Pink. That is the colour that most defines my childhood. Pink dresses, pink shoes, pink hairclips and pink teddy bears. My favourite Polly Pocket was pink. My leotard at dance group was pink. When I was five, the lipstick I drew all over my parents' bedroom walls was, yep, pink. You would have categorised me as a girly girl. I mean, I still made mud pies and played with my brother’s Lego – but if it had glitter, ponies and came in a rainbow hue, then I was happy.
This remained – albeit it in a slightly diluted form – the case for my teens. I fell in love with make-up and read glossy magazines. I relished the glamour that came from frou-frou dresses and Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany’s (watched approximately 56,000 times), and hatched a plan to work in the heady, high-heeled world of fashion.
I blithely and blissfully slotted into my gender stereotype without releasing it. Without being remotely aware of it. Handbags were a glam grown-up lady thing that I matched to the colour of my shoes. Dresses were good for dancing around the bedroom in. Lipstick was fun to practise with my friends. Exploring the world of femininity – doing girly things – was fine. It was good. It was great.
And then it wasn’t.
On entering the adult working world – the one in which I assumed I’d be wearing Carrie Bradshaw-style Manolos (because, of course, I’d also be able to afford them) – it suddenly felt like being a girly girl wasn’t great at all. High heels were not exciting in a "New York cocktail bar" kind of way, but something that women were sent home from work for not wearing. Pink wasn’t the colour of raspberries and love hearts, but something used to pigeonhole little girls and represent archaic her-at-home ideals. Dresses and skirts were a sign of bowing to the regime, rather than liberation. Being girly – even saying the word "girly" – felt incredibly un-PC. And it felt incredibly uncool.
Being girly – even saying the word "girly" – felt incredibly un-PC. And it felt incredibly uncool
So, I put on some Birkenstocks, wore trainers to dinner, swapped bodycon for boyfriend jeans and wore a lot of sweaters. Underwear got less frilly, I chucked out my clutch bags and I chopped off my long hair, along with – what felt like – everyone else. I had a thoroughly lovely time, actually – who knew white trainers went with quite so many things? But, when it actually came down to it, I didn’t feel like me. I’d quite literally lost a bit of sparkle.
And it felt really sad.
Over the past couple of years, I have read – and written about – the sexist and judgemental way that women are treated for the way we look. I know that we are scrutinised in a way that men are simply not. I am all too well aware that the vast majority of women who have managed to break through the glass ceiling have done so not in florals but in a trouser suit and a pob. I know that, in today’s society, power still equals man and so, in order to be taken seriously, we dress accordingly.
“The thing is, people can’t link the two together – powerful with feminine. It’s very hard to show up in a floaty dress and be taken seriously,” explains Claire Waight Keller, creative director of French fashion house Chloé. Being one of the most powerful women in the fashion industry and having an unashamedly floaty aesthetic herself, I was interested to get her take. “I report into a board of all men and there is definitely still a dress code for women, but I do think you can wear a beautiful skirt and blouse and still feel powerful.”
Agreed, but considering that we still can’t get over Theresa May’s shoe cupboard, the day that she would be taken seriously in a ruffly blouse seems a long way off. “More and more women are getting into powerful positions and the more this happens, the more free we will become in how we dress. We will be dressing less like men and more how we want. It will take a decade or two, but my daughter’s generation will grow up with women in senior positions and it will change the mindset. I don’t believe that women should feel ashamed to look girly.”
And that was it. There. The thing I had been feeling. Ashamed to look girly. Ashamed to feel girly. Ashamed to say girly. And I made a decision that I didn’t want to any more.
I bought a pink jumper. I bought a pleated skirt. I bought a couple of dresses. I am not packing away my trainers (too comfy), but I’m eyeing up a pair of heeled ankle boots. I am going to buy a leopard print jacket with a fuzzy collar and wear it with jeans and some earrings. Why not? While I might not go full-on Lady Penelope in the office, I might try wearing a floaty skirt with a white T-shirt. Or a pair of jazzy shoes.
Ultimately, what we wear is a choice, but what I’ve come to realise is that, whatever we choose to wear, we shouldn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed about it – even if it's dressing girly.