Modern Clothing: A Rant

I have been doing a bit of clothes shopping lately, and this has inspired a rant. Or, more accurately, a collection of related mini-rants, which – as I do not have a hotline to garment industrialists worldwide – I present here.

In the first place, there seems to be considerable confusion about the significance of length. If the wearer cannot bend over in a certain garment without flashing passersby, it is a top. Kindly stop charging extra for it under the pretence that it is a dress.

A model pauses at the end of a runway in a short-sleeved minidress which skims the tops of her thighs, and knee-high boots worn with over the knee socks.
From an Autumn/Winter collection, believe it or not.

On a related note, slits. Medieval menswear may have had slits for riding which also allowed for the display of a manly hose-clad leg, but slits in skirts to allow for walking are a relatively recent invention. They became more common in the 1940s because there was a war on, and fabric – like nearly everything else – was in short supply. Even then, a kick pleat would be sewn into the slit to avoid the embarrassment of having so little fabric in your skirt you had to cut a hole in it to be able to walk.

And yet I recently acquired a lovely full-length skirt, which – despite being ample in cut – still had a slit. This is probably due to the next issue: exposure. Clothing designers and/or manufacturers seem to subject their designs to an Unalterable Maxim that all women are desperate to exhibit as much of their bodies to the general public as humanly possible without actually going to work in their undies. Hence unnecessary slits – so the world gets the occasional glimpse of your legs.

A smiling black woman walks a red carpet catwalk in a full length balloon-sleeved red dress. The dress has white lace at the neckline and a slit in the front of the skirt.
Never mind that the skirt is full enough, cut a slit in it!

If you insist on covering one part of your body, they’ll see to it that another is exposed. Want long sleeves on your wool dress for winter? Have a plunging neckline. Want a summer dress that will protect your legs from sunburn? Have a couple of strings to hold it up, and don’t even think about sleeves. (Do they think your arms, shoulders, decolletage, and upper back are all UV resistant, or do they expect you to pay to layer up in the heat?)

This is taken to an extreme with some necklines which whiz southward with all the vim and vigor of an endangered great snipe heading to Africa for the winter. (6,760 km, at 97kmh, if you were wondering.) It reaches the point where you can’t be quite sure if it’s still a neckline or if it’s starting an exciting new life as a waistline. The one thing you can be certain of is that you will either be cold or sunburned ere long – and that’s leaving “wardrobe malfunctions” out of consideration.

Some might argue that all this is due to manufacturers’ desire to make each garment as skimpy as possible, so as to save on the expense of fabric. However, this is not borne out by the last indignity. If you do manage to find a nice garment which has long sleeves, and a long skirt (if a dress), and a neckline in the vicinity of the neck, there’s a very good chance it will also be sheer i.e. see-through. Because…see Unalterable Maxim, above.

A woman in a long-sleeved full-length sheer embroidered dress walks away down a catwalk.

For those of you who are convinced that I am just a reactionary old fuddy-duddy objecting to perfectly reasonable clothing, let me say two things. One, I am not saying that garments such as I have described should not exist, merely that these should not be the rule from which few exceptions can be gleaned.

And two, take a moment to imagine what it would be like if menswear was the same. Most bifurcated garments would be shorts, a not insignificant proportion of which would be Daisy Dukes. If a man insisted on wearing trousers, he’d have slits up the back of the trouser legs or wear it with a sheer shirt. (Or perhaps an obligatory builder’s crack?) The classic button-up shirt would have no sleeves, and the top button would be somewhere near the bottom of the sternum. Does that sound perfectly reasonable? (Why/why not? Discuss.)

Just don’t get me started on polyester. It’s plastic. Plastic! It’s only a matter of time before some enterprising clothing manufacturer cuts the bottom off a single-use plastic shopping bag and markets it as a sheer sleeveless top dress.

A KFC-branded plastic shopping bag containing a box of food visible through the thin white plastic.

2 Replies to “Modern Clothing: A Rant”

  1. I am alarmed at the number of garments proudly sold as “recycled polyester”.
    If I didn’t want polyester before, I am unlikely to want it after it’s been melted down and reshaped.

    I am also furious at what was done to women’s blouses. In 2000 I first discovered the ‘no top button’ feature of women’s blouses. There was no top button, no way to fasten at the neck, and no way to wear a scarf or traditional tie with it. Apparently it was cheaper.
    Then it caught on in a big way, resulting in no ‘shirt’ styles sold for women.
    So, the second button became the top button. It was too low for short-waisted women like me to wear the blouse. It was not possible to sew on a button and create a button-hole at the top, as the neckline was now a deep V-shape, with a wider neck that doesn’t join.
    Not a happy customer!

    1. I’m all for recycling, but I must admit that “don’t landfill plastic rubbish, wear it” is a hard sell. But better recycled polyester than new polyester!
      The compulsory deep V of women’s necklines seems to be bringing a very slow resurgence of what used to be called a dickey. One can now buy a thing that hooks onto one’s bra straps to fill in the gap where one’s shirt front ought to have been.

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