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Posts Tagged ‘Vogue’

Does fashion reflect the culture, or does it sometimes shake it loose?

I bring this up because we were recently on a decadent vacation and somewhere between a tamarind smoothie and a full body massage, I picked up the latest issue of Vogue and flipped to a fashion spread entitled “Risky Business.” And what did I find within those ten glossy pages?  Shoulder pads.  Lots and lots of shoulder pads.

The caption under one photo, a power chick dressed in a bold blue big-shouldered coat with the collar flipped up and with a take-no-prisoners look in her eye, reads:

In the eighties, padded shoulders were meant to make women look more mannish (read: powerful) in the boardroom.  Today we wear a broad shoulder because we’re comfortable  (read: powerful) enough to dress creatively in the office, too.

I am old enough, and enough of an unrepentant fashionista, to remember the last time we bought into the broad-shouldered look.  (I also have a number of blazers to prove it.  My favorite: a bright yellow shawl-collared number that I wore with a prim white shirt buttoned up to my neck — paired with a black leather mini-skirt.  What was I thinking? Clearly, I wasn’t.)

Back then, when we women were trying mightily to find our niche in the workplace, many of us became men in skirts.  The idea was to blend in, to refrain from calling attention to our feminine side, to be one of the boys.  And part of that fitting in was our clothes:  Big shoulders, prissy buttoned up shirts, and silly little bow ties. All of which became the uniform of the woman on the way up, a symbol of where we stood in the world of work.

And yet, we found, that wasn’t right either. If what it took to be taken seriously was to be more like a man, well — couldn’t men do that better?  No matter how we camouflaged our femininity?

As we explored in Undecided, could in fact our differences be our strengths? We vote yes.  As we penned a while back:

But what if we could tap into our authentic, feminine selves and do what we do best:  Studies show, for example, that women negotiate in a win-win manner, we’re interactive leaders, we’re sensitive to subliminal cues; we’re multithinkers, multitaskers, and are more comfortable with ambiguity.  Not to say one gender is better than the other.  Just different.  Which brings up one of my favorite bon mots from Man Men, seasons past.  The context may have been different, but you gotta love the line: “Don’t be a man, be a woman. It’s a powerful business when done correctly.”

Which leads us back to Vogue and all those shoulder pads.  To be sure, the shoulders are structured and broader than a wooden clothes hanger.   But manly?  Not even close.

And so I got to thinking — if indeed thinking is even possible after a full body massage — about what all this “risky business” might mean.   What I think these chic chicks, with their wild ass hair and red slashes of video vixen lips, are telling us is this:  whether we plan to copy the look or not, we’ve arrived.

Or at the very least, we’re shouldering our way forward.

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Here’s something you might not know: a writer generally spends as much (or more) time cutting words as writing them. And it can be heartbreaking–once you finally have your thoughts out and onto the page in clear, organized, rhythmic form, the last thing you want to do is commence a blood bath. But, assignments usually come with a word count, and editors don’t take kindly to egregious over-writing. (Egregious? Gone!) What to keep? What to cut? Every piece entails countless such decisions. So, how do we decide? A lot of ways, but there’s a saying among writers: Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings.

(I know; it’s a tad dark. But haven’t you heard? Writers are morbid.)

(Note: parenthesis are a one-way ticket to the cutting room floor.)

The idea here is that, sometimes, we come up with a clever little turn of phrase, metaphor, anecdote, or some other word-heavy sentiment that’s quite pleasing to our writerly soul. So pleasing that, when we’re going over (and over, and over) our story, looking for unnecessary, or repetitive, or ineloquent words to get rid of, we don’t even think about axing them. We adore them so much, they’re not even on our radar.

So, if we love them so, what’s up with the kill ‘em edict? Because often, they’re unnecessary. They don’t offer much in the way of facts or clarification or color. Cleverly-constructed though they might be, more often than not, they’re just a waste of space. And the truth of the matter is that a story is usually a lot better after passing through the hands of a ruthless editor.

Speaking of ruthless editors, the inspiration for today’s post was the film “The September Issue,” which I saw this weekend. In it–a documentary about the making of Vogue magazine’s September 2007 issue–there is one story line that stands out. Creative Director Grace Coddington–a bonafide genius, by the way (and, by the way, any phrase that includes ‘by the way’ would be out without a second thought)–orchestrates one shoot in particular that becomes her undeniable darling. And with good reason; to say the 1920s-inspired images, shot by Steven Meisel, are transcendent would not be much of an exaggeration. But, there were a lot of shots. And Coddington loved every single one of them. But, after a cursory review, Anna Wintour was quick to get rid of several of Coddington’s favorites, whittling the story down to a precious few pictures. Coddington was crushed.

After the fact, though, what did she have to say about it? Check this quote (and maybe take it with a grain of salt; it’s from an interview for Vogue’s website, about the film):

I also believe that everyone needs an editor. What [Wintour] does is edit and make my work stronger.

What does any of this have to do with anything? Well, it occurs to me that maybe, when it comes to the big life decisions, the many paths we find ourselves facing, we’d do well to wield the proverbial red pen. And, even, god forbid, to take it to some of our darlings. Maybe some of the energy we expend clinging to certain options would be better spent devoted to the few that really could work.

Maybe we’ve always wanted to sail around the world solo, write a novel, get our PhD–they’re lovely dreams, so we refuse to let them go. Despite the fact that we’ve never learned to sail, have no idea how to go about crafting a work of fiction, and, though we like how those extra letters look after our names, we have zero interest in actually doing the work required to earn them. It hurts to cross them off the bucket list–and, in a way, such an idea amounts to blasphemy to anyone weaned on the idea that she can be anything she wants–but I do wonder: as with a well-edited story, might our lives be stronger if we could just let them go?

And now (in honor of me finally accepting that a slot on Vogue‘s masthead is not likely in the cards–and because I have no editor), some gratuitous fashion porn.

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And now for the Friday funnies. Macleans just posted a piece on the feminism of botox, or some such, that deserves at least a minimal riff. To wit, it reports on the ruckus that ensued when Sen. Harry Reid suggested that the new health care plan include a “bo-tax” on cosmetic procedures. Opposition erupted all over the place, McClean’s reported, including from this unlikely corner — NOW:

Opposition to the Bo-tax from the American Medical Association further muddled the matter. As did its denunciation by the National Organization for Women (NOW), the largest feminist lobby in the U.S. NOW’s president Terry O’Neill argued the Bo-tax unfairly targeted women, who comprise 90 per cent of cosmetic surgery recipients —especially middle-aged women facing workplace discrimination who rely on sometimes risky cosmetic procedures to “freshen” their image.

NOW’s seemingly pro-Botox stance was greeted as a jolting about-face from its long-standing opposition to the pressure on women to conform to rigid beauty ideals. Back in 1968, two years after its founding, the group famously burned a trash can full of bras, girdles and cosmetics outside of the Miss America beauty pageant.

Now middle-aged itself, with founding member Gloria Steinem admitting to having had cosmetic eye surgery, NOW’s opposition to the Bo-tax suggested resignation with the ubiquity of cosmetic work and acceptance of its new artificial norms. Older women’s aged appearance was holding them back, O’Neill told the New York Times: “I know a lot of women whose earning power stalled out or kicked down as they entered into their 50s, unlike their male counterparts’, whose really went up.

Oh, I get it. You can fiddle with your looks if you insist you’re doing it to feed your family. (Notice I did not touch “aged appearance”.) Then you can say you’re oppressed and you’re off the hook. But if you choose to go under the knife or — to go broad with this issue, which is where I really want to go — put on lipstick or color your hair or wear a pair of drop-dead stilettos just to feed your ego, you’re clearly a victim of the patriarchy. A tool of the sexist society.

Why else would you want to look good? Because, the wisdom goes, you’re only doing this to pander to the mythical male who not only dictates the definitions of beauty, but likes ‘em young, too. (It’s beyond me why any smart woman would even care about pleasing some weenie who is much more comfortable with a starry-eyed girl ten or fifteen years his junior than a woman who is more or less his equal. But that’s beside the point.)

Anyway, hello? I’ve always seen this as a stupid and sexist way of looking at the way we look at our looks. Because let’s face it, vanity begins at home. In the bedroom mirror. There’s one big reason most of us futz with our hair, play dress-ups before we leave the house, put on makeup: It’s to please ourselves — and secondarily, each other. Significant others — or potential significant others — of the male persuasion don’t know Jimmy Choo from Jimmy Kimmel, wouldn’t know a low-light from a headlight, would rather your lipstick is off than on, and aren’t likely to pay close attention to what you’re wearing — unless it’s an old pair of jeans (and then they’re tickled, especially if it means they can dress in kind) or perhaps something Brittany Spears might or might not have worn to get out of a limo.

So I guess I don’t understand why we have to make up these silly rationalizations or apologies if we care about the way we look. We’re not going to lose our feminist card if we like flipping through the pages of Vogue, if we’re a sucker for the cosmetic counter at Macy’s, if we color our hair, or if, you know, we’re considering an eye job. We’re doing it for us.

What can be more feminist than that?

photo credit: Discover.com: Marylin Monroe (1957) by Milton H. Greene
Image courtesy of Marquardt Beauty Analysis

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