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March 01, 2017

An Introduction: Fashion, Feminism, and the New Powersuit

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I've been a runner for 30 years.

I've been an unapologetic feminist since I learned the definition.

I've dedicated my life to designing performance apparel for both professional and recreational women athletes.

And I've become fluent in the art of Enclothed Cognition - the social and psychological science of understanding how apparel can give us a mental edge. 

And yet every day, I objectify myself.

Why? Because I am a woman. I didn't wake up like this, but I learned it soon after.

To paraphrase writer and art historian John Berger:

"To be born a woman has been to be born into the keeping of men. But this has been at the cost of a woman's self being split into two. A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. While she is walking across a room or while she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid seeing herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually."

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I had an awakening recently as to how guilty I remain in my own objectification.

It was a couple of years ago when I received a beautiful gift from my husband, what we jokingly referred to as the Queen Shoes... a gorgeous pair of jet black Jimmy Choo kitten heels.

My heart was joyous. I loved the way they made me look.

But my feet hurt like hell.

How was it I was one woman, the same woman, with two so divergent views of empowerment? One that was in full view, and that I had embraced as my calling in life. And one that lurked in my heart unseen.

Similar to privilege, it's so omnipresent, we don't even see it.

"To be born a woman has been to be born into the keeping of men." The kicker is that it doesn't have to even be a man. The social construct lives inside us.

Over hundreds and hundreds of years, confidence has come from the positive feedback we get when we present ourselves as aesthetically pleasing objects. Ready for consumption. 

And we've hurt our bodies to do it. Foot binding, corsets, neck rings, heels... anything to accentuate what's valued.

But very gradually things began to change.

And in 1972, Title IX happened. Suddenly we had sport. And we had a lifestyle of sport. And body movement fueled our minds, our souls, our relationships with others.

Our eyes were opened. Our tolerance for things that hurt us decreased. We began to see these body negative styles for what they were... controlling, and even debilitating. (It's worth noting that a woman in high heels is incapable of our two most important responses to danger: fight or flight. She is a victim in waiting).

These tricks of the mind. These acts of oppression that we don't even see because they are deeply embedded in our female souls. We might not be able to eliminate them completely. Maybe we don't want to.

But in my mind, it's all about awareness.

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Oiselle17_Powersuit_607.jpgPro and Muse Lauren Fleshman reminds us fashion should be built for a life in motion. Bodies are made to move.

We all have the ability to approach our clothing choices with more insight. When are we dressing for an external expectations, and when are we dressing for ourselves?
 
And bigger yet, what are we asking of the world's designers, manufacturers, stylists?
 

The minute women decide they don't want to be uncomfortable in their shoes and clothing is the minute the market offerings will change.

And while it might be easy to dismiss the possibility of high design and high comfort. I believe that is exactly the opportunity at hand. There are a vast array of beautiful fabrics, flattering silhouettes, sleek shoes, and gorgeous accessories that can be drawn together for the body-positive goal.

The good news: it's already happening. And athletic apparel companies are uniquely positioned to take what we know about body movement to clothing that works in all aspects of your life.

While many businesses look at consumers on a spectrum, from sedentary to active, we prefer to see the athlete within, at the center, at all times. And if there is an athlete at the center at all times, then her athlete body is respected by all of her clothing - even the fancy ones.

We've started down that path, and are eager to do more.

A tip: every day, once you are dressed, close your eyes and ask yourself "how do I feel?" and "how do I think I'll feel in six hours?" And if the answer is "probable foot pain" or "a dug-in underwire," it might be time to break up with that garment. Take it off. Thank it for its service.

Then, ask yourself - how do I want to feel today? What clothes make me feel that way. Define your powersuit, and wear it loud and proud in the world.

I’m finding my powersuit, and I can’t wait to see yours.

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Comments

Lindsay Knake | March 2, 2017 at 5:18am

ALL OF THIS

Moving into my late 20s, I've reached a new sense of rebelliousness about what others think of me and how I present myself to the world. I've been going through my own wardrobe and getting rid of things. Gone are three bags of clothing that don't fit, aren't me anymore and aren't comfortable. I'm buying clothes with more pockets and shoes that are comfortable. I've stopped carrying a purse because I'm just so freaking sick of lugging one around. A small change purse I got in Turkey 11 years ago is perfect for cash, cards and chapstick. The Lux bralette is one of my favorite new Oiselle pieces because it means I can be comfortable all the time, including at work. And I feel great in it. Everything in me screams "I am not here for you." Thank you for making the right running gear and clothing for that sentiment.

Kari | March 5, 2017 at 9:05am

#truth

All of this. Moving through my 30s I have a new appreciation for my body and my time. I don't have time to feel like shit. Despite working in a professional environment, I've given up: heels, purses, & underwires. All for making me feel like shit and distracting me from my daily goals. As an athlete, I've come to appreciate my body and built a respect for it that I never have before. Often, pretty (overpriced, and poorly sourced) clothes do not look good on my figure. Now as a mother-to-be I have an even stronger dedication to comfort. I'm thankful to Oiselle for providing so many pieces that can double duty in the office and at home, while allowing me the peace of mind that I am supporting a company whose values align with my own.

Vicky | March 6, 2017 at 2:41am

Thank you so much for writing

Thank you so much for writing this. I dress for comfort and so I can move, but I believe that by doing so I will not be taken seriously. That if I want to be taken seriously, I have to dress to be looked at. To consider that I should be allowed to dress like this AND be taken seriously is an awakening for me. Interestingly I've noticed that the only place that my feeling of strength/power is added to by clothes that I think look good is when I'm riding my bike. That's the place I like to dress to be seen, but what's being seen is me being a powerful woman cycling alone, which I see as a political statement in and of itself. The clothing adds to that and if I'm doing a hard training session I like to be dressed for the occasion. I don't care in any other aspect of life what I wear, but still feel like I 'should' care.

Vicky | March 6, 2017 at 2:53am

The observed

Also this quote: "The woman who checks her makeup half a dozen times a day to see if her foundation has caked or her mascara run, who worries that the wind or the rain may spoil her hairdo, who looks frequently to see if her stockings have bagged at the ankle or who feeling fat, monitors everything she eats, has become, just as surely as the inmate of the Panopticon, a self-policing subject, a self committed to a relentless self-surveillance. This self-surveillance is a form of obedience to patriarchy. It is also the reflection in a woman's consciousness of the fact that she is under surveillance in ways that he is not, that whatever else she may become, she is importantly a body designed to please or excite." Foucault, 'Femininity and the Modernisation of Patriarchal Power'

Kelly | March 6, 2017 at 7:05pm

This was all very powerful

This was all very powerful

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