The confetti may have been swept away, but Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s star-studded royal wedding is still making headlines – albeit for the wrong reasons. Here, stylist.co.uk’s Kayleigh Dray asks: why are we all so obsessed with critiquing other women’s clothes?
It is often said that women don’t dress to impress men, but other women – which, on the surface, feels like a win for feminism. However, when you dig a little deeper, it becomes all too apparent that women judge each other relentlessly, on pretty much everything.
Some popular examples of this woman-on-woman crime include: is she a good or bad mother, or friend, or boss? Is she too slutty, or too prudish? Too loud, or too quiet? Too skinny, or too fat? Has she made too much effort, or not enough? Has she applied her foundation correctly? Erm, should she be wearing make-up at all?
You get the picture. Above all else, though, we seemingly revel in each other’s style “failures” – a point which was underscored by none other than Katy Perry this week.
Like so many of us, she had watched the royal wedding. And, like so many of us, she had an opinion on Meghan Markle’s wedding dress, telling Entertainment Tonight: “I would have done one more fitting. I’m never not going to tell the truth!
“One more fitting, but I love you.”
The American Idol judge added that she preferred Kate Middleton’s 2011 Alexander McQueen bridal look, declaring, “Kate, Kate, Kate won, Kate won!”
I can see your eyes rolling, reader: I know you’re thinking that Perry wasn’t strictly being mean-spirited (she went on to state that she loves and supports the duchess “as another woman”). That sometimes people do look good, or even not as good, as they might. That there’s literally nothing more delicious than discussing fashion choices. That journalists had most likely asked Perry to comment on Meghan’s dress, and she was just playing ball.
However, even if all of the above is true, her comments are still undeniably damaging. They’ve fed into society’s outdated cult of perfectionism, and given the media’s body and fashion-shaming machine a much-needed boost. And, most aggravatingly, they have breathed new life into the most outdated and misogynist narrative of all: that girls are “mean”, women are “bitchy” and we will never, ever find a way to just get along.
Of course, it’s very easy for me to dub Perry a criminal from my incredibly high horse. After all, if I’m noisy in my outrage, it might help me forget that I, too, have made similarly judge-y comments myself in the past – be them in my head, out loud or in writing. But I don’t want to forget, I don’t want to get all holier-than-thou on you all, and I certainly don’t want to make Perry the villain of this piece. She is not the exception to the rule – she is the rule. All of us have passed judgment on another person’s outfit at least once in our lives. And, whether the object of our Devil Wears Prada-esque once-over was someone close to us (a colleague, a friend, or a family member) or a stranger (a passer-by, someone on social media, a celebrity on the red carpet, or the woman marrying into the royal family), I’m willing to bet big bucks that that someone was a woman.
Why? Well, firstly, 90% of what a man wears is trousers – and, as such, it’s pretty uninteresting to us. Close your eyes for a moment and picture the Clooneys’ arrival at the royal wedding: I have a feeling you’ll remember Amal’s mustard-yellow dress and fascinator in vivid detail.
George’s outfit, on the other hand, will be much hazier. Yes, it was a suit, but was it black? Grey? Navy? What colour was his shirt? His tie? Did he wear a tie? And before you try to suggest that this is a one-off, or that poor George was overshadowed by all the pomp and ceremony going on around him, I urge you to remember that, in 2014, a male TV presenter wore the same suit every day for a year to see if anybody would notice (spoilers: they did not).
Secondly, there’s the fact that clothes are incredibly important to women – and not just because we live in a society with a $1.5 trillion fashion industry.
“Think of all the different kinds of looks women can have, depending on their clothes, hair and make-up,” says Caitlin Moran. “[They can be] ‘slutty’, ‘ball-busting’, ‘mumsy’, ‘manic pixie dream girl, ‘gym-bunny, ‘mutton’, ‘nerdy, ‘unf**kable’…
As ever, she makes an incredibly valid point – one which has been repeatedly backed up by studies and surveys. When we see a man in jogging bottoms, for example, we tend to think he looks “comfortable” – while a woman in the same outfit is dismissed as “not trying hard enough”. A man in swimming trunks can cross a beach or a city park without triggering a response, and yet we’ve seen women ordered to leave swimming pools for daring to wear bikinis, teenagers told to cover up their “distracting” collarbones at school, university students made to show their cleavage at graduation, 12-year-old girls being banned from wearing vest tops in the height of summer, women being informed that their belly buttons should never be visible whilst at the gym, and so many more.
And most disheartening of all? Evidence suggests that women are more likely to criticise other women’s outfits than men.
I know, I know: a flyaway comment about Meghan’s “baggy” dress is not the same as losing your s**t over someone’s “slutty” bikini. And I’d like to point out that fashion and feminism are not incompatible bedfellows: indeed, fashion, in its purest sense, offers us the means to celebrate our sense of individuality and self-expression. So, yes, of course we have opinions on what the woman next to us is wearing – of course we do (there’s a reason our TV schedules are filled to bursting with fashion and makeover shows, you know).
What we need to be aware of, though, is the impact of those snarkier comments coming out of our mouths: the little cuts, and digs, and sly jabs. Because, while they may seem harmless, these comments give society permission to enforce its impossible beauty and sartorial standards – not to mention normalise this idea that it’s OK to judge a woman solely on her appearance.
So what do we do if we really don’t like another woman’s outfit? If someone keeps pushing and pushing for you to comment on it, as they no doubt did with Perry? Well, to quote my grandmother: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”.
It’s that or we all make like Amy Poehler and start shouting the phrase, “Good for you, not for me” from the rooftops.
There’s a lot of power in those six little words: they help us to build one another up, rather than tear one another down. They reinforce the bonds of sisterhood, rather than pit us against each other in yet another boring “catfight”. And they champion kindness (and, boy, does this world need a lot more of that right now) above all else.
Most vital, though, is the fact that “good for you, not for me” celebrates both difference and an assertion of self, making it the ideal response to someone else’s life choices. These six little words channel nothing but empathy, appreciation and esteem. I suggest you write them on a post-it note and stick it on your mirror so you can be reminded of it before you go to bed and when you wake up: it is a philosophy that works not just for fashion, but for all walks of life.