JUST ANOTHER LIL’ TIDBIT OF SOME SCHTUFF TO THINK ABOUT
I think that the museum has become just another site for the display of fashion. When you walk down the street of New York, that’s a site of fashion. You can see all the great street style. When you go to see a show on the runway, that’s another site of fashion. When you go to a retail store and look at the way Simon Doonan has put the windows together, that’s another site. And the museum is yet another one, where maybe it’s slightly more abstracted or it takes you out of the trend aspect of fashion and makes you look at it from another angle… I would say that the main charges that say that fashion is not art and is different than art are because it’s more commercial. It’s more of a part of daily life, whereas art seems to transcend it’s commodity status—although obviously there is a whole art business. But I think if you look at it in historical terms, fashion appears to be something that is, perhaps, in the process of being re-imagined as art, the same way that photography and cinema and Jazz were before…
What’s interesting about fashion is that it is so much part of quotidian life and it’s something that—one way or another—touches everybody. And I think that that’s one reason it hasn’t been taken seriously, but it’s also one of the great things about working in fashion; everybody ultimately has some kind of interest [in] or response to it.
…I think that what I try and do is advance the knowledge of fashion and get people to realize that fashion is an important social and cultural phenomenon. That doesn’t mean that it’s not fun and it’s not sexy and it’s not immediate. I think that in the past, I fell between two schools. People in the academic world thought what I was doing was too fluffy and frivolous, and people in the fashion world thought I was being an egghead. But it’s like doing research on sex. Sex doesn’t stop being interesting and appealing to people just because you’re trying to analyze what’s going on.
- Valerie Steele, director and head curator of the museum at FIT, in Dossier
Dear and darling readers, nothing makes me happier (no, seriously) than when you all email me offensively asinine things you find on the internet with a plethora of question marks and explanation points and WTFs and ask for my so obviously extremely qualified opinions! For the most part I do my best to carry on snark-filled emailconversations with each one of you special snowflakes and then occasionally write about it, but some things are just too painfully stupid/offensive for me to even acknowledge (for example, I am refusing to even have any more conversations about the Acne “transvestite/transgender/transexual/insert other incorrect term they used in their press release” shirts or about “ethnic beauty is the new black OH WAIT" or anything involving feathers or Lara Stone’s tits ever again basically.) Other things are so epicly stupid and offensive that after an entire year of eyerolling I am sort of required to address it lest my eyes roll permanently back into my head. HENCE THE ISSUE OF SHILOH JOLIE-PITT AND SURI CRUISE FINALLY SURFACES.
At first read a bit cutesy and a few things I’d contest (like that simplification of female fashion which though I appreciate the sentiment is surely more complex, and the sort of dismissal of exterior thought as somehow lesser, and of course I’d want more on the semiotics of it all and the parallels between clothing and language, and also more about the clothing as armor/protection, which is something I’ve discussed before a bit.) But come on, Umberto Eco wrote this in 1976 about how his tight jeans squashing his junk made him think about the relations between clothes and thought and women/constructed sartorial femininity and language. How could I NOT waste a quarter of an hour typing most of the two pages out for y’all? And besides, it gave me a reason to google funny things like “pants” and “trousers” for the sake of providing you all with the highly relevant Wallace and Gromit image above.
The jeans didn’t pinch, but they made their presence felt…. As a result, I lived in the knowledge that I had jeans on, whereas normally we live forgetting that we’re wearing undershorts or trousers. I lived for my jeans, and as a result I assumed the exterior behavior of one who wears jeans. In any case, I assumed a demeanor… I discussed it at length, especially with consultants of the opposite sex, from whom I learned what, for that matter, I had already suspected: that for women experiences of this kind are familiar because all their garments are conceived to impose a demeanor—high heels, girdles, brassieres, pantyhose, tight sweaters.
I thought then about how much, in the history of civilization, dress as armor has influenced behavior and, in consequence, exterior morality. The Victorian bourgeois was stiff and formal because of stiff collars; the nineteenth-century gentleman was constrained by his tight redingotes, boots, and top hats that didn’t allow brusque movements of the head. If Vienna had been on the equator and its bourgeoisie had gone around in Bermuda shorts, would Freud have described the same neurotic symptoms, the same Oedipal triangles? And would he have described them in the same way if he, the doctor, had been a Scot, in a kilt (under which, as everyone knows, the rule is to wear nothing)?
