The Politics of Dress

A young Indian woman in my neighborhood is expecting a baby. I know this because the smock she is wearing no longer hides this fact, though I’m sure it did throughout the winter months. When I was pregnant nearly half a century ago, a loose fitting maternity top like she was wearing was the fashion imperative in this country.  Sold in maternity shops, this garment allowed a woman to kept her secret socially for five or six months. Only in the last trimester could anyone make out the silhouette of her bulging pear-shaped belly. At that point, for me, when I could no longer fasten my coat around me, I experienced myself as uncomfortably “fat” and freezing cold in the wintertime.

A century ago, the word “pregnant” was never used and there was little need for special clothing since women who were “in a family way” were confined to their homes. According to one of my great aunts, it was considered poor taste to speak publicly of a woman being “in a family way.”  She maintained she never knew of her older sister’s condition before each child was born, until she would be asked to come over to assist her with the older children during her “confinement.”

Fast forward to today’s expectant mother – She seems to be making a political statement as well as a fashion one. She’s likely to be wearing the most figure hugging, spandex-type tank top she can find, over shorts or jeans. She walks proudly through the grocery store parking lot, seeming to enjoy the fact that the entire community can track the progress and stages of her growing belly. Other women her age and older, as their biological clocks tick on, look on in envy at one who has achieved this blessed state, something that perhaps may still be eluding them.

I’m amazed at what messages about our larger world we can get by paying attention to what people choose to wear. I’d love to hear what you’ve learned from “people watching” the fashion get-ups in your neighborhood.


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