I love to think that women throughout time have left the women of our time clues about how to feel that our spirits are powerful, passed down to us little treasures learned over millennia just waiting to be excavated. Sometimes we look to the stories and artifacts about how powerful women have lived and still live; sometimes we can also look to what women have been forbidden to do. Our culture is peppered with little taboos, mostly that I remember from childhood, but some that are still common. As I consider these taboos, especially those concerned with dress, in relation to what I know about women spiritual leaders, I can see how each can be seen as a way to make women less powerful and how breaking these little taboos can be an avenue to feeling, looking, and being our strong, creative, confident selves.
Certain colors were never or rarely worn when I was younger, in particular, bright red, except as an accent, and black and white except for funerals, weddings, graduations, and other formal occasions. The association of red with “immoral” women was well-established for years and years. Remember the scene from “Gone with the Wind” where Scarlett finally gives up all pretense of respectability by going to a party wearing a red dress? Red, white and black are, of course, colors associated with goddesses all over the world. Fortunately and perhaps not coincidentally, red is now considered to be a “power color” and one that all job applicants should wear somewhere and black and white also have a power of their own as they are more commonly worn.
Clothing taboos have always divided women by class, making it possible to know exactly what strata of society a woman was from by looking at her clothing. Rich women from more aristocratic classes not only had better clothing, but also clothing for a wide variety of formal and informal events. Of course, being wealthy has not meant that women were more personally powerful, but by having women dress differently, it certainly helped keep them from seeing how they as a group lacked power and doing something about it. Dressing outside your assigned class has been taboo (“who does she think she is?”), as is mixing pieces of clothing from different class styles. How many times have you see any woman wear khakis and a silk jacket with pearls to a business meeting? When I was a teen, the owner of a consignment once gave me the fashion advice to wear rhinestone pins with my plain flannel workshirts. At the time I thought that was trendy, but maybe it is a statement about women’s unity as well.
Let’s talk hair. Traditionally, long, unbound hair has been considered to be powerful in itself. Medusa comes to mind. Young women were allowed to have such hair, but as soon as women began to come into their power as they grew up, taboos required binding it. Even now older women are supposed to cut off their long hair altogether and certainly never leave it long and loose. Gray hair, which could be considered to be a sign of wisdom, must be colored and covered up. Makes you want to keep your natural gray and let it grow long, just to see what happens, doesn’t it?
What about jewelry? We can see from ancient tombs of powerful women that those folks liked jewelry and had a lot of it. They seemed to wear tons of the stuff all at the same time. No one who studies the qualities of various metals and gemstones will be surprised that jewelry, especially beadwork, is supposed to carry a kind of spiritual power in itself. Too bad that real “ladies” are supposed to wear a piece or two only, unless they are royalty or really rich, that should match. And why is it that we aren’t supposed to wear two different kinds of metals or gemstones at the same time? Could it be that if we wear as much jewelry as we like we might just feel a power we are not meant to?
Ignoring society’s little taboos is certainly a statement of personal freedom, but I also wonder if it may also be a bit more. When something is repressed for centuries, it almost seems to gather energy over the centuries, just waiting for women to rediscover it. Breaking a clothing taboo feels fresh and new, a step into the future, simply because I have rarely dressed that way before. When I wear red, I not only enjoy the color itself, but it seems to hold the vibrant energy that I also sense in mixing up styles, wild hair, far too much jewelry and other broken taboos.
Maybe clothing taboos aren’t the only ones that are worth breaking. If we broaden our sights and think of other things that are considered not quite right for no real reason, perhaps we will find other avenues to power. One post that many readers seemed to feel a connection to is about being a hermit. Our society praises and encourages extroverts and discourages those who are more thoughtful and solitary. It isn’t hard to see why – if you think too much you may begin to think for yourself. Being by yourself, meditating and contemplating yourself and life is essential to the kind of self-knowledge that leads to inner illumination.
