After reflecting upon what I read in Women in Clothes, I noticed a trend among black responders about how their skin color affected what they were taught and how they viewed dressing. While we as women in general are under extreme amounts of pressure to look good, it was interesting that the pressure seemed even higher for women of color. After sharing these thoughts on my Instastories I got an alarming amount of feedback from you guys that you felt the same way! A lot of you experienced the struggle of constantly feeling the need to look put together because we are seen as representatives of our race as a whole. You struggled to understand why some women can wear the same trends that we do and be called fashionable while we are called ghetto. And a lot of you felt you had to dress your body a certain way to make it more appealing not only by American standards but also the standards of your culture for beauty. So for BHM I decided to create a survey, here’s a direct link if you’d like to take it, asking my fellow women of color to share your experiences on the seemingly simple task of getting dressed. Dozens of you responded already which I am so humbled by and grateful for! I was so surprised that a lot of you that participated were fellow influencers as well but are from various countries and backgrounds. It was so interesting not just comparing what we had in common but where we differed and what some of the causes of those differences were. What I loved the most is being able to connect with you guys on this level! There are a lot of struggles that all women face when it comes to dressing but in the spirit of inclusivity and wanting to see us more accurately represented I thought it was really important to put our stories out there and examine this from our perspective. Because it’s always nice to be reminded that we are not alone in our experiences and that we have more in common with each other than we think. For those of you who aren’t women of color this isn’t to say that we have it harder than you. I share all this because it’s important to share and hear other people’s perspectives to foster an open dialogue so that we can understand each other just a little bit better.
My Personal Experience
Most people are surprised to discover that my dad played a major role in my style evolution. But not in the way that most people would think. To address the obvious, my dad is African American and he was diligent about how my brother and I dressed. He always wanted us to look put together. That meant clean clothes that were ironed, no wrinkles and slacks pressed so the crease ran down the center. And if he thought we didn’t do it well enough, he would send us back in to iron our clothes again. I remember he always made comments about not wanting us to look homeless or like he couldn’t take care of us. And don’t let him catch me with my hair undone. He’d always refer to it as a rat’s nest if I didn’t make sure it was nicely combed and styled. My mom, who is white, didn’t really care too much what I wore as long as it didn’t look ghetto or slutty. Although to her credit she did her best to make sure my hair was done when I was younger because she didn’t want to seem like one of those white mother’s who couldn’t handle their mixed child’s hair But there was always this constant pressure from my dad to look nice because it meant others would, hopefully, treat us nice as well. He wanted us to always put our best foot forward no matter the occasion. Not to flaunt but because he understood that black people who dressed a certain way automatically got stereotyped. Or worse, attacked either verbally or physically. If we weren’t careful in the way we dressed others would see us as ghetto, broke, basic, helpless, dumb, inferior often leading us to be overlooked for certain opportunities. I didn’t realize that was the point he was trying to make at the time, but those lessons really stuck with me. As I started to define my style I was very aware of what looked ghetto, or cheap, or slutty and was very conscious about staying away from those pieces. I also struggled with my body for years. On one hand the American standard for beauty during most of my life has been rail thin women while the African American culture calls for big perky breasts, an unnaturally slim waist and thick thighs that can squash watermelons. Which is starting to be more mainstream for the American culture as a whole now. While I was blessed with thighs, I was not gifted with nice boobs to match and it has been something that I have agonized over for years. As a result I have always felt less attractive, wasted countless hours looking the perfect cleavage inducing bra and dress my body to attempt to look as though I have larger boobs than I actually do. And in seeing this mirrored in the responses of colored women in Women in Clothes I wondered just how many others shared this experience, hence the survey! Before we get into the results I want to share that all responses were anonymous and optional. While the majority of responses were from fellow influencers, they may not be the responses of the women shown in the photos. So with that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get into the results shall we?
The Results: Growing Up As a Woman Of Color
- Majority of you said that coming up your family was considered Middle Class.
- 66.7% said your mom, who was also of color, was the parent with the biggest influence on your style.
- At 75%, most women said their parents encouraged them to dress a certain way.
- Hands down all of you said that your parents cared about your looks with 83.3% of your parents considering how you dressed to be the most important and 16.7% said having your hair done was the most important to your parents.
- This led to 75% of you responding that your parents expressed it was important to dress nicely because we represent other people like us.
- When asked why your parents encouraged you to dress a certain way the common theme was that as a POC you had to look presentable because you were representing other POC and are judged more harshly than our non POC counterparts. Some other thoughts included:
- “My parents believed that first impressions were important, and people wouldn’t take you seriously if your clothes weren’t ironed or neat. As immigrants, it was important to always present themselves a certain way to dismiss any misgivings about their status/class/place in the US.”
