Sunday, May 07, 2006

Adventures in Buying Clothes

My waistline is expanding, and if it weren't for a good cause, this would frighten me. Instead, it just annoys me, because it means I have to go out shopping for clothes. I have plenty of large t-shirts, and I've already bought some maternity jeans and other casual bottoms. What I really need is clothes for work.

I knew that there was a maternity clothing store in the mall in the Big City, so on Friday evening Jeff and I decided to go there and see if we couldn't find me some work-appropriate attire. I was disappointed to discover that there was very little there that I would be willing to wear in public, much less to work!

The vast majority of tops there were of the sleeveless, or even worse, of the spaghetti strap variety. Now, I don't like to wear sleeveless tops, and I recognize that I am in the minority on that. (The problem for me is that I have a condition that makes my armpits a bit of an eyesore, so for the sake of those around me, I choose not to exhibit them in public.) But spaghetti strap tops are absolutely out of the realm of possibility for a completely different reason. I am, shall we say, rather well-endowed on the best of days, and as my body makes the preparations for a baby, my endowment becomes more and more generous. This means, not only must I wear a bra at all times, but I have to wear a very supportive one, which will by necessity have large straps, a minimum of three times wider than the spaghetti straps.

While we were at the store, a saleswoman asked me if we were finding everything that we needed. I was annoyed enough that I told her no, and asked if there was anything that covered your armpits. She said that there wasn't much, because it was the season for short-sleeved shirts -- at which point I told her that short-sleeved shirts, such as the one I was wearing, did cover your armpits. Then she said that the fashions for pregnant women are based on the fashions worn by teenagers, because it made people feel younger, like how her forty-something mom was wearing short skirts and sleeveless blouses and all kinds of crazy things modeled after teenagers.

Her suggestion was that I try wearing a "shrug," a piece of clothing that is like the shoulders and upper part of a blouse or a knit sweater, and then wear one of the sleeveless tops underneath it. But when I tried on the shrugs, they ended up visually drawing attention to my large chest. One of the shrugs fit almost like an exterior bra. So the shrugs were of no help and even made the problem worse.

The only parallel between teenagers and pregnant women is that both feel awkward about their changing bodies. Does this mean that we have to display our awkwardly changing bodies for all to see? That's not what I want to do, thank you very much! I'm certainly not ashamed of my body or my growing belly, but I'm really not that interested in drawing attention to it. My idea of the ultimate summer maternity top would be a loose, short-sleeved top made of a lightweight fabric, not a form-fitting swatch of fabric that accentuates my cleavage!

This may seem like such a trite thing that I am complaining about, but in the larger scheme of things, it is actually a pretty big deal. As I have indicated before, I am the only woman in my department, and because of this, it is essential that I maintain a professional image at work. Part of the way that I maintain this professional image is to dress nicely, but not in ways that draw attention to my obviously female figure. This is not to say that I wear a loose sack over my body. I wear nice women's clothes that fit; I keep my cleavage covered, and I avoid short skirts. I usually wear some make-up too, including eye shadow, mascara, and lipstick. I wear flat shoes because I'm tall enough already and heels are just plain uncomfortable.

I know I'm a woman, and everybody at work knows I'm a woman, and nobody cares that I am not the default (white male) computer scientist. But that doesn't mean I want to dress in ways that make an issue out of the way my body is built. I don't want my male co-workers dressing in ways that bring attention to the way their bodies are built, either! The nature of our bodies is irrelevant to our ability to work at this job.

The problem is that it's hard enough to be taken seriously as a woman in a male-dominated world. Wearing revealing clothing only hurts my chances at that. The type of clothing marketed to pregnant women makes it seem like someone's conspiring to keep women from being taken seriously. If I were a paranoid type, I might start believing that it's yet another way the patriarchy keeps women down. In any case, I don't think I'll be going back to that store anytime soon.


rachie said...

Did you find enough stuff (or ANY stuff) in the end? Because I will happily see what there is to see out here. You need stuff for work, I assume?

Chelsea said...

Congrats Becca! I wandered over here from Rachel's blog, unknowing your big news, and am just so delighted to hear it!

Maternity clothes: did you try Old Navy? They usually have some good basics that one could wear to work, as does Mimi Maternity (but not Motherhood.)

So excited for you! Hope your pregnancy is easy and your labor fast and uncomplicated and that your new baby brings you joy!

Sally said...

Hi Becca! Congratulations. You don't know me, but I read your sister Rachel's blog all the time. I just thought I'd mention that you can buy some great maternity clothes online. I have the same bust issues you have, and the place I ended up buying most of my maternity tops from was Land's End. Their sizes actually run big, so you don't have to buy a super-large size just to cover your chest like you would in other brands. I just thought I'd share, since I really understand how hard it is to find maternity clothes. I had a hard time finding nursing bras too, so if you need help with that when the time comes, just e-mail me.