Why are we still being called out on what we do or don’t wear?

After the issues caused by Jennifer Lawrence's #DressGate, we're asking, why is what women wear such a big deal?

23 Feb 2018

All Jennifer Lawrence did was wear a dress. A very nice black Versace dress at that. But within hours, the movie star’s choice of clothing made headlines around the world - while on Twitter, it was labelled “quietly depressing and revealing” by thousands.

Their issue was not so much the Versace thigh-split dress, as the fact that Lawrence wasn’t wearing a coat. In the photoshoot for her latest thriller Red Sparrow in chilly London, she posed bare armed and bare-legged, while her four male co-stars stood on either side of her in shirts, trousers, socks and - most importantly of all - coats.

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Suddenly Twitter was awash with cries of sexism, with people saying it wasn’t fair that Lawrence was forced to stand in the London cold in barely any clothes while the men got to wrap up nice and snug. Headlines popped up like, ‘Please Give Jennifer Lawrence a Dang Coat,’ while a tweet reading ‘True equality means either Jennifer Lawrence getting a coat or Jeremy Irons having to pose for a photocall in assless chaps’ had more than 8,000 likes.

But in true J-Law fashion, the actress set the haters straight. “This is not only utterly ridiculous, I am extremely offended,” she wrote on Facebook. “That Versace dress was fabulous, you think I’m going to cover that gorgeous dress up with a coat and a scarf? I was outside for five minutes. I would have stood in the snow for that dress because I love fashion and that was my choice.”

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Her post has had a hugely positive response from people agreeing that women should be able to wear what they want without being judged. But it also raises a lot of questions. For a start, why did everyone suddenly assume that she was coerced into taking off her coat - and why did they all think it was okay to comment on her clothes?

There has been a huge wave of feminism in recent years, and people are far more aware that - shock horror - a woman is much more than the clothes she wears. Yet this kind of scrutiny still happens, whether it's with our Prime Minister’s love of leopard print shoes to every single one of Kim Kardashian’s outfit choices. J-Law is just yet another victim of our patriarchal society where men and women feel compelled to discuss women’s appearances.

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It is, without a doubt, unacceptable. We shouldn’t make assumptions about a woman solely based on the way she looks, and just reduce her to the clothes she’s wearing. Nor should we be so judgmental about the seasonal suitability of her choices, or - equally as importantly - label someone a ‘victim’ of coercion without even asking them, which is exactly what happened to J-Law.

But, to get a real idea of where we are right now with feminism and fashion, we have to try and understand where the dress critics were coming from. Because, on one level, their immediate response isn’t that shocking. Considering everything we’ve recently heard about #MeToo and how women have been treated in Hollywood for years, it would be forgivable to believe that J-Law had been forced into wearing the dress while the men got to wear coats. And if that was true, it would be fair for people to speak up about it and blame the men.

Except that in this case, it wasn’t true at all, and Lawrence was so “extremely offended” by the conclusions drawn about her that she felt compelled to speak out. “This is sexist, this is ridiculous, this is not feminism,” she wrote. “Overreacting about everything someone says or does, creating controversy over silly innocuous things such as what I choose to wear or not wear, is not moving us forward. It’s creating silly distractions from real issues. Get a grip people.”

She’s right. Feminism isn’t about calling other women out or assuming they don’t have agency. It’s about equality, and the whole point of feminism is that women have a choice. To dream of marriage and kids, or to dream of becoming CEOs. To wear burqas, or to pose topless. To be freezing cold for fashion, or to snuggle up in a parka. All their choice.

The problem is that not everyone sees it that way (feminists included), and so they react with anger when people like J-Law pose in unseasonable clothing. Or when celebs like Emily Ratajowski and Kim Kardashian strip off to celebrate their bodies and post the results on social media. They’re judged and immediately labelled as ‘bad feminists’, or ‘victims’ of the patriarchy.

It’s patronising and it needs to stop. These are all grown women - talented, successful ones at that - and it’s up to them to wear whatever they want. It’s not surprising that Lawrence was offended by the furore around her dress. It suggested that she, an award-winning Hollywood actress, was at the mercy of everyone around her when it comes to picking out her wardrobe - something that is clearly not the case.

What we all need to remember is that every woman is different, and no one should be criticised for following their own path. True feminism means wearing anything (or nothing) without being judged for it. As J-Law says so neatly:

“Everything you see me wear is my choice. And if I want to be cold THAT’S MY CHOICE TOO!”

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