- “My parents don’t originate from the United States, and for them looking nice in their home country always display(ed) respect for yourself and pride in who you are.”
- “My parents grew up in poverty, but one thing they could control was how presentable their clothing was. Hence the huge emphasis on dressing well.”
- “They cared about appearances”
The Results: Dressing Habits As a Woman Of Color
- 83.3% said that they put a lot of thought into how they looked before leaving the house.
- Some responses to why that was were:
- ” I always remember (my parents) telling me I represent my family. So that is still part of my nature.”
- “For me when I dress well I feel better. My style is truly and expressive form of my thoughts, emotions, and current interests.”
- “I’m very self conscious of the way I look and I know people treat you differently when you’re dressed a certain way.”
- “I feel most confident when I like what I’m wearing, and I’m passionate about clothing & style in general”
- The look you guys try to avoid the most is ghetto at 50%, 41.7% said looking homeless and 8.3% said looking overly done up.
- Though a lot of you voiced that your parents encouraged you to dress a certain way only 33.3% of you worry about perpetuating stereotypes when you dress.
- While a majority of you said you didn’t dress to make your body look a certain way, the 36.4% of you that did voiced that you dressed to give yourself an hourglass shape or to look tall and skinny. One person even said, “I try to dress like an hourglass shape even though I’m an overweight apple/pear shape, because the hourglass is the most desired shape and clothes look more flattering with that body type.”
- When looking at the #1 thing that drives your purchases 47.1% of you said price was the most important with quality and uniqueness tying at 25% and celebrity/blogger recommendations at 8.3%.
- It was also interesting to see that 16.7% avoided wearing certain things so as not to look poor.
- Only 9.1% of you worried about dressing in a way that was less threatening to others.
The Results: Final THoughts From Women Of Color
- I asked you what you wished you didn’t have to worry about dressing as a woman of color and some responses were:
- “I wish I didn’t feel like I was carrying the whole world of women of color on my back. It get easier now as a blogger but I still feel like representing a whole group not just myself sometimes. Too much pressure”
- “Earrings, enjoying wearing bright colors(being seen as professional)”
- “There are certain assumptions with types of clothing. So if I wear a tracksuit for example I’m instantly perceived as ghetto but if I wear something more fitted and feminine I’m taken more seriously. I generally don’t enjoy wearing things that are tight-fitting or more typical feminine silhouettes “
- “I wish it wasn’t so much of a requirement to show off my curves. I mean I have them and I LOVE them, but at times it seems like that’s what matters most to people.”
- “People judging me for wearing my short natural hair or a wig, and also how I choose to dress”
- When asked what’s the most empowering part of dressing as a woman of color you said:
- “Most empowering part is dressing up for me! “
- “Wearing colors that make my melanin pop” (This was the most echoed response)
- “I can draw on different cultural backgrounds “
- “Everything! I feel like when I get dressed and walk into a room, especially if I’m feeling myself, anyone in that room can feel my power.”
- “Being able to pull off anything! Make high fashion look like royalty. Make cheap look street 😍”
- Finally I asked what you wish other women understood about dressing as a woman of color and you said:
- “I wish others would understand the pressure that people of color have of them. Understand we can’t do what white women do. It’s always going to be look(ed) at out of different lenses. I wish people would understand the differences and the pressure.”
- “I’m not a stereotype. I can like dressing a certain way and not have a preconceived persona!”
- “That you are a person and stop fitting a certain standard to be liked or fit in “
- “That there is no one way to do it. We can dress however we want and still all be bomb.”
- “People are more critical about how we wear our hair and how we dress especially if we have a curvy body type, it needs to be addressed and it’s needs to stop.”
One of the biggest takeaways for me was that I definitely wasn’t alone in my experiences. It was nice to know other women, especially bloggers, felt this pressure to hold ourselves to a higher standard because we aren’t just dressing for us. But it also saddened me that so many of us felt this way. We’ve wondered if conforming to a specific way of dressing, and of being, would make life simpler for us. And my hope is that this opened the eyes of those who may apply those preconceived notions to us. That we would like to just be seen for who we are as individuals and not as a greater whole. That when we dress in a way that makes us happy it shouldn’t reflect a specific, usually negotive, connotation. And even as I dress and represent myself here on Lil Miss JB Style I am fighting just to be seen as me. To get you to look beyond the clothes at the woman who wears them and see me as my own person. See me as I am, not just the clothes I wear.