Getting Cheeky

One day this summer I found myself pretty much loathing a good 50 percent of the population.  Over the course of the 40 minutes it took me to get to work the morning in question, I decided I hated men. That is obviously rather dramatic. Not all men are pigs, and I know only some were the perpetrators of what I saw as an affront to my feminine ideals. However, I couldn’t help my feelings of enmity toward the gender en masse.

When I got dressed that morning, I was feeling my getup. I had just gotten a new pale pink lace top from the thrift store. It seemed tight enough to tuck into my sailor-inspired shorts, and allow them to make their first appearance of the summer. Blush generally doesn’t do wonders for my complexion, so I decided to add some pearls, which would put enough white close to my face to fool the eye into thinking my cheeks had some color. (My Caspar status makes tricks like this a necessity, and I will never be able to pull off oatmeal, but that’s another post.) The whole pearls thing felt rather Blair Waldorf, so I decided to run with it and throw on some knee-highs. That level of Upper East Side didn’t feel quite ‘me’, so I thought a jacket with a bit of edge would complete the look. Grey seemed to work with the color palette, making the tailored-sweater jacket the winner. My outfit was complete, and I had already put far too much mental energy into my outfit, and was ready to expend more on my way to work.

My summer job was at a boutique on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. My commute involves 2 trains and a short walk from the station to Water Tower Place. A bit of a pain, but not particularly arduous. Over the course of this journey my get-up turned from a source of pride to one of resentment. Not because I was questioning my choice of high socks (I have yet to encounter a moment when high socks have been a regrettable decision, and strongly doubt I ever will.) It was the response of the men I encountered that made me question the choices made that morning.

They simply would not stop commenting on my outfit, giving me attention I found to be exhausting and degrading. The man standing next to me on the train platform made it clear it wasn’t the cohesion of my ensemble he was appreciating when he told me he liked my outfit and then winked. (He actually winked.) And, yes, there may have been a little bit of cheek-age, but did that give the man on the escalator the right to call me ‘Baby’ and tell me he liked my shorts?

Maybe these men thought that these degrading comments were somehow compliments. Maybe they thought that the fact that they liked the amount of leg I was showing would somehow make me feel better about myself. But I wasn’t dressing to please them. There’s a reason the word is ‘objectification’. They denied my personhood by taking an outfit I intended to be about expression of ‘self’ and making it an expression of ‘ass’. Their comments negated the careful consideration I put into each element of my outfit, negated my thoughts and made it all about the physical element of my body. (And I am aware that the level of thought I put in was rather ridiculous.) But the way the shorts worked within the context of the outfit was intended as something far more unique than showing something as generic as my thigh. I had fun putting together the various pieces of the look like a little puzzle, finding the way each one fits in context. They took that fun and made it feel dirty.

Obviously women dress to look attractive. Did I have that in mind? Absolutely. I want to dress in a way that will show off my body to its best advantage. I want to highlight the areas I’m proud of, but it’s for my own, and not the creepers on the streets benefit. Through all the thinking I did about what I was wearing, the sexual response of the guys on the street didn’t even enter my mind. I work in a boutique. I’m supposed to dress like I know clothes, so I can sell them to people. I would clearly be lying if I said I didn’t care what people think of the way I dress. I do. I care about what people whose opinions I respect think of my ensemble, and not whether or not strangers find me sexually appealing. I didn’t consider these randos as I was putting on those shorts in the morning, and neither them, nor my ass, was intended to be the focal point of my outfit. I was dressing with customers, with my clothes-horse co-workers and, most importantly, myself in mind. Clothes are about the human being inside of them, and the stares and comments made it clear that I was no longer an individual but a hyper-sexualized display of skin.

I don’t want to have to retire the shorts. I love the fun, sailor vibe, and I feel kind of like I belong at the beach in the 1950’s in them. I don’t want to give that up because the men near the Chicago red line can’t keep their libidos in check. However, I want to feel good about myself in my clothes, and I simply can’t if that’s the way people will respond when I wear them. Regardless, I packed them up for school this year, and maybe if I’m feeling cheeky they’ll make an appearance.

Top: Thrifted, Pearls: No idea, courtesy of my jewelry box, Jacket: Nollie, Shorts: Zara, Socks: Stolen from my Mother, Shoes: Thrifted

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