People who enjoy the night rather than daytime, who prowl around in the dark, are also considered not quite reputable. Now, let’s see, what is out at night that isn’t in the daytime? Oh, that’s right, the moon, that potent symbol of women’s spiritual power in the west. If we go and bathe in her mysterious, enlightening light, what mischief might we get into?
Can it really be this simple? Can we really uncover reservoirs of our own power just by doing those things we aren’t supposed to? Probably not. But they can help us recognize the hundreds of ways that women’s power is taken away, bit by bit. As we can see by how quickly red has been embraced as a power color, releasing the force of a taboo can be very freeing. Give it a try. Next I’ll be wearing white shoes after Labor Day…
~ Carolyn Lee Boyd
Excellent post, Carolyn! A great and insightful read. I love the way you bring subtle power thefts to light. What will happen if we break taboos meant to subdue us and keep us in line? Why, we might become WildWomen howling at the moon! Ahwoo!!
Thank you! I love that image — howling at the moon!
I enjoyed this post, too. As I traverse my own journey, which is all about reclaiming my personal power, this topic makes great sense. It opened doorways in my head, you know?
I’m so glad you liked it!
Just found your blog today and think it’s awesome! I’ll be back often to see what’s new and inspiring.
Thanks so much! Welcome!
I love this — especially the part about the jewelry. I think so much of wearing jewelry is like wearing amulets.
That is very true! I hadn’t thought of that!
Maybe this is why I almost always wear three necklaces, 6 rings, and generally don’t match my clothes – I’m trying to reclaim my personal power! Hehehe. I love the thoughts and insights you provide here. And I completely agree that there is great value in contemplating why such taboos exist. Many blessings to you, lady!
And to you! I like your fashion style!
This is a great write. I have long hair and have been told since I was in my 30’s that I was a little old for it. Ha! I will keep it till the day I die. Right now it is half grown out of the color I was using and it’s a soft blonde gray. I think I’m going to leave it. It looks good actually. I don’t follow clothing trends, never have. Right now I wear a mixture of things but I have many ensembles from India. They are beautiful and comfortable and seem to express something of me.
Thanks for your comment! I wear a lot of clothes from India, too, for the same reason — colorful and comfortable and easy to work in.
Just found your blog while looking up “is long white hair taboo on older women”, coincedence?Guess so—however, I have had hair that began to go gray at 18 and by 26 salt and pepper and at 48 white not grey, white I started coloring at 38. I loved my hair and received many compliments people thought I had the salt and pepper done, “aluminized” I did’nt, but my daughter said “why don’t you color your hair Mom you look old from the back”. Then I began to hate my hair and I colored for 15 years,I was a great blond, but finally decided, hey I earned every hair on my head, I know who I am and I will not pretend no matter how convincing I appear! I am me, I am free, my hair is to my butt and resilliant, healthy and shiny white that glissens, God gave it to me for a reason I believe, maybe his Angels can find me easier 🙂 I look around and seldom see a kindred spirit. Mostly I wear it up, as I garden and such or it’s hot out,and—I am intimidated by the public taboo! Sad but true, “is she nuts”, “why would a woman that age wear long white hair”, “is she a witch” etc.–none of the above, I wish to except the gift God gave me and display it with joy, I won’t walk the earth forever and it is a register of my time on it and I should be proud! Thank you for more empowerment in that area! I will check your blog frequently, I really enjoyed it.
So glad you liked the blog and the post! I’m also really glad you are growing and loving your long hair. When older women have long hair it is such a wonderful statement about individuality, as you say. I know quite a few women who wear their hair long and loose, including some in their 70s, and it is beautiful. I’ve known women who have lost their hair to chemo, too, and when it grew back it was like a stepping back into life, so I think of that when I think of growing my hair, too. I have to admit that I go between very long and very short, spiky hair (which is how it is now), but that’s mainly because I like to play with having it different ways — I get bored with my hair easily, I’m afraid, but I bet that someday I’ll have it long forever.