Clothing quality and gender

A little while ago, I was talking to Jamie from The Test Shot about whether women’s clothing is made from lower quality fabrics than men’s. Jamie has since pointed me towards an interesting blog post by HijabMan called why I dress my daughter in “boy” jeans. It hadn’t occurred to me that some people didn’t know that women’s jeans aren’t usually made from 100% cotton these days, but not everyone is as obsessed with fabrics and fibres as me so I guess I should have worked that out. Manufacturers assume that men generally want jeans that last, whereas women mostly look for comfort and a fashionable fit, so it’s understandable that the market for denim has altered along gendered lines. If women go for something timeless like Levi’s 501 or Freddies of Pinewood’s Classics, then 100% cotton is what they get, but more fashionable styles come with elastane for stretch and other fibres (including linen, polyester and Tencel) for drape and comfort. However, this makes no sense in the hard-wearing world of kids’ jeans, as HijabMan points out: “Within less than a month of wear, the material started ripping, and I woke up. I finally looked at the label. ‘Girl’ jeans are not made of 100% cotton like ‘boy’ jeans. They are made of over 50% cheap synthetic materials including spandex. No wonder. How could I have been so stupid?”

Aside from the fact that synthetics aren’t always cheap or inferior to natural fibres*, this raises a lot of issues. Are garments intended to be worn by women less well made, because it is assumed that they do not need to last as long? Do clothing manufacturers really think that women and girls will grow bored of their garments well before they wear out? This could be a bit like the supposed built-in obsolescence that we all reckon our gadgets have these days, but it could also simply be a nod to the fact that people often want different things from their clothing. However, I’d like to think that simply paying more for a better made garment will mean you get something that lasts longer rather than by shopping in the section labelled ‘men’. Who decides which gender gets the long lasting denim and the t-shirt fabrics that wash better? I may have to start an investigation. If you have any experience of differing quality in similar clothing aimed at men and at women, do share your stories in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

*That topic could have another blog post all to itself!

9 thoughts on “Clothing quality and gender

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  1. I wear men’s tshirts because women’s ‘fitted’ ones are not designed to stretch over boobs comfortably, while guys tshirts seem to fit fine: designed to bump over muscle?

    1. Yeah, it’s interesting how women’s fitted t-shirts are often referred to as “skinny fit” or “babydoll”. Not terribly inclusive.

  2. I make innovative clothes for male bodies, and am very involved in the gendered aspects of clothing. Your article points to one aspect of the gender regime in clothing: that ‘women’s’ clothes are made from less tough fabrics. I agree this is largely true, but that’s not necessarily bad. As you point out, fabrics for ‘women’s’ garments also drape better and are more comfortable. Sure, they can be not as long-lasting, reflecting the general pattern that on average women (a) have a much larger wardrobe than men i.e. much more variety of choice and (b) wear each garment for a shorter period before discarding it i.e. women’s identity changes more rapidly than men’s.

    All this reflects the relative fluidity and flexibility acceptable in femininity in contrast to the much more slow-moving identity acceptable in masculinity, in which rapid or major change in frowned upon. Hence men go for ‘classics’ in traditional fabrics.

    Yep, it’s good to be informed about the qualities of each garment and fabric – but the gendering in the fashion industry has drawbacks AND benefits for women. Alongside your valid criticisms, It’s great you choose hard-wearing clothes for your kids, and it’s also great women have such a range of choice of garments, fabrics and styles.

    1. You’re quite right. There are many more options for women and comfort is not always considered in the same way for men’s clothing as it is for women’s. Mind you, my partner gets his jeans from UniQlo and they use a blend of fibres rather than 100% cotton. This means that they don’t last as long as the Levi’s he used to buy, but they’re much more comfortable.

  3. i think its gender inequitable to be buying jeans from tommy hilfgur anyhow, they employ third world women at low low low wages. inculcating the exploitation on both fronts.

    1. Thanks for you comment, but the photo was merely used to illustrate a denim fabric that was not 100% cotton. The ethics of large fashion companies is a big subject and something that deserves at least one post all to itself!

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