It was a Friday. From my closet I chose a pink shirt that had been hiding at the end of the rack since I moved in three months ago. It felt great—thin material for the summer heat, three-quarter length sleeves so my hands aren’t bothered, and loose-fitting so I can accommodate the inevitable food baby of lunch. It’s nice material—but not too nice—so I can wear it for a variety of occasions, both professional and informal.
This is perfect, I thought, as I checked my appearance in the mirror. It’s comfortable and it looks good. Pink is a light material, so that limits which bras can accompany the shirt. . . but that doesn’t explain my avoidance of this magical shirt. Why haven’t I been wearing this?
I looked in the mirror again, this time more judiciously. Even my boobs look good in this shirt! My eyes narrow in suspicion. Too good?
“Hey sweetie?” My husband pokes his head out of the bathroom. I keep my tone neutral. “Does this look okay?”
Michael knows what to do here. He considers. He backs up in a considering manner and gives me a considering look that shows that he’s really considering his answer. The judgment: “Yeah, it looks good.”
“It’s not too sexy?”
“I wouldn’t wear it to teaching,” he says. (Do you see what he did there? He said “I” instead of “you.” Most days Michael wears a polo shirt or a t-shirt and khaki shorts; he does not have to worry about cleavage.) “Since it’s a little low in the middle there.”
I reach for something on the floor, feel a breeze on my chest, and we both realize why the shirt has been so long closeted. “Oh,” I say. “Damn.”
He winces. “Maybe just don’t bend forward today?” he suggests.
I wear the shirt.
All day I am overly conscious of the shirt’s inadequacy and how that is affecting others. The library desk worker smiles at me—it’s because of the shirt, I worry nastily, negating his kindness. While talking to a coworker, half my brain is busy making up his thoughts for him and then judging him for them. He thinks I’m dressed like a slut. I draw the word out in my mind, hating myself, and ignoring the fact that this man literally would never say that word out loud.
I could have worn a tank top under it, but that would have tripled my sweat output, staining and possibly stinking the shirt too much for future use. I would also have to do something about the bottom of the tank top—tuck it in and risk the inevitable day-long wedgie war? Or keep it out and lose the shirt’s simplicity and classiness?
I can’t be the only one who struggles to get dressed in the morning, nor the only woman incensed by this Catch-22. I have brainstormed a few solutions to The Pink Shirt Problem (as it shall hereafter be called), though I have skipped the boring, self-improvement solutions like “stop judging men for thoughts they may or may not have” and “accept that societally it will be decades (or possibly never) until women’s bodies stop being ‘problematic’ in society.”
Solution #1: Revive the handmaiden profession. There are men and women who are good at this. Surely an app can be made so people like me can give a very little bit of money to people like that for perpetual fashion consultations. Stitch Fix seems to have the right idea.
Solution #2: Set fire to all stores who deliberately sell women’s clothing that can’t actually be worn without two or three support clothing items (tank tops underneath, a sweater over top, etc.). I recently tried on ten different shirts and dresses at a Gap, and literally all of them required either a bra with a strap configuration heretofore unknown to womankind or a frumpification of the outfit with a bulky sweater to make it wearable in a professional setting.
Solution #3: Communal closet situations. In this paradise, each closet would also be managed by the aforementioned handmaiden who will not let you out of the dressing area until he or she has made you look (and feel!) Beyoncé-levels of awesome. Bonus: more variety of clothing because you share this closet with other women your size. Downside: the teleportation technology required for people of the same size and body shape to share a closet doesn’t yet exist.
Elaine Schnabel (’11) spent her twenties traveling, blogging, and earning various master’s degrees. Now earning her PhD at the University of North Carolina in organizational communication, Elaine researches and writes at the intersection of religion and communication. You can find her blogging at Religious (Not Crazy).