You’ll have to bear with me, as my fascination lately is the stark differences between male and female experiences. Although I wore men’s clothing, and behaved like a very masculine human being before I started to transition, it didn’t prepare me for some of the very stark differences in how men and women perceive and move through the fashion world.
You would think, that buying clothing is a pretty standardized experience across the board. However, my experiences with women’s wear, and men’s wear have shown me that nothing could be further from the truth.
I made the shocking discovery that the things I struggled with when buying women’s clothing, were not problems with men’s clothing. Let’s break it down to a few issues in general. There are specifics that deviate, but in general, these are my experiences.
Size ranges for women’s wear are shockingly body shaming. If you want to shop for the cool trendy stuff in the mall, be prepared to find that most of the shops don’t stock sizes past 12. Considering the average women’s size in America is a 14, this seems odd. There are so many women out there that want to pay good money for fashionable clothing, and the stores simply do not stock them.
There is a few names in plus size, but those plus size shops start their sizes somewhere in the 16ish range. They are a godsend, but the gap in sizes available can put someone in the middle like me, in no man’s land.
Sizing inconsistencies are added to an already problematic size range for women. The sizes are inconsistent from manufacturer to manufacturer, and piece to piece. If I take a 12 in one article of clothing, there is no guarantee that I won’t be a 14 or a 10 in another. Part of this is “vanity sizing”, or so I’m told. How that works so that I take a size 10 in one item and a 14 in another just boggles my mind. Some stores are better than others with this issue, but it’s still a problem.
Contrast this to my ability to walk into any store as a man, pick up a pair of size 36 men’s jeans or dress slacks, and be reasonably assured they will fit, and walk out without ever having to try them on at all.
This means, for the average woman, buying clothing is a long drawn out issue that requires dressing rooms. Even if you are under the glass ceiling of size offerings, you have to try on every outfit, or risk it being a radically different size 12 than what you had expected.
My next shock was durability. If I buy a shirt in an expensive women’s shop in the mall, I cannot expect it to last. I have women’s shirts I bought last summer, that are already wearing out from light use now, in winter. This isn’t discount store wear, either.
When I buy a men’s shirt, the fabric is thicker, higher quality, and more durable. Everything from t-shirts to underwear in the men’s department seems to be made of more durable fabric and construction.
Lastly, the price differences are shocking. Women’s clothing costs more. I can buy a nice t-shirt in a trendy shop for men, and pay less than I’d expect to pay in a comparable shop for women.
What this means is we have a system where women are stereotyped as “shoppers”. It’s used as a way to point out how inconsequential women’s pursuits are. It’s often held up as an example of shallow money wasting behavior that women engage in.
Yet, when you break down the situation, it’s nothing like that at all. Women need to shop more often because the clothing they have access to is often less durable. They spend so much money on it because they have to do it more often, for a higher price tag than men do. They spend so much time doing it because they have to try on every piece to make sure it fits. Add to this, that women are held to high, unreasonable standards of fashion, and you have a woman that is trapped in a perpetual shopping circuit.
The fact that some women have subverted this, and created a joyful experience out of shopping, is impressive. They should be applauded, rather than subjected to derision for it.
Contrast that with my new reality. I go into a shop, even a Costco, buy a t-shirt, jeans, and whatnot, and walk out without trying it on, secure in the knowledge that it was cheap, it will fit, and folks will applaud me for dressing up when they see me.
This creates an incredibly gendered experience for something as simple as shopping for clothing depending on which side of the gender divide you are shopping in. The next time you see someone deride women for the whole shopping thing, consider these factors.