Not My Revolution

jumpsuitsCory Doctorow is singing the praises of an “ungendered monogarment,” which turns out to be a jumpsuit made in sizes that fit many different body types.

The jumpsuit is the design of the Rational Dress Society, which wants to free people from the fashion industry and rules of dressing based on class and gender. As an extra political kick, they’re making them from fabric created by shredding Ivanka Trump clothes, which is amusing, though I don’t know if that says much for the quality of the fabric.

While the Rational Dress Society raises some provocative ideas, I’ve got three big objections to their jumpsuits: political, practical, and aesthetic.

To begin with, political: Jumpsuits aren’t ungendered. Jumpsuits in this style are generally male clothing in this society. (I remember my father going through a phase where he wore them.)

Making male clothes in sizes that fit women is not making “ungendered” clothes. While many women choose to dress in male clothes – and appreciate any company that makes the same quality clothes they make for men in sizes that work for women – women dressing in male clothes does not make the clothes in question ungendered.

If “ungendering” is part of the purpose here, why not, instead of using an item of clothing that codes male, make something that’s traditionally worn by women, but with the pockets, well-stitched seams, and comfortable cuts common to male clothing. Let the guys break the gender barrier for a change.

In other words, why not make a dress?

O.K. So I know why they aren’t making dresses. Most straight, cis men are terrified of the idea of wearing dresses, including men who assert strong lefty opinions. Straight cis women aren’t terrified of jumpsuits, so the company will do better business (a nice capitalist approach). But it should be obvious that if challenging gender is part of the purpose here, a dress would make a much more powerful statement. Particularly since they’re using fabric that came from what were likely uncomfortable and badly made dresses sold by a company that actually does represent the worst excesses of the fashion industry.

But if a dress is too radical for them, why not a tunic, an item of clothing that has been worn by people of all genders in many different cultures. Robes and other clothing similar to tunics are a form of male attire in much of the Middle East and Africa today, and tunics were male clothing in Europe in the past. They’re a common form of traditional clothing for women in a lot of cultures, and often seen on western women today.

A tunic is not exactly a dress. It could be made on very simple lines: straight sides, long or short sleeves, lengths varying from mini to knee to ankle length. In adjusting the fit for different people, they could take into consideration the use of darts for folks with breasts and provide belts for those who want to emphasize their waists. Properly made, tunics could have good pockets and be just as suitable for most activities as jumpsuits.

And tunics would solve the practical problem presented by these jumpsuits, which do not take into account that the wearer will need to pee while wearing it. This is, of course, not much of a challenge for a person equipped with a penis, who can just unzip and do their business.

But for those of us whose peeing process involves a more protected organ, jumpsuits are a pain in the ass. You have to take the damn thing off every time you want to pee. As far as I’m concerned, a jumpsuit is not at all a practical item of clothing for people who don’t have penises.

Tunics would solve this problem, and wouldn’t present any barriers for the penis people either.

The last problem is aesthetic. In this, I suspect I’m challenging their political point of view directly, since I gather that part of their purpose is to make clothes that are bland and indistinguishable so that we all look the same and don’t judge each other by what we’re wearing.

Now I know people – mostly men, but a few women – who like that approach to clothing. They want serviceable, boring clothes so that they can put on the same thing every morning without worrying about whether their socks match (because they’re all white) or whether everything pulls together.

I have no objection to this form of dressing for those who prefer it. Back when I practiced law, I used to wish we used the robes worn by barristers in England so that I didn’t have to pay attention to what to wear to court. There are times when an obvious uniform makes your life easy.

But use of clothes for adornment, not just for protection from the elements or social niceties, goes back to the beginning of human beings. Lots of folks – myself among them –like to use clothing to adorn ourselves. We like color. We like jewelry. We like different mixes of clothing.

That doesn’t mean we don’t want well-made items and pockets. (I cannot over-emphasize the importance of pockets, since clothes designed for women so often lack them or only have decorative ones.) It does mean we don’t want our clothing choices to be reduced to a choice between an ugly black jumpsuit and an ugly white jumpsuit.

I mean, couldn’t they at least have made a purple one? Or a red one?

Me, I don’t want to be forced to choose between white (which gets dirty) and black (which bores me). And I don’t want to wear jumpsuits of any kind, since I vastly prefer clothes in which a trip to the toilet is not a major undertaking.

If I can’t wear purple clothes that are easy to deal with, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.

