Why is women’s fashion often uncomfortable?

A sublime pair of pumps, but which can only be worn between leaving the taxi and the restaurant table. A perfect dress in every way, unless you plan on sitting down. The jacket you’ve always dreamed of, when you don’t have keys or phone with you.

What explains that? women’s fashion is full of clothes, so uncomfortable

While microscopic handbags and sky-high heels are being picked up more than ever, the lack of practicality in women’s closets is nothing new.

Clothing and discomfort, a matter of sex?

During a shopping session, have you ever wondered: why are so many pieces so impractical or comfortable? To ask yourself, beyond the men’s section, why did everything seem much simpler on the other side of the barrier? You’re doing well.

Because if the discomfort of clothing was originally a distinctive sign of wealthy people, regardless of their gender (the nobility did not work, then the restriction of movement due to clothing was not a problem), it seems to have become a disease specific to the fairer sex over the centuries.

As Denis Bruna, chief curator of the fashion department of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, explains: “There was a real turning point at the end of the 18th century, precisely when women became more and more important: they had a salon, wrote, plunged into the sciences and were therefore much more visible, which did not please the patriarchal power and led to their being gradually locked up in coquetry.

While menswear in the 19th century was much more frugal and less restrictive, that of women would be. We go back to the corset, abandoned between 1790 and 1820, more and more restrictive clothing, and all kinds of structuring undergarments that were supposed to form a silhouette: horsehair petticoats, crinoline cages, bustle, fake asses, poufs, all of which stress the body cause.”

The history of women’s clothing, between social control and a tool for emancipation

For Alexandre Samson, this limitation can be seen as “a reflection of the control of society and therefore of the man, over the other who is the woman”.

Curator of haute couture and contemporary fashion collections at the Palais Galliera, in 2019 he hosted the exhibition Back / Fashion Back and did on this occasion an edifying discovery: almost all women’s clothing closes in the back

“I went back in time to find out why, we never talked about it,” he explains to Marie Claire† “But I saw pictures, paintings, where the fronts were all clear and the closures were therefore lateral or dorsal.”

The observation is clear: “the vast majority of women, in the West and since the Middle Ages, need the help of a third person to dress, regardless of their social status. By comparison, I will never have a piece of clothing that I can’t open or close myself. In that sense, there’s an idea of ​​independence.”

Ditto for pockets, the small size (or absence) of which on women’s clothing is still an obstacle to movement today. In 2019, historian Ariane Fennetaux, lecturer at Paris Cité University, devoted a book to their history, closely linked to that of women’s emancipation: The Sack: A Secret History of Women’s Lives1660-1900 (published by Yale University Press).

Asked by Marie Claireexplains the researcher that unlike men, who had pockets sewn into their clothing from the 16th century, women’s bags were removable for a long time: “Most women’s bags have been detached from the 17th century. These are separate accessories, but intended to work with the rest of the garments: either a pocket or a pair of pockets, fastened to a tie around the waist, and whose access is made on the sides of the skirt.

Practical, spacious and used by both working-class women and aristocrats until the end of the 19th century, these bags are also an instrument of liberation: “The bag acts as a kind of female property lab at a time when women don’t always have legal property rights : What’s in the bag is recognized as the woman’s property. The bag creates a space beyond male control that intrigues and worries, fueling a whole host of fantasies about what women might be hiding there.”

Feminism and haute couture: fashion for women, by women and for women

Voting rights, financial independence, access to property: were the advances in the women’s rights struggle that marked the 20th century accompanied by a reflection on the usefulness of their wardrobe?

To some extent, according to Alexandre Samson. “There was the mini skirt, which was clearly a sign of freedom, because it allowed you to take bigger strides. There were also the pants. But when you see all those dresses that close in the back, I say it didn’t quite go down the road. “

The woman who creates for the woman does not indulge in fantasy. There is a pragmatism in the creation of the garment and a form of identification between the designer and the customer.

For the curator, the identity of the maker is not without importance here: “the woman who creates for the woman does not indulge in fantasy. There is a pragmatism in the creation of the garment and a form of identification between the designer and the client. At Madame Grès, there are many comfortable clothes that close in the front. At Gabrielle Chanel, there is a great lightness in the creations that make them very practical.”

…While Christian Dior is said to have said that men had pockets to keep things in and women for decoration.

In this regard, what happened to these large removable bags which, according to Ariane Fennetaux, had succeeded in establishing a first form of female independence?

“They stick around for a long time because they fulfill an important function, explains the researcher. At a time when they are no longer the norm, but sewn pockets have not yet found a place in women’s clothing (too small, impractical, in the wrong place ), the Suffragettes claim women’s suffrage. a meeting of the suffragist discourse and a pro-pocket discourse that is starting to come at this time, and that regrets the fact that women don’t really have functional pockets

A century later, it seems, the problem is still unresolved.

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