also appreciated hearing the arguments here reserving the right to not care so much about one’s appearance as one gets older as this can be a liberating experience. It has not been mine personally but hearing this reasoning behind why one shouldn’t have to care will make me less likely to be judgemental about it in the future.
    Again, brilliant post!

  2. Firecracker
    August 17, 2013 / 7:39 pm

    I, too, am moved to comment for the first time, after reading your blog sporadically for a while. Loved this article. Thank you!

  3. Suz
    August 19, 2013 / 7:47 pm

    Wonderful article. I am hedging upwards (fast!) into “you can’t wear that” territory and it has always amazed me how the female body seems to be fair game for commentary from the age of 10 to the grave. I have had people openly comment on my fashion choices ever since I can recall – for me it was my father rather than mother who was consistently critical and nourished my inner critic.

    One of the things I like best about real or personal fashion blogs is the openness of image/ideas. For example – I have seen that Eileen Fisher tunic in your last post many times in print/, on the basic model frame (lanky, impossibly tall, zero chest or hips) and never once been tempted. On you, a “real person” I suddenly noticed and coveted it 😀 I don’t get that from the fashion media. I much much prefer seeing street fashion and personal takes on style than prepackaged “fashion”

    Fashion, blog style, is more human, more personalized. More accessible. I think we all internally make not so nice comments born of how we were raised….but as you say, we can reframe that. I do note when something is unflattering on a person – still – but I also note when it suits them despite the rules we have all ingested.

    Its a work in progress I guess.

  4. August 20, 2013 / 10:12 pm

    I am chiming in a little late here, but I really enjoyed your post. I realize there can be such a difference in experience, and reading the replies and your article made me think about my own upbringing (by a single father) and how much of this sort of criticism I never had to deal with.

    I struggle with my own pet peeves in trends, and this is by no means an excuse for my passing judgement, but I think I’ve figured that I love when a woman or man dresses in any way that expresses her/himself in a clear and joyful manner. This is regardless of age, build, height, orientation, ethnicity, etc.

    However, what I think are clothing faux-pas drive me nuts. But I don’t know where it crosses the line into unconventional fashion choices. A woman may like having her entire bra showing above the sides of her racerback tank top. If I found out if this was a deliberate fashion choice, I think I would be fine. But since I do not, and because I see a lot of strangers’ buttocks through leggings/tights on my campus, (no really. a LOT) I gotta to learn to let this go, because it is making me bananas.

    • August 20, 2013 / 10:24 pm

      I don’t know why this takes me so quickly into pet peeve territory. More introspection is required.

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