Things | What We Wear

“A Modern, Up-to-Date Young Woman”: Shopping, Fashion, and the Rules of My Girlhood

All the fashion rules I learned as a girl were informed by the view that women’s bodies are never okay as they are—they always need fixing.

One day when I was twelve, while my friend and I were swimming, I noticed that her bathing suit was tight, stretchy, and chartreuse, and mine was saggy, baggy, and navy blue. Suddenly, with all my heart, I wanted one like hers. That was the day I began noticing what other girls were wearing, the day I realized things had to change. And that meant my mother had to change.

First I had to get her to understand that my clothes were all wrong; then I had to have a say in choosing them. Archie Teen American Bandstand.



I obeyed instructions about which parts of my body must, or must not, be covered; which body parts should have hair and which not; which clothes I was allowed to wear as a girl. All these rules were reinforced by the time-honored view that women’s bodies are never okay as they are; that they always need fixing: altering, coloring, enhancing in one way or another, again with the investments of time and money. It became clear that I could never be really sure I’d got it right. That’s what kept me wondering, and kept me shopping.