But the problem of my jeans led me to other observations. Not only did the garment impose a demeanor on me; by focusing my attention on demeanor, it obliged me to live towards the exterior world…I thought about the relationship between me and my pants, and the relationship between my pants and me and the society we lived in. I had achieved heteroconsciousness, that is to say, an epidermic self-awareness.
I realized then that thinkers, over the centuries, have fought to free themselves of armor. Warriors lived an exterior life, all enclosed in cuirasses and tunics; but monks had invented a habit that, while fulfilling, on its own, the requirements of demeanor (majestic, flowing, all of a piece, so that it fell in statuesque folds), it left the body (inside, underneath) completely free and unaware of itself. Monks were rich in interior life and very dirty, because the body, protected by a habit that, ennobling it, released it, was free to think, and to forget about itself… And when even the intellectual must dress in lay armor (wigs, waistcoats, knee breeches) we see that when he retires to think, he swaggers in rich dressing-gowns, or in Balzac’s loose, drolatique blouses. Thought abhors tights.
But if armor obliges its wearer to live the exterior life, then the age-old female spell is due also to the fact that society has imposed armors on women, forcing them to neglect the exercise of thought. Woman has been enslaved by fashion not only because, in obliging her to be attractive, to maintain an ethereal demeanor, to be pretty and stimulating, it made her a sex object; she has been enslaved chiefly because the clothing counseled for her forced her psychologically to live for the exterior. And this makes us realize how intellectually gifted and heroic a girl had to be before she could become, in those clothes, Madame de Sevigne, Victoria Colonna, Madame Curie, or Rosa Luxemburg.
….A final reflection—in imposing an exterior demeanor, clothes are semiotic devices, machines for communicating. This was known, but there had been no attempt to illustrate the parallel with the syntactic structures of language, which, in the opinion of many people, influence our view of the world. The syntactic structures of fashions also influence our view of the world, and in a far more physical way than the consecutio tempomm or the existence of the subjunctive.
— Umberto Eco, Lumbar Thought, 1976
You know, honestly, why do I even read magazines anymore? Why is it that I etenrally have these epic high hopes for W, as if it’s somehow naturally superior to the rest of the bullshit out there? The September issue had a few hooks reeling me in again, though — a handful of gorgeous editorials (Mert and Marcus’ stunning oversaturated wide-angle golden-hour shoot in Red Hook, DROOL, and Georgia May Jagger looking slightly less Lara Stone than usual and Lara Stone looking slightly more Marilyn Monroe than usual) AND a whole gosh-darn article on Riccardo Tisci. The fact that I slavishly worship at the altar of Tisci’s Givenchy is no secret by now (lions and tigers and monochrome tailored androgynous goth luxe warrior princesses, oh my! What else could I want in life?! Other than maybe a Helmut Lang leather jacket.) So I mean, seriously, love.
Plus, I figured maybe there’d be some interesting commentary or something. I even forgave the asinine “gender bender” cover headline since I figured “genderfuck” or at least something less rhymey and twee just wasn’t okay to put on a magazine cover, especially not after the entire universe flipped its shit because OH MY GOD TISCI USED THIS MODEL WHO IS A WOMAN BUT LIKE USED TO BE A MAN OR SOMETHING, WHAT THE HOLY HELL in his ad campaigns/runway show, cool, whatever. There was some fun shit there I was waiting for someone to talk about, and maybe even something about Rad Hourani and whoever else breaking with the menswear/womenswear shows and so on, and manskirts, and whatEVER, just make it better than that dreadful NYT article on ‘unisex’ dressing from last year or whatever.
What do you think? thought this was interesting morning midnight fodder… especially since the author recognizes it’s a heteronormative concern and it would be interesting to investigate the other side of the coin and whether it’s more celebrated…
…love the idea of vintage as hyper feminine drag… i would love to see an article about homonormativity and vintage dress…
First of all, Jezebel, seriously? Isn’t this, like, a lil’ bit ladymag for y’all? “Do men find this sexy?” is the sort of crap that makes me click ‘unsubscribe’ in Googlereader, kids. And while you retain your place on my daily blog rounds IT STILL MADE ME EXTREMELY DEPRESSED.
