‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’; the cliché that has been used since time immemorial to remind us that what’s on the outside plays no bearing on someone’s personality. However, this metaphor that emphasises the polarity of outside and inside encounters a grey area when it comes to the sexualisation of the female body, and consequently the clothes that supposedly reinforce a certain sexualised image.
There is no doubt that all of us at some point have decided whether we will or will not like someone based on their outward appearance. And as much as the saying warns us against it, judging a book by its cover is often a quick and time-saving thing to do when we do not want to make the effort of getting to know someone.
Indeed, being the cover that people judge a book by can also be a safe haven for those with low sense of self-esteem, as letting other people carve out an identity for you based on what you wear can often seem a more calming concept than having to present one defined version of yourself.
However, both by judging and in some cases allowing ourselves to be judged can have extremely detrimental implications, the former specifically being brought to the fore by the ongoing #metoo campaign. The campaign has exposed that latent in this notion of judging based on appearances, is the idea that the watcher is absolved of responsibility of how he perceives others or, more darkly, how he treats others. The tenet that ‘fashion is a means of self expression’ is appropriated in many instances by sexual predators, professing that ‘she asked for it’, or implications of the like; that the stereotypes of promiscuity and wantonness that have been artificially attached to certain forms of dress justify grotesque and violating behaviour. Moreover, this form of judgement only continues to perpetuate the antiquated notion that of female passivity and objectification.
Having become fascinated with drag culture in the past year, I have been inspired by the degree to which they embody the idea of what you wear (and the stereotypes that accompany them) being separate form the individual that wears them. Indeed, the supposed etymology of drag (dressed as a girl) emphasises that the ‘girl’, the traditionally ‘feminine’ clothes, make-up, mannerisms that a drag queen will generally adopt is a costume worn, rather than, necessarily an extension of personality .
Perhaps in this vein, it is thus unsurprising, albeit no less heartbreaking, that almost all men and women who wear ‘female’ drag undergo the same sexually violating ordeals from (mostly men), both gay and straight, as the majority of women encounter whilst on a regular night out. And as with cisgendered women, the perpetrators of sexual harassment towards those in drag justify their actions through transferring the responsibility of their actions from themselves onto the clothes that men (or women) in drag wear.
Thus herein lies the fatal error in synonymising someone’s personality with the behavioural stereotypes attached to their clothes. These notions of sexual promiscuity or wantonness are woven into certain garments more tightly than the sequins, patterns or stitching that adorn them, and exclusively so. The dyes of someone’s clothes do not transfer onto the skin of their wearers, and as judgers, the shame rests with us for thinking so.