The Politics of Mini Skirts

by Mary S


Russia’s Orthodox Church recently advocated more modest dress; top church official Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, who previously said that mini skirts “provoke” men, complained of women “either scantily clad or painted like a clown”- strong words, the article points out, in a country like Russia, where dressing up, wearing a lot of makeup, and good grooming are often the norm for women.

Though this conversation isn’t new, it does bring up issues about navigating the world of clothing and fashion through a gendered lens. 

When it comes to clothing, women experience a privilege men do not- they have a wide range of clothing to wear, and can generally wear a gender neutral or “masculine” type outfit and remain socially acceptable. Women can dress to show off their bodies in a way that would be considered inappropriate on a man. At the same time, what women wear is, and has been historically tied in with their oppression, and women are taught to value clothing in a completely different way. For many women, clothing can become another tool of the trade, a way to advance your sexual and/or social status. Clothing for women is also a huge commercial market- when we think of stores and designers, we think of women. But because women are “allowed” to wear a variety of things, they also have more options to really express themselves through what they wear, which should be the end goal of fashion in the first place (as opposed to just keeping up with the trends or trying to make yourself look taller/skinnier/etc.) 

Men, on the other hand, have it much simpler. Having worked in many a vintage store, I can’t help but notice how, while women’s clothing has veered from batwing sweaters to micro-minis to flowy capes to thigh-high boots, men’s clothing has remained virtually the same, with a few subtle differences in fabric or sillouhette. A man could wear a  similar-looking plaid button-down in every decade (This isn’t to say the better-fitting clothing of the past isn’t preferable to the bulky, pre-whiskered clothing of today, but you know what I mean.) And when it comes to the sexual aspects of fashion, men are usually completely excused from the equation. We don’t have debates about whether young boys are dressing too sexy or how men can look appropriate for the workplace or if the kind of shorts guys are wearing means they are “asking for it.” This is a privilege many women would love to have.

We take it for granted, there is a vast amount of clothing men are simply not allowed to wear in our society. Having so many options for women also means it’s tougher on them in a man-heavy, suit-clad environment- the world of clothing always seemed particularly harsh to dress appropriately as a female politician, who are constantly being assailed for their frumpy dress or innaproriate choices. Male politicians all wear the exact same thing, so they don’t even have to worry about it. Even First Lady Michelle Obama, a great dresser who isn’t afraid to be fancy, bold, colorful, polished, and “feminine” all at the same time, has been subjected to many critiques about the “appropriateness” of her look. 

The truth is, clothing has subtext for everyone, and while many people dismiss it as frivolous/feminine, it is a huge cultural indicator. Outward appearance can instantly tell you about a person’s class, social standing, the music they listen to, the groups they hang out in, the places they go. Clothing has everything to do with how people see us. The Russian Orthodox Church’s advocacy of a dress-code to keep women in line plays upon these ideas, acknowledging that women have the freedom to wear what they want, and then punishing them taking advantage of it.



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