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Male fashion privilege

How an ad featuring Christian Louboutin altered my perspective on the way women dress

I recently saw an ad in a newspaper for Mandarin Oriental hotels. The ad featured a full length photograph of the shoe designer Christian Louboutin. In the photograph he was […]

I recently saw an ad in a newspaper for Mandarin Oriental hotels. The ad featured a full length photograph of the shoe designer Christian Louboutin. In the photograph he was surrounded by coloured moulds used to make high heel shoes. This is fitting, for Christian Louboutin is perhaps the most famous maker of high heels in the world. His are not ordinary high heels, however. Mr Louboutin makes very high heels, stilettos with a distinctive bright red sole.

I confess, I’m not really into very high heels. I never wear stilettos and I tend to favour flats. I have never, and will never, own a pair of “Louboutins”. I understand they are beautifully made, but I care too much about my personal comfort. Nor am I attracted to the idea of causing physical injury to my body purely so that my legs look longer or my ass looks perter or whatever high heels are supposed to do to make a woman seem more attractive to men.

But the reason for this article is not to express my views about Louboutins. Rather, it is because I was struck by the image of the man himself. In this ad, he was wearing incredibly comfortable clothes. A t-shirt, a casual jacket and pants, and sneakers. Yes – the maker of Louboutins was wearing sneakers. The clothes appeared to be very expensive. The sneakers, in particular, were very fancy. They were leather and sparkly (not an official fashion term, I’m sure). But more than anything, the impression created by the man himself was that he looked extremely comfortable. He was physically comfortable but also comfortable within himself.

I felt overwhelmed by this image. Here was a man that has made his fortune selling items that at best cause discomfort and pain – at worst, cause permanent damage – to women. And here he was, looking like the cat that got the cream in his incredibly comfortable outfit, ready to relax and unwind at a Mandarin Oriental at some exotic location. This man has not had to squeeze his feet into painful shoes and try to walk in a way that his body was not built to walk. This man has not had to continue to stand in such shoes at a dinner party for hours on end, distributing his weight from one leg to the next to ease the pain. This man has not had to deal with the physical effects of long-term use of such shoes.

What would life be like for women, if we rejected the shoes of Christian Louboutin and instead adopted his personal fashion outlook? If we eschewed the style of his brand and embraced his own style – elegant but comfortable.

I suggest life would be better. Life would be easier. It would allow us to run to catch our trains without worrying about falling over. It would allow us to keep up with our male counterparts when we walk down the street to a work meeting, rather than having to trit-trot along behind them like a little child catching up to the grown-ups. It would allow us to be on our feet for hours without feeling pain. It would make for better physical health in the long-term.

And it would feel powerful, because it involves a rejection of the need to dress in a way that suits the male gaze.

It would mean giving our hard-earned cash to designers who are working with women’s bodies, not against them. Designers who want women to feel good throughout their day, not simply look good (accordingly to someone else’s standard).  It would give women the ability to dress in a way that projects inner contentment, conveying ease with the world around us, rejecting any need to please others by dressing in a way that is harmful to one’s physical health and detrimental to one’s basic comfort.

Isn’t this what real success looks like?