"Meg's high-heeled slippers were very tight and hurt her, though she would not own it, and Jo's nineteen hairpins all seemed stuck straight into her head, which was not exactly comfortable, but, dear me, let us be elegant or die."Fashion is a funny thing. You'd think that people would want to wear garments, shoes, and accessories that were comfortable and serviceable, but as many a person with blistered feet can attest, clothing and footwear aren't always designed with comfort in mind. Some people protest and opt to wear only pain-free fashions. Others suffer, because we must be elegant or die. Painful hairpins, ill-fitting shoes, scratchy sweaters, choking neckties, sharply pointed Victorian collars . . . oh yes, fashion hurts. Painfully, this is Truth in Television: the fashion-minded have choked and mutilated themselves in various ways as long as the concept of fashion has existed. Though it's frequently played for comedy, this trope can also be invoked by a work in order to create An Aesop about the vanity of focusing too much on physical appearance at the expense of health or comfort, and often represents the trappings of societal norms. Refusing to wear the painful fashion sometimes becomes an act of rebellion; alternatively, those not wise enough to realize the absurdity of fashion may become the subject of ridicule. See Of Corset Hurts for all corset or girdle-related pain.
— Louisa May Alcott, Little Women, "Chapter 3"
ExamplesAnime and Manga
- In the pilot episode of the Wandering Son anime, when Shuuichi dresses for middle school for the first time, she complains about the collar of her uniform being uncomfortably tight. In this case, the pain of having to wear the uniform extends beyond physical pain.
- During Jean Grey and Storm's first social outing in X-Men, Jean is horrified to see that Ororo is naked after she whisks away her superhero costume, since her Kenyan tribe had no nudity taboo. Jean hurriedly finds something for Ororo to wear, who mentions that the outfit is uncomfortable. Jean replies, "Just don't breathe or sit down and you'll be fine." After getting used to Western fashion, however, Ororo generally averts this trope, preferring loose-fitting garments (her Punk phase notwithstanding) and sensible shoes.
- Truvy in Steel Magnolias has this to say about shoes "In a good shoe, I wear a size six, but a seven feels so good, I buy a size eight." meaning she's a size eight but will squeeze down to a six for the right shoe.
- Clueless: "I know it sounds mental, but sometimes I have more fun vegging out than when I go partying. Maybe because my party clothes are so binding."
- In Ramona Forever, Ramona and Beezus are forced to wear too-small shoes to a wedding. They eventually rebel by tying them to the newly-married couple's getaway car. Their mother then admits she'd forgotten how long the girls had had the shoes (and thus didn't realise the girls had outgrown said footwear), and doesn't pursue the issue.
- In Little Women, Jo and Meg were willing to put up with too-tight shoes and painful hairpins in order to be properly dressed for a New Year's Eve party.
- Young Peter Cratchitt from A Christmas Carol borrows a shirt collar from his father in honor of Christmas Day. The collar nearly chokes him, according to the narrator, but he's still proud to wear it.
- Plutarch used this as an analogy in the 1st century CE, making this Older Than Feudalism: "A Roman divorced from his wife, being highly blamed by his friends, who demanded, 'Was she not chaste? Was she not fair? Was she not fruitful?' holding out his shoe, asked them whether it was not new and well made. 'Yet,' added he, 'none of you can tell where it pinches me.'"
- Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" had oysters attached to her tail by her grandmother to show her great rank.
Little Mermaid: "But they hurt me so."Grandmother: "Pride must suffer pain."
- In The Pyrates, Black Bilbo insists on wearing a pair of red heeled boot that are too small for him (he took them off a dead man) because they are the latest fashion in Europe.
- Invoked several times in Gone with the Wind.
- One chapter of Wayside School is Falling Down is about Picture Day. Stephen, one of the students, is wearing a three-piece suit and tie. He explains (very matter-of-factly) to the class that "You have to wear uncomfortable shoes if you want to look important," and that "The more the tie chokes me, the better I look." Naturally, the class encourages him to pull the tie tighter and tighter until it's literally strangling him — which also makes him tremendously handsome.
- Memoirs of a Geisha references this idea several times. The best quote being "beauty is synonymous with pain."
- In Molly's last American Girl book, she's obsessed with curling her hair so she'll be more likely to get picked for the lead role in a patriotic dance for her tap class. After trying various increasingly uncomfortable methods, she resorts to one that involves sleeping with soaking-wet hair, which causes her to catch a cold and not be able to perform at all. The upside is that she's the only one home when her father comes back from the war.
