What do women really want?
Pockets, comfortable shoes and clothes that don't despise us
Imagine how liberating it would be to actually feel at leisure in your work clothes.
While queuing for a coffee, I eavesdropped on two hip young women standing in front of me. “I love your trainers,” said one, pointing covetously at the other’s box-fresh sneakers. “Oh thanks,” said the other, with a little blush of pride. “I just want to be happy and comfortable, you know?”
If that sounds to you like a modest ambition, my guess is you’re a man. Being happy and comfortable in our shoes – or clothes – is not something that women take for granted. In fact, it’s such a novel sensation that it amounts to a quiet revolution.Right now, women’s fashion is enjoyable to wear. That has never happened before in my lifetime – perhaps in the history of fashion. Feminists have long implored women to don more comfortable clothes, but without much success. “If a woman never lets herself go, how will she ever know how far she might have got?” despaired Germaine Greer almost three decades ago. “If she never takes off her high-heeled shoes, how will she ever know how far she could walk or how fast she could run?”Now, at last, we may find out. The rise of “athleisure” – meaning sporty-looking kit that can be worn outside the gym – has made Greer’s dream a reality. Sales of high heels dropped by 12% in America last year, according to the latest retail figures, while trainer sales rose by 37%. Nor does the revolution stop at our feet. Leggings (slobby) have been transformed into “yoga pants” (aspirational). Dressing entirely in elasticated clothes is no longer an admission of defeat, but a fashion statement.
For those professions that retain a formal dress code, help is on its way. Joanna Dai, a former investment banker in London, started her own fashion line after having a meltdown on an aeroplane. “My waistband was digging in so much I wanted to explode,” she explained. “There was no flexibility in my clothes, they were constrictive round the arms and the waist. I wondered if there could be workwear that looked like a power suit, but felt like yoga clothes.”Great “athleisure” clothes look smart, but everything is stretchy, everything goes in the washing machine, everything has pockets.
Pockets, by the way, are a feminist issue. Men have had pockets since the 17th century – enabling them to keep their keys and money to hand, without the inconvenience of holding them in a bag. Women, though; well, it’s not as though the silly dears need to use their hands for anything else, is it?Campaigning women have been asking for pockets since the “rational dress” movement of the Victorian era. But they have only now become a regular feature of high street fashion, a change brought about, I suspect, less by progressive ideology than by the need to accommodate cellphones. Never mind. Finally having pockets – proper deep ones, into which you can plunge your hands insouciantly – is such a gift that it hardly matters how it came to us.While fourth-wave feminists bicker about what constitutes a woman, the fashion industry is changing the way we experience the world. Wearing comfortable, practical clothes that don’t pinch or rub, that won’t damage your spine or deform your feet: this is women’s liberation in its most belated, most personal, form.
© The Daily Telegraph