The Met right now has a special exhibition from the Costume Institute and the Brooklyn Museum called “American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity,” which of COURSE I’m conceptually, ecstatically losing my shit over. Let’s just quote their press release for moment:
"It will explore developing perceptions of the modern American woman from 1890 to 1940 and how they have affected the way American women are seen today. Focusing on archetypes of American femininity through dress, the exhibition will reveal how the American woman initiated style revolutions that mirrored her social, political, and sexual emancipation. "
Oh, HELL YES. Though that description is (of course) a little exaggeratedly positive and optimistic, pretty much anything involving old dresses and phrases like “archetypes of American femininity” is going to get me going. Here’s their lil’ video of the exhibit:
While I haven’t had the chance to make it uptown to see it yet, I hiked out to the Brooklyn Museum (where the Met borrowed the dresses from) with my mother today and got to check out an extension of the exhibit - ”American High Style" - a collection of 85 or so pieces meant to re-introduce the BK Museum’s couture and costume collection after years in storage. While it’s a little heavy, as expected, on the couture end of things (too many evening gowns! not enough day dresses! not everyone was rich and partying, goddamnit!) it was beautiful and well worth the trip.
Pix after the jump — excuse the sub-par quality. I WAS BEING STEALTHY with a point’n’shoot.
About a month ago I posted about having purchased an ankle-length black linen skirt, which since then has rapidly become one of my favourite things in my closet. I wear it like other women probably wear sweatpants — for lazy Saturdays at the flea market, to run to the grocery store, to walk to a cafe to work at my computer for a few hours, to hang out in the park, and basically every morning when I wake up and realise the milk soured again so I need to go buy a coffee and use this as an excuse to buy a bagel/croissant/something else unhealthy for breakfast as well. I like the way it looks, I like the angles and lines of the skirt and how it pairs with looser summery tops, I like the way the fabric moves when i walk, I like how it breaks with a lot of my sandals and summer flats, I like a number of designers who have shown similar skirts in recent seasons, I like the 90’s references it evokes, I like clothing that is kind of witchy and mysterious.
But recently I realised that something else was playing into my love of the skirt and my decisions to make it my ‘running errands’ outfit as opposed to, say, my 70’s porntastic American Apparel terrycloth running shorts — it was as cool/comfortable as shorts for hot weather, but when I wore it, I wasn’t getting hooted at on the street. My legs were covered as was the shape of the entire bottom half of my body, and I, suddenly, felt totally free to go get a goddamned zucchini muffin at 9 AM without having some creepster say good morning in a provocative way, ask me if I was a model, ask me if I was Russian or Irish (apparently being tall/thin makes you the former, and being a redhead makes you the latter), ask me if I lived nearby, whistle, tell me he liked my hair/style/eyes/legs/shoes/skirt/face/glasses, call me gorgeous, call me beautiful, call me sexy, call me senorita, baby, sugar, sunshine, darling, girl, honey, call me anything at all.
Let’s only take a moment to discuss street harassment, since we’ve beaten that almost-dead horse to death for ages by now (here are some links for you, the uninformed: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) so I’m going to assume we’re all on the same page here about that. Let’s also make it clear that I’m keeping in mind that the fact that I am white, 5’10”, nearly underweight, and have flaming red hair probably attracts a bit more “attention” than other women, and that, blahdyblahblah, street harassment is also linked to being a privileged and/or conventionally attractive women but that this is still by no means an excuse making it okay for me to be harassed, and it does not in any way justify it and being ‘privileged’ does not mean I ‘deserve’ harassment. We’re also going to disregard queer issues for the time being since we’re assuming that most men on the street see “legs” and “makeup” and “hair” and think “sweet hetero pussy hell yes!” Let’s also use the above links and the anecdotes of, oh, every other woman I know to prove for sure that I am not alone in this experience.
In southside Williamsburg, where I live now, generally I feel “unharassed” and “safe,” which means that if I am wearing a short skirt, in maybe a 30 minute walk I will have I’ll have a truck honk at me, and maybe a construction guy whistle or the bagel dude make some dodgy comment, and that the maintenance guy on the steps of my apartment buildling is going to say “Good moooooooornin’, sunshine” and I’m going to kind of give him a tight smile since after all he fixes shit in my apartment building and I don’t want him to have something against me and not fix my sink if it breaks again and wish he didn’t say it but mostly just ignore it and tell myself he means well, and that if I am walking alone at night I will carry my keys in my hand to stab out the eyes of any potential rapist/murderer but that in general, I am not extremely scared to walk alone. I will wear heels out at night and feel okay. The same is true of the LES/Chinatown where I also spend much of my time — while the harassment level there is higher (I’d say 3-5 catcalls in a 30 minute walk if I am alone and wearing something which is not a trenchcoat and baggy pants) I still feel relatively “safe” due to the large number of people on the streets, many businesses, lots of streetlights, etc etc.