- In Can You Keep A Secret? by Sophie Kinsella, Jemima puts on a new black suede dress for a date. It's so tight that she has trouble walking, bending down, speaking, and even breathing. Her flatmates try to talk her out of wearing the dress, but she is willing to suffer in order to show off her figure.
- Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, being about China at the time period where foot-binding was forced on girls, features this. One character dies from the consequences.
- In the first season of The Kids in the Hall, Dave Foley once played a fashion designer who created women's clothes meant to horribly injure the wearer. Designs included a pair of shoes made from boxes filled with broken glass and a railroad spike meant to go through a woman's head.
- In an episode of Everwood, Delia's grandmother refuses to let her take off her sweltering hot stockings, because "New York women are willing to suffer for fashion".
- In The IT Crowd, Jen crams her feet into a pair of shoes she loves even though they are a couple of sizes too small. And almost cripples herself in the process.
- The "dress" Amanda receives in the Ugly Betty episode "Icing on the Cake". Watch this compilation starting at 5:40. "Fashion is a pain," indeed.
- On Friends Monica insisted on buying a pair of expensive (and uncomfortable) boots over Chandler's objections. She quickly realized she couldn't wear them without wincing. Of course it didn't help when a party came up and he wanted her to wear them, using her own claim that they "go with everything" against her.
- On Hot In Cleveland, Victoria designs some very stylish shoes, the only drawback being how painful they are when one wears them.
- Done subtly at the end of an episode of Mad Men in which Joan, on top of personal problems, hits the glass ceiling at work: getting undressed, she sits on her bed and rubs the spot on her shoulder where her bra strap has dug into it, symbolizing the burdens of being a woman.
- In the Carol Channing episode of The Muppet Show, Miss Piggy buys some stylish but excruciating shoes that are really too small for her. She continues to wear them after Kermit admires them.
- In The Nanny, Fran is an admitted fashionista, and readily admits that her outfits are borderline torture. She's admitted to squeezing her feet into shoes a couple of sizes too small if they're on sale, and in one episode, she was getting ready to go out, brought out two outfits, and said "Which should I wear? This one itches, but I look taller. This one pinches, but I look thinner." When Maxwell asks if she's ever considered a comfortable outfit, she scoffs, telling him that the second you start dressing for comfort, it's a slippery slope into becoming the type of person who goes grocery shopping in a bathrobe and slippers.
- Averted in "Mrs Potato Head" by Melanie Martinez. The protagonist laments over the concept of plastic surgery and comes to the conclusion it's best to be comfortable in yourself as you naturally are.
Oh Mrs. Potato Head tell me, is it true that pain is beauty?Does a new face come with a warranty?Will a pretty face make it better?
- This is a major theme of the short play The Waiting Room - both Forgiveness and Victoria suffer terrible health consequences as a result of trying to adhere to the fashions of their respective cultures - when the play opens, Forgiveness has already had a toe fall off as a result of her feet being bound, while Victoria's been suffering from hysterical episodes brought on by her corset crushing her organs.
- In an episode of Daria, Quinn bought a cute pair of high heeled sandals and wore them everywhere despite them pinching her toes and swelling her feet to the point where she could barely walk.
Sandy: How are the shoes Quinn?Quinn: They're killing me. But don't I look cute?
- A later episode she mentions that she has to suffer for fashion and has a hair-dryer set on full blast.
- An old, and no longer practiced, Chinese tradition was women having tiny dainty shoes. In order to make women's feet so small they would soak the feet of children then break the bones of and bound them tightly in linen to create tiny little feet. Sure, the down side was extreme pain and losing the ability to walk in many cases, but look at how small their feet are!
- Note that Chinese women were always supposed to be seen by men in the "lotus shoes"—never barefoot. It was written that if a man were to look upon a woman's feet after they had been unbound, the effect would be ruined forever. One can clearly see why. (Warning: Nausea Fuel!) Supposedly they even smelled as bad as they looked.
- Chopines were tall platform shoes or overshoes worn during the 15th to 17th century in Western Europe, particularly Italy and Spain. The height varied greatly, from only a few inches to as much as 20 inches tall. As with corsets, there is controversy over whether they were as painful and difficult to wear as they look.
