When it comes to the very gendered mainstream fashion industry, there’s a world of difference between how men and women’s clothing is manufactured and marketed.
We are in awe of the way our male counterparts can drift through department stores, picking exactly what they like with confidence. We can’t say this is true for women’s shopping experiences, which are fraught with a dense over-selection of clothing, as well as inconsistent pricing and fit. It’s not the relaxing “de-stressing” activity some may think.
It turns out that the history of menswear is deeply entrenched in tradition. Silhouettes tend to be much more restricted, without as much excess decoration or experimentation. These silhouettes remain largely similar to the ones created in the Regency period of the late 18th century, when the suit was first created. Menswear designers are sensitive to the craft of clothing design, relying on practical principles of proportion and fit.
Women’s fashion tends to be more immersed in trends, with a greater emphasis on finding new silhouettes and fabrics. As we know, trend-heavy fashion often sacrifices quality and ethical practices in favor of quick production and large profit margins. The selection for women in mainstream fashion is larger than ever — yet, it remains unsatisfying and frustrating to navigate.
With an emerging acceptance and visibility of gender fluidity, we certainly see more overlap between men and women’s fashion these days, resulting in a larger selection of unisex or gender-neutral clothing.
This isn’t a new movement, but rather, a recurring one that cycles through the decades. Many eras in the history of fashion have seen crossover and blurring of lines, such as men wearing heels in the 1890s or the 1980s powersuits.
However, we find that the mainstream fashion industry is still stuck in a gendered mode of treating female consumers differently than their male counterparts.
Prejudicial Price Points
A Business of Fashion article published in 2016 compared the pricing of one item of clothing: a simple, striped Saint Laurent sweater, placed in the men’s and women’s section. The sweater found in the women’s section cost $240 more than the one in the men’s section. The article referred to a “pink tax”, otherwise known as the monetary penalty placed on women’s products.
Some cite this difference in pricing as a result of differing materials and workmanship, though of course, that isn’t true in the above case of the striped sweater. Others claim that women’s lines produce more variety in sizing and colors, which results in more costly runs for the manufacturer. It’s unclear where exactly this “pink tax” comes from, but it’s undeniable that the tax exists.
The higher demand for women’s fashion also justifies the amplified costs, according to executives in the mainstream fashion industry. The belief is that since women are more willing to pay higher prices, they should have to.
These price penalties are based on behavior from mainstream fashion companies that position women in a particular way. Many women have deep emotional ties to shopping, often linked to self-worth and body image. These price penalties are a result of decades of negative marketing towards women.
Pockets: Always Desired, Never A Given
An oft-cited fashion phenomenon is the dearth of pockets in women’s fashion. When we find a dress or pair of trousers with functional pockets, it feels like a gift. Pockets are beyond practical — the extra storage space gives us freedom from having to carry a purse or bag throughout our days.
Women’s jeans and pants usually have pockets, but it’s rare when they can hold more than a strip of gum. Sometimes, pants and blazers come with “fake pockets” that pretend to offer functional storage space.
Pockets have been around for 500 years, in some form or another, but they were popularized by Coco Chanel in the 1920s. In the 1970s, pockets became commonplace. Since then, we seem to have taken a step backwards, with more items of women’s clothing lacking that fashion necessity.
The fashion industry seems more concerned with the aesthetics of women’s style over its functionality. Additionally, fast fashion generates new styles and inventory at such an accelerated rate that there is rarely a focus on quality or longevity. The trick for fast fashion companies is to capture the trend of the moment before it passes — often at the expense of the women wearing those trends.
Pockets may seem like a small, insignificant detail in a person’s wardrobe, but the necessity of cell phones (not to mention car keys and credit cards) in personal and business interactions makes pocket space even more crucial. Not only are purses and bags cumbersome, but they also draw undue attention to women in public spaces.
Inconsistent Sexist Sizing
Women’s sizing has become so confusing that we may vary up to three clothing sizes before finding the correct fit. Online shopping offers complicated sizing charts that fill entire screens. What’s the reason for this variance?
As usual, it has little to do with the needs of the consumer and everything to do with the agendas of the brands producing these items. Brands began to use sizing as a measure of their identity, crafting their size chart to tell a specific story about themselves. Depending on the brand’s demographic, the baseline “medium” will shift; tween brands will have a much smaller medium than brands targeting an older demographic of women.
Even within a single brand, you may shift from one size to another depending on the particular garment. These inconsistencies aren’t just frustrating; they are very telling about the ways women’s fashion is linked to value systems. Vanity sizing, which deliberately sizes an item to appear smaller than its actual fit, creates an ego-driven impulse to attach worth or beauty to a size.
Sizing that doesn’t follow logical, clearly established guidelines sets women up for confusion and, sometimes, distress when they find that their size fluctuates greatly and arbitrarily between brands. If we are able to take the emotional burden off of sizing, we could create a more functional system for shopping and dressing.
As men and women begin to refine the industry through their needs and expectations, the fashion industry must work to catch up. Men are gravitating towards more diverse representation in fashion and women crave some semblance of practicality and uniformity. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.