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Not My Revolution — 28 Comments

  1. Yep, tunics, or the simple wrap robes that Chinese people of both sexes wore for centuries.

    Jumpsuits are also ugly besides being totally impractical. Very few body types can wear them, whereas the clean, simple lines of tunic or robe can be pleasing or shrouding as the wearer wishes, and look well on all body types.

  2. Not to mention that women also have periods, which inevitably means leakage and surprises, and these hideous jumpsuits — ONLY IN WHITE?????? what in the world are they thinking?????????? — will tell not only the wearer but the world.

    These were designed by the same men who design hotel sinks and showers that flood the bathroom and stoves with backsplashes of absorbent material that can’t be scrubbed. I.e. intolerably stupid and useless, creating problems that weren’t there before.

  3. An aside about the younger generation…my son, as you know, is 22 and a musician so he admittesly runs with an artsy crowd. That said, I ‘m amazed at how he and his friends are unconstrained by gender conventions in dress. He has a straight cis male friend who likes to wear skirts, e.g. and none of them find this weird or confusing… he wears skirts when he feels like it and that’s who he is. We’ve been to a number of his shows and looking at the crowd and listening to them interact makes me smile about the future. It’s a small sample but as they say the indi es are strong.

    And i agree about the construction and stylr and quality of men’s clothes. When i workes in apparel it becane clear to me that women’s clothes are considered disposable. They are only made to last a year or two. Trends doncha know. I would rather have pockets thanks.

  4. The quality of women’s clothing is lower and the price is higher than for men’s. This tells us a lot about the contempt for women in the culture.

  5. I like how the jumpsuits were depicted in Robert Wise’s adaptation of Crichton’s THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN (1971). They were practical, functional, necessary–and everyone hated them.

    • Some women’s kimonos are highly restrictive, but on the whole, I find traditional Japanese attire charming.

      Yet another argument for clothes that are practical and attractive.

  6. I know what those jumpsuits remind me of — the uniforms in ST:TNG. Only perfect-bodied people could wear them. And apparently they were quite uncomfortable and had to be tugged down constantly to keep them from pinching the wearer in the crotch.

    Of course the Enterprise had no visible bathrooms; excretory functions must have been accomplished via transporter, a la teleportation in Theodore Sturgeon’s More than Human.

    –V.

  7. Don’t forget the thing also where men can pee without taking off half the garment but women can’t. That’s just stupid.

  8. Once upon a time I found the perfect flame red jumpsuit at a flea market. Its V neck went down to my navel, it had bat sleeves and ruches at the hips, and generally looked like something a 1980s diva would wear.

    So I added a black corset, a silver belt, a silver torque, a silver leather jacket, a black backpack, and black killer heels. And set out to have some beers with my friends at the local pub. It had lots of beer drinkers and one tiny unisex WC. Remove backpack, remove jacket, remove belt, remove half of the jumpsuit, find safe places for discarded clothing and accessories, all the while teetering on those heels and hearing angry people banging at the door.

    Ouch. Next time I want to play at being extraordinary I shall learn to wear a toga.

    And yes, some of my male friends enjoy wearing skirts and kilts, whether straight, trans or bi. Just as jeans and T shirt are gender neutral (well, unless one has SEX KITTEN or TRUE MACHO printed on that shirt but that says more about their IQ). Just as girls can shave their heads and boys can have hair to their hips and no one bothers to comment much.

    These white jumpsuits are a disgrace. I would rather go naked, snowstorms, cellulite, catcalls, and all.

  9. I wonder if this is the same Rational Dress Society that was active in the Victorian era, or a modern reboot. In that period they were crusading, rightly, against steel corsetry and crinolines. Their proposed solution: bloomers. Wait, maybe these are the same people after all…

    • I think this is a current organization with no relationship to that one, and probably not enough historical perspective to know about it. Bloomers are a big improvement over corsets and crinolines, imho.

      • Somewhere there is a photo of the ‘rational dress’ that the Oneida community imposed upon women in upper NY state. Of course the men got to wear ordinary trousers and shirts like the unenlightened men around them, but the women had to wear the most godawful garments, bloomers with a knee length skirt over, in dark fabric. They looked like sad clowns, and they knew it. All the women loathed them. The moment the patriarch blew out for Canada they switched over to ordinary skirts and dresses.

  10. I have seen penis envy defined as the emotion felt by women who need to relieve themselves while on picnics entirely surrounded by nettles or on small boats.