- Some scholars insist that wearing them not only made wearer's footing and balance precarious, it also caused a gait rather like the lurching stomp typical of Frankenstein's Monster, but Fabritio Caroso, an Italian dancing master of the time wrote in 1600 that a woman practiced in wearing chopines could not only move gracefully in them, but also dance in them.
- It is practically customary for a girl or woman to wear high heeled shoes for a formal occasion. If she usually wears sensible shoes for everyday wear, she will "break them in" so that she can get used to wearing them and so be able to walk in them more gracefully, if not with less pain.
- Of course, even women who aren't particularly fashion-conscious may find themselves roped into wearing heels every day as part of office Dress Codes.
- The characteristic shape of formal shoes, putting the longest part in the center, causes a specific deformity common in American women where the big toe curves downwards and the little toe curves upwards.
- New shoes are always this. If you expect to stand up in them a lot, it is normal to spend a few days gently damaging them until they are broken enough not to hurt anymore but not quite enough to look bad. Then you have a few weeks while they still look almost as good as new.
- Many black women will use "relaxers" to straighten their hair out, the style of which was known as a "conk". The relaxer not only alters the texture of the hair so that it's not straight, but it also burns the scalp, especially if it's an at-home kit rather than a salon treatment. Talk about adding injury to insult.
- This gets mentioned in Rivers of London, where the mixed-race main character says that for years he thought black women's hair naturally smelled burned.
- Also appears in White Teeth, when Irie (whose mother never relaxed her hair and has mostly cut off from her Jamaican roots) isn't prepared for how relaxers work and actually gets her hair ''burned off' by them.
- As well as the practice of wearing weaves and extensions, which involves sewing face or real hair onto "tracks" created by tightly braiding whatever original hair the woman has. The process is expensive, time-consuming, and painful for most women. And to maintain their "perfect" look, most women promptly abstain from previous activities that they enjoyed—exercise, swimming, etc.
- Of course, white women have had their own miseries of stinging, smelling goos, prickly bobby pins, and ugly, bulky curlers in order to curl their hair. Seems nobody's happy with what they have.
- Corsets used to be used in Europe in a similar way to the foot binding in China. Preteen girls would wear them at a given tightness at all hours of the day, even when sleeping, in order to compress their waists into a desired shape and measurement. Bear in mind, however, that the modern impression of corsets is based more on BDSM fashion than truth; corsets were tight, but not "break your ribs" tight.
- Just to show that painful fashion isn't Always Female, Victorian men would wear starched shirt collars that were intended to be as high and as stiff as possible. This restricted blood flow to the head, and if a man happened to fall asleep (or pass out) with it on, they could strangle or even stab them in the throat.
- In German, they are called "Vatermörder" that literally means "Father killer".
- Such harmful fashions are not only excluded to the human race. In the 1800s, stylish carriage horses were often forced to wear "bearing reins" to keep their heads up, often to an extreme degree that maimed the poor animals. The practice was partially abolished in part to protests raised by Anne Sewell's famous novel, Black Beauty, which also delivers some scathing criticism on practices like "docking" the tails of horses and the tails and ears of dogs (that is, cutting bits of them off) to make them look more stylish.
- The same goes for many pure bred cats and dogs, who often must endure crippling genetic diseases and abnormalities for the sake of adhering to (rather capricious) standardized breeding shapes
- Oh heck, ask anyone. In the Real Life Headscratchers, a rather common musing was "Why are the formal-clothes so darn uncomfortable?"
- Suntans: Not immediately painful unless you do it too long and get burned, but even doing it right increases your risk of deadly skin cancer later in life.
- Neckties are uncomfortable, choke you, and leave you extremely vulnerable to attack, but they're still practically required wear for even semi-formal occasions if you're a man. This is all somewhat averted with clip-on ties, which are sometimes required for people who are really vulnerable for attack such as police officers.
- Roman men absolutely hated togas, which were extremely heavy pieces of cloth that not only weighed you down and wore you out, but you practically baked alive wearing one in a hot Italian summer. They were so heavy and draped down so far that doing anything physical in them was nearly impossible (hence the toga's longstanding association with peace - you literally couldn't fight wearing one). Togas were so disliked that the Senate actually had to legislate wearing them on the Senate floor, because so many senators and patricians had simply wore their tunics because of how inconvenient togas were.
- This article discusses the trope on why women continue wearing skinny jeans, corsets (both historically and as a result of Kardashian fame), high heels, and spanx; mostly because "aesthetic apathy is a sin worse than ugliness".