The Complex World of Clothes

via Rosa Posey
Have you seen this image? (Apparently it has been going viral around the 'nets.) It is a project by photographer/design student Rosa Posey, in which she marked a woman's legs with various skirt lengths, labeling them from "whore" all the way down to "matronly."

While Posey writes that she used the project to understand different women's conceptions of sexuality, what drew my attention to the image was Dr. Lisa Wade's article, The Balancing Act of Being Female; or, Why We Have So Many Clothes. In the article, which references the above picture, Dr. Wade writes about the ways that these skirt lengths, each with their different label, can make it hard for women to choose the right outfit for the right occasion and, consequently, explains our tendency to have so many clothes.  "Women’s closets are often mocked as a form of self-indulgence, shop-a-holicism, or narcissism," she writes,  "But this isn’t fair. Instead, if a woman is class-privileged enough, they reflect an (often unarticulated) understanding of just how complicated the rules are." Go too far, she says, and women are "slutty" or "asking for it," too far the other way and they are "matronly," irrelevant, both of which can have real social consequences for women. Not only that, but what is "cheeky" in on situation may be "inappropriate" in another.

Sewing, for me at least, provides a way to cut down on my store-bought clothing consumption as well as set some of my own fashion rules. I can make clothes in the exact lengths I want, and convey exactly the messages I want to (if my projects turn out...). I no longer own anything in "slut" length, and I have a skirt that I love that would probably be considered "matronly," so my first reaction to this article was that sewing made me exempt from some of these struggles. But one look at my closet and you'll see that it is overflowing, constantly rotating, occasionally out of control with clothes. It made me think that this overflow of clothes may very well be part of my struggle to define myself socially and personally in a complex world.


  1. What a striking image, thank you for sharing it. For me, it poses the question, why do those hem lengths convey any message at all about the wearer's sexuality? What really changes about a person with 3 more or less inches of hem?

    I also really liked the quote by Dr. Wade about class privilege influencing a woman's ability to play within the so-called rules about clothing and sexuality. With both less education and less money for clothing, it's easier for a woman to accidentally break the rules of what's appropriate and be judged.

    Like you, I think that sewing has allowed me to experiment with style and set my own rules. Thank you for the interesting blog post!

  2. Thanks for your thoughts! I definitely struggle with the "labels" of women as well...

  3. I commented to a young (21 y o) friend at uni who is 6 foot tall about why do girls wear such short skirts when it didn't suit their shape (if they were a larger girl) and she said to me that they have no choice; there was nothing else to buy. The manufacturers like the short skirt phase as they use less fabric but still sell heaps, and I never thought of it like that.

  4. Yeah, fit is huge! I have a long torso and store-bought clothes are always trying to show off my stomach. It's a good point that making your own clothes definitely allows you to decide when you want to be sexy and when you want to be covered!


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