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From me to you, highlighting challenges faced by girls

Dear Daughters, Here’s The Deal About Dresses

Dear Daughters,

We are all born naked. Medical personnel use this fact to their advantage, quickly glimpsing between our legs immediately upon our emergence into the world in order to declare our gender to everyone in the room. Even though we do not even remember being naked, this is the last time everyone in any given room will be totally accepting of our lack of clothing. From that moment on, we will be expected to cover ourselves. This is when clothes begin to be used by many as a means of identifying the gender of a person. Those that do not follow society’s rules for what each gender should wear seem to cause confusion and feelings of uneasiness in some people. Should clothing be that powerful?

The use of clothing for gender identification often begins within the baby’s first minutes of life. In some delivery rooms colour-coded hats are placed on the baby’s head – blue for a boy and pink for a girl. Proud new parents have packed their suitcases with pink, frilly clothes for their precious baby girl or blue sleepers for their adorable baby boy. Some, not wanting to fall into the pink/blue branding game, have fallen into the “neutral colour” trap – bringing yellow or green clothing in which to adorn their new addition. Well-meaning guests arrive bearing gifts. Many waited to hear the gender of the baby in order to buy a more “appropriate” one. Gender-specific colours is a whole other topic I will write about in another blog post. For now I will focus on the one article of clothing most North Americans seem to equate solely with females – the dress.


We love our dresses!

Based on my research, the evolution of how this came to be seems fairly simple. Males and females all used to dress in gown-like garments of some sort and still do in many parts of the world. However, these gowns did not prove conducive to riding horses, participating in combat or other such activities performed at this time by men. Instead, they wore pant-like garments in lieu of gowns during these activities. Eventually pants became synonymous with men – and not just any men – high status men. As one would imagine, pants soon became a desirable garment among men of all means. Baby boys and those not yet school age continued to wear gowns into the early 1900s. Check out the picture at Wikipedia of the young baby boy, Sidney Goodwin (aka as the unknown child who died in the Titanic disaster when he was only 19 months old) taken circa 1911, in his white gown.

In North America, World War II forced women to work in typically male-dominated industrial jobs while men were in combat. It was acceptable for women to wear pants at this time as dresses were not conducive to such labour. After the war, women returned to their traditional roles as homemakers and dress-wearers. The comfort and practicality of pants was not forgotten and by the 1970s it became socially acceptable for women to wear pants. Remember the beautiful bell-bottom style?

So will it ever become socially acceptable for males to wear skirts/dresses? In response to that question, many people remind me that Scottish men wear kilts. They further remind me that in other parts of the world, many men still wear the gowns/tunics. etc. that I referred to at the beginning of this post. We all know that is not what I am asking. If a male wanted to wear a sundress to school or to work in North America, for instance, we all know he would be ridiculed by most. I wonder how many employers or school officials would take him aside and talk to him or even tell him to go home and change?

I know that many of you reading this are probably thinking, why would a guy want to wear a dress anyway? In response to this, I ask you to think about why anyone would want to wear a dress. Think of all the pros to wearing a dress and ask yourself why society prevents males from enjoying the same advantages of dress-wearing that women enjoy.

Sadly, the deal about dresses seems to be connected to the way society values men and women. Men are regarded as the superior sex. Women are regarded as the inferior sex. Pants became synonymous with men. Dresses became synonymous with women. It is socially acceptable for women to wear pants because it makes sense to want to be associated with something superior. Society does not understand or accept males who would want to wear a garment of clothing associated with inferiority. Once men and women are considered equal, we all should be able choose what clothes to wear based solely on their comfort and practicality – even dresses.

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