When it comes to clothing, I’m all about comfort over fashion -quite frankly, I wouldn’t know fashion if it bit me in the ass. If it were solely up to me, I would wear jeans and a t-shirt every day of my life. I’ve recently discovered the joys of yoga pants too, but that’s a whole different story. When I die, at my viewing, I want to be dressed in jeans and a t-shirt; I mean, why change at that point? Hell, if I could go back and do it again, I’d probably wear jeans and a t-shirt to my wedding. You get the point.
I walk a fine line when it comes to dressing professionally for work. If I have to dress up, I want to be comfortable. Men’s dress shirts tend to work well for me; they’re dressy enough for work, but make me feel casual.
This morning I was out running some last minute back-to-school errands, and I decided to pop in at a local discount department store thinking I might be able to find some new shirts. I went through the women’s section and didn’t see anything I cared for, so I went to the men’s section and found short sleeve button up shirts in my size, and in colors I like. Score!
I proceed to the checkout. I make small talk with the female cashier. And then she says, “are you back to school shopping for your son, or shopping for your husband?”
I hesitated a moment and then replied, “for my husband.” And with those words, I knew I’d be coming home to write an analysis of this incident.
(On a side note, she then responded with, “like a good wife should! Men can’t shop for themselves; well, they can, but…” I know, I know, so much gold to mine there for commentary! I feel the need to apologize to my male friends just for relaying this deeply flawed stereotype.)
Her question had caught me off guard, and I’d lied out of laziness. I didn’t feel like explaining. But why would I feel the need to explain? I could have just said, “no, the shirts are for me.” Simple as that. But that’s not what I did. Am I ashamed of wearing men’s shirts? No, obviously not if I wear them regularly to work. I simply wanted to get the hell out of there.
I know this cashier meant well; she was just trying to be conversational which if you know me, can be awkward enough (see last sentence of above paragraph). At first, I wasn’t as disturbed by her question as I was about my inability, to be honest. But the more I think about it; I feel equally disturbed by the entirety of the conversation. And what the hell is this “good wife” bullshit? My husband can and does shop for himself and does just fine, thank you. Not to mention she must have thought I looked old enough to have a son wearing 2xl men’s dress shirts! WTF?!
I don’t usually tend to think of myself as “gender nonconforming,” but if you feel the need to put a label on it, there it is. My family referred to me a “tomboy” growing up. All I know is that I like to wear whatever makes me comfortable, and in this case, it’s men’s dress shirts. I have on occasion walked into a department store, gone directly to the men’s section to get what I wanted, paid for it, and walked out – short, and sweet, and to the point – the way I prefer to shop.
And then I consider my male friends, the ones who don’t necessarily conform to gender stereotypes. What must it be like for them? In all the times I’ve bought men’s clothes, up until today, I don’t think I’ve ever been asked about it, but I get the sense that a man browsing the women’s section or seen purchasing women’s clothes would automatically be assumed to be shopping for his wife.
Gender stereotypes are still the norm in our society. As a society, these stereotypes serve no real purpose but are difficult to break free from and so they persist. I failed to do my part today in working for change, but I hope if the opportunity ever presents itself again that I will conscientiously decide to take up the torch and help burn down those stereotypes down. And maybe, if enough people make that conscientious decision, gender stereotypes will cease to exist.