When I see women at the hospital where I work whose scrubs seem to be precisely tailored and close-fitting, I always think of the women at FCI Coleman (if you don't know what this means, you should probably read this post and this post) who altered their uniforms.
The uniforms that are issued to female federal inmates are made for men; it is much more cost-efficient to produce one type of uniform, rather than two, and, since there are so many more men incarcerated in federal facilities than women, well...that's pretty easy to work out. This is not, however, a new issue; the first federal prison for women, named The Federal Industrial Institution for Women, opened in 1927 in Alderson, West Virginia (this facility is still being used today). The facility was created to house female drug and alcohol offenders during prohibition and its purpose was to "reform the inmates, not punish them." Wow, so much for forward progress.
The clothing we put on each day, our armor, so to speak, prepares us for what lies ahead; it can help us feel a little more confident, communicates something about our personalities and our identity, and individuates us from others. The desire to make that choice is never lost, not even under the worst of circumstances.
Many of the women at Coleman had regular visitors (visitation occurred every weekend) and it was important to be in possession of a flattering uniform; what a hot commodity they were! There was an entire process that went on toward the end of each week: trying on various pants, shirts and jackets to find the "right" fit; trading and bartering our way to something that might provide us with a sense of normalcy; finding a little comfort within the discomfort.
The process of bequeathing one's "specialized" uniforms and various other belongings to another before release, ensuring that those you care about are provided for, giving a "gift," of sorts, as you leave, almost felt like an apology: "I'm sorry to be leaving you here; I wish I could take you with me." The smallest of items could impart such a huge feeling of worth, of importance on another; what a powerful gesture.
As time has gone on, I've discovered that I will never truly leave those ladies behind; they are with me every day, in various forms, and I feel privileged to have encountered each and every one of them. Their continual presence reminds me how similar we are, even when we think we are all so different.