As a side note, when I lived in Bushwick, it was completely different — I literally dreaded leaving my apartment because it was impossible for me to walk on the street at all without being harassed, and often in extremely direct and lewd ways. (Favourite thing said to me in the five blocks to the J train once: “Have you ever sucked a black cock before, snowflake?”) Let’s not even get into the discussion of how sexual harassment can be seen as a reaction to gentrification and the perceived intrusion of my white-and-therefore-presumably-rich-ness into the neighborhood, yada yada yada…. so we’re also going to temporarily disregard all class/race discussions (just because they deserve longer analyses and because I don’t feel like getting into privilege ping-pong of who’s worse off in the world.) The fact remained that in order to feel comfortable/safe/not angry/not like an object/target/piece of meat, I had to wear jeans and a hooded sweatshirt to walk to the train, and get to work ten minutes early to change into my skirt and heels in the bathroom of my office.
So what we’re talking about here is that wearing a long skirt made me feel more safe in areas where I felt relatively safe to begin with and places that in my mind I still had a “right” to walk safely (like, nobody would hold it against me in a court of law as a reason that I deserved to get raped if something happened there, because I’m pretty sure “living in Bushwick” is still socially construed as “asking for it” or at least criticized as “stupid and risky”) which shows just how skewed my own concept of what is “okay” — getting hooted at or greeted in a leering way seems inevitable and a fact of life as a woman, as long as nobody is following me down the street or saying really lewd things to me or jerking off on the subway platform or helping himself to a handful of my ass on the bus (all of which have happened.) And having those “low level” harassments removed was such an unexpected and enormous relief, and having that tied directly to something as simple as one piece of clothing — an ankle-length black skirt — created a lot of uncomfortable and conflicted feelings. Dressing “modestly” made my grouchy, uncaffeinated morning walk for coffee and some greasy breakfast pastry much less stressful than usual.
One of the most controversial and interesting threads over at TFS (massive fashion forums, for the unfamiliar) is the hijab style thread — the thread disclaimer requests that political opinions remain elsewhere, and the thread is composed largely of women from Muslim countries where women are socially encouraged or mandated to veil or dress conservatively sharing couture images that they are “able” to wear or that they find inspiring within their constrants (an awful lot of Rick Owens, Ann D, Yohji, Haider Ackermann, Aquascutum actually fits in here…), or images of women dressed in hijab who are also look very stylish/self-expressive/individual/powerful/wealthy/beautiful/happy/etc, as opposed to the usual images linked with oppression that the American media usually features. We can go on until the cows come home about different perceptions of feminine veiling between different countries, genders, time periods, etc (isn’t discussing this the classic example in the first chapter of every Soc 101 book out there?) and the complex politics of how religion and state interact with sartorial choices and the differences between state/male policing of the feminine body as an object, and a woman’s own choices. (A good place to start would be, of course, Threadbared, though I’d also recc’ Lila Abu-Lughod’s Veiled Sentiments which is a less political and more ethnographic assessment of modesty and social norms and methods of communication, and then about 839172 other books as well…) But again, I’m going to disregard that for now.
This is getting complex but as usual all these vague ideas somehow related to each other in my mind — religiously/nationally/socially mandated veiling and modesty, the personal and social reasons why a woman would choose to veil or dress modestly, and what these things have in common with street harrassment in a country where we are saturated with oversexed retouched impossible images of sexy near-naked women constantly all day long and where provocative clothing is (more or less) considered (or imagined and presented) to be “acceptable”, and how and why a remaining indirect unspoken pressure to dress modestly (in the sense of “safety” or “relief” one feels when one doesn’t look explicitly “sexy” and therefore is not “harassed”, for any number of reasons from not “calling attention to one’s self” to appearing like you aren’t going to be “easy,” in the sense that wearing heels can be used in a court of law as proof that you are lying about being raped so you better get smart and dress modest, etc, etc ad nauseam) is and is not similar. How does how we dress relate to our ability to move freely and comfortably in public space? How does this relate to issues of race (my being catcalled largely by men of color) or issues of queerness (my ‘looking heterosexual’, though I’m not, and how men react to all those things)? How does that relate to public space and the street? See also: fashion and politics, fashion and sex, fashion and patriarchy, fashion and religion, fashion and money, fashion and women’s bodies as public property, fashion and social freedoms, fashion and public space, fashion and urbanism and the urban environment.
The fact that I felt more comfortable running errands in a long skirt and immediately developed an intense love of comfortable-but-modest-clothing (let’s keep in mind my penchant for miniskirts, 5” heels, and red lipstick here — I don’t dress very provocatively but frumpy-chic is definitely not my thing) — because it effectively removed the stress/annoyance of street harrassment — ultimately only made me more distressed the more I thought about it. “Will men I don’t want anywhere near me try to talk to me if I wear this garment out? Is this UNSEXY enough for me to go buy orange juice without getting harrassed in some way? Should I dress frumpy all the time because it will make the world a safer, quieter, more comfortable place for me if I’m not parading around like some strumpet?” shouldn’t even have to be a factor in daily life and in how I choose to dress, but it is. If I am “choosing” to wear something “modest” because it will reduce harassment (by men) or criticism (by other women, for dressing “trashy”), how much of that is really a choice? it’s more or less the infuriating real-life extension of it being easier to wear t-shirts in my (public) high school since tank tops were banned by school dress code — shoulders being exposed would be too “distracting” to the boys around us. Remember, girls, it’s our lifelong duty to prevent men around us from being distracted and sexually aroused by us, because if they go and get a boner from looking at your tits/ass/shoulders/ankles/whatever, it’s totally your fault and BAD THINGS ARE GOING TO HAPPEN.
Dear readers — of which there are, somehow, thousands of you (why?! how?! when!?) — I know you’re all here from idle clicking or to look at photos of my shoes and of skinny girls in absurd dresses or whatever, but this is the stuff I want you to read and want you to talk about — and want to know what you think too. This is important, this is what I actually want you to read and care about and comment and talk about.
And another disclaimer: nothing I’m going to say here is new; everything are ideas expressed by other people as well, often more eloquently, and many of which I’ve posted before — Jenna at Jezebel, the girls at Threadbared, a lot of the wonderful ladies on my blogroll, some of the other commenters at Contexts, some of the lovely folks who also post at TFS — everyone has these ideas, and there is a lot more to be said about it. I’m just getting it out there with how and why I agree.
I am sick and tired of hearing that fashion is stupid, silly, inane, shallow, for girls, a waste of time, consumerist, idiotic, antifeminist, misogynistic, pathetic, etc, etc, ad nauseam, and this is why.
…being anti-fashion leads to a false notion that we can be in bodies that aren’t modified, and that any intentional modification or decoration of your body is politically undesirable because it somehow buys into the pitfalls of reliance on appearances…..
…More importantly, when we appeal to some notion of an unmodified or undecorated body, we participate in the adoption of a false neutrality. We pretend, in those moments, that there is a natural body or fashion, a way of dressing or wearing yourself that is not a product of culture. Norms always masquerade as non-choices, and when we suggest that for example, resisting sexism means everyone should look androgynous, or resisting racism means no one should modify the texture of their hair, we foreclose people’s abilities to expose the workings of fucked up systems on their bodies as they see fit.
More of that “fashion is for smrt people too" quote-mongering habit of mine….
“Fashion is an extension of dressing. It’s a very important social factor. It amuses me that fashion and fashion photography are treated so poorly intellectually. Cultural intellectuals tend to feel they’re not qualified to discuss fashion photography, or that it’s a waste of time. I even get correspondence across the forums at SHOWstudio from people who think fashion is evil. There’s a lack of understanding, a moral dismissal, and an anger that fashion, and by extension fashion photography, is a wasteful, criminal thing. I quite like that agitation and aggression, because I don’t believe it. In a society where your first encounter with people tends to be visual, you’re sort of saying “This is who I am.” I can’t imagine a society that doesn’t adorn and decorate itself and doesn’t use its outer appearance in some way as a social communication.” -Nick Knight, interviewed in Aperture 197