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On women wearing clothes that “show their curves”

My answer to: Why do women wear clothes that would show their curves, even when they know that men are looking for it? (To vote and comment on Quora, visit the link here.)

Short answer: To be attractive, not hot. Unfortunately, both “attractive” and “hot” often require similar appearance when we go by fashion trends; the only difference is how the audience interprets it.

Long answer: I believe this question has a socio-cultural, historical, biological, and psychological answer—an answer in various aspects of gender studies and fashion trends, rather than an answer in feminism or equality.

When a baby is born, it has a biological gender, but no social gender. It is given a social gender over the years, with the way it is brought up, and it is very important, because a boy behaving and dressing in a girl’s manner and vice versa are seen as unusual. Contemporary and local fashion is an aspect of how either gender dresses.

In any era, both genders have tried to dress in a manner which apart from being of their own individual tastes, are also:

  • attractive to the opposite sex, based on contemporary trends in sexual appeal, and
  • socially acceptable to the same sex based on contemporary trends in fashion.

Comfort in a particular attire, or potential dangers of the attire, are minor factors in determining the overall fashion trends, though they may influence individual choice and hence influence fashion trends in long term.

The extent of how much each factor dominates a particular gender’s thought process varies. In highly conservative societies, the first factor may be close to unthinkable for girls, because they have not been brought up that way. But today, with women becoming free individuals with opportunity to understand their sexuality, the first point has started becoming practical for them too in several societies.

Both these points help shape each other to formulate contemporary fashion trends. For example, if a particular dashing movie actor popularizes unbuttoning the shirt up to three buttons, guys for some years tend to feel that doing so is attractive to the girls, and they would emulate that; this in turn would shape what social acceptance for male fashion trends would be in that era. In another era, a fashion model might become popular for wearing yellow sunglasses, which girls would emulate.

In the contemporary trends of today (21st century), as women become more and more independent and break out of their shells, they are realizing that historical clothing trends in the society have a lot to do with gender inequality we have always experienced. This new thought process is reflecting in the fashion trends of today, which further impact what women prefer to wear today. We can say that the “theme” of current fashion trends is freedom.

I would like to point out that it is not just about women or about revealing clothes. Your question, in some form, would exist in every society, in every era, for either gender.

In a conservative Hindu society of the 19th century, your question would read as:
“Why do women wear sarees when they know that it is inconvenient to walk and perform several everyday functions in a saree?”

In the Middle East, your question would read as:
“Why do men wear thawbs in Middle East even when it is so hot there?”

Somewhere else, it would look like:
“Why do women wear heels even though they may fall and find it inconvenient to walk?”

Somewhere else, it would look like:
“Why do women wear dupatta even though a man can easily come and strangle them?

Somewhere else, it would look like:
“Why do men keep their moustaches even though it looks hairy?”

Somewhere else, it would be:
“Why do men shave their moustaches even though it looks feminine?”

Somewhere else, it would be:
“Why do women wear loose tshirts even when it doesn’t reveal their curves?”

Somewhere else, it would be:
“Why do women wear tight tshirts even when men are looking for that?”

Another question would be:
“Why do homophobic men wear shorts, showing their skin, if there are gay men around?”

While your question has a strong possibility of being asked with a patriarchal point of view, I have spared you because your question can be approached very broadly. It is valid, irrespective of gender, era, country, society, and trends. It is one of many questions that can be formed with this template:

“Why do men/women in ___(insert country name)______ in the ____(insert century)_____ do ____(insert fashion trend)_____ even though _____(insert problem with following that trend)_____?”

The general answer to this is: Fashion is temporary, and has a different definition in every era, every society. A lot of what one wears is shaped by contemporary fashion trends and contemporary gender psychology. For women, men having chest hair may be sexually appealing in the 1980s, but it may become disgusting in the 2020s. For men, girls wearing tight tshirts may be sexually appealing in the early 21st century, but they may prefer girls wearing loose tshirts by the late 21st century.

Unlike how the female society has treated the males, the reverse is not true: the male society, because of their ingrained patriarchy, in every time, every place in history, has always been known to objectify women in a sexual manner, irrespective of what the fashion trends were—whether the women in question wore burqas or long skirts or miniskirts. Feminine fashion has evolved despite that, and it will continue to do so. For the current era, feminine fashion is attempting to break the clothing patterns of patriarchal societies. With time, the changing perspective of gender roles should gradually eliminate the trends of sexual objectification of women. Freedom in feminine fashion trends will have a huge role to play in this revolution, in the decades to come.

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Suggested reading:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gen…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mod…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fas…

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