Growing up, I recollect hearing of two golden rules when it came to dressing. The first one was the legs or boobs rule and the second was, ‘If you got it you better flaunt it’.
It was some supposed cardinal sin to be styled in such a way which allowed the parading of both. The revealing of only one ‘asset’ as they would call it, I presume was to indicate some sort of decency visually as according to society’s standard. The second one on the other hand, I felt countered the former in a sort of way that promoted a certain type of body positivity and feminine ownership over one’s body once it looked a certain way. The two rules nonetheless, in some ways both objectified a woman’s body in equally an oppressive and over sexualized way.
Growing up and living in a patriarchal society such as Guyana, mode of dress was and still is heavily intertwined in rape culture. It also acts as a yard stick to measure women’s morality, most of which stems from religious beliefs and the post-colonial history. The idea of women wanting to dress because they were actually comfortable in their clothing is a foreign idea.
In my opinion, it always seemed that women dressed in such a way in which there was a moral thought process as opposed to personal taste or flair. I remember when I was young I would consciously change up my look because I didn’t want to come off as ‘too appealing in the eyes of a man’ as if that was/is bad thing. Even though I would selectively choose my clothing dependent on my activity and suspected male gaze attention estimate, dressing modestly has always been a favourite fashion thing for me to do. In addition, it actually never had anything to do with concealing my body because of fear of being catcalled. However, that too carried its own burden. There was always such misidentification that I was implying a good girl role with a mini skirt and ‘pussy bow’ blouse.
The whole idea of dressing modestly seems to only be connected to religion and for reasons that are interconnected with oppression. But I don’t think this is necessarily the case. I noticed a huge variation between reality and actuality from the street style photos recently, in particular, street style photos of women- those from what would be considered to be fairly liberal societies. Women clad in layers of outerwear and loose fitting clothes, which would suggest that modesty is a choice rather than something oppressive and the opposite too doesn’t suggest any form of looseness.
While there is nothing particularly wrong with going out scantily clad it’s a refresher to see the KIM K (Kim Kardashian) evolution style of dressing take a backseat, even by her herself. Modesty has nothing to do morality but everything to do with personal taste. And as with taste, it too changes over time and is dependent on mood.
In conclusion, while I think we should desist from socially spreading such dressing rules, it is key to note that we also create stereotypes and labels for people to place themselves into. Single-handedly we ourselves become the enforcers of what is or isn’t moral clothes. Please think twice before you utter these so called “socially acceptable rules”