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Mary Wollstonecraft’s fashion choices

December 1, 2009

remind me of feminist protests in the 1960’s and 70’s. She was aggressively frumpy. One of her erstwhile lovers called her a “slovenly philosopher.” But I get it. The fashion requirements for middle and upper class women of her era were horrible. Towers of hair two feet high. Corsets. Petticoats. Mary wanted to be an intellectual. She did not have the time or money to invest in silks and bonnets. Besides, she felt that the fashions of her era were designed to restrict women’s independence. And she was right. A few careless ladies tipped over, thanks to the height of their headgear and the width of their skirts. This question is an old one — what should the enlightened woman wear — although I notice that my nieces are free of this angst. They feel entitled to make up and heels. I go along with them. But with ambivalence. My favorite role models taught me that bras, skirts, heels, eye shadow, shaved legs etc were all badges of patriarchal oppression, signs of the tyranny that women must fight. I remember getting dressed for the prom with guilt. After all, my big brother’s class had voted not to have such an uncool event. Better to march against the war or fight for civil rights, or, at least, go to a Rolling Stones concert. Why buy into 1950s conventions?

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