Clothes without gender

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Yohji Yamamoto SS13

“When I started designing, I wanted to make men’s clothes for women. But there were no buyers. Now there are. I always wonder who decided that there should be a difference in the clothes of men and women. Perhaps men have decided this.” Yohji Yamamoto professing his preference for gender-neutral dress way back in 1983 to The New York Times.

What strikes me is how long this notion that men and women should dress differently has stuck.  And as constrained as women are by expectations around presentation (makeup, dresses/skirts/heels/purses) so, too, are men. And boys, judging by the recent protest by schoolboys during the UK’s recent heat wave.  Why do girls get to wear skirts and boys not shorts?  Or vice versa for that matter, as witnessed by this photo.

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As witnessed in The Guardian

Now Thom Browne is adding his voice.  Interesting message, execution of long and slim with heels will inevitably lead to the hobbling walk that has plagued many a great woman, but that’s not the point.  Why not genderless dressing?  What has taken so long to come around to this simple yet still radical notion?

Thom Browne Men's Spring 2018
Thom Browne SS18

 

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And again, working those arms

As Browne told the New York Times, “It all started with these,” Browne says. They’re his own shoes from childhood; it’s a tradition in his family to dip a pair in gold and have them on display. “I was thinking about how we all start off the same — wearing almost the same clothes,” he says. “And then, it changes.”

While the women’s line has some playful yet traditional womenswear, then there is this example of what is good for the goose is good for the gander:

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A women’s appearance is no longer an indication of her spouse’s wealth, nor need it be the lure to reel in the fish.  Those notions are no longer relevant.

It might  also be helpful if the prevailing idea wasn’t to radically change one’s wardrobe each year. Even if you can’t do (afford) the absolute classics, anyone can find a wardrobe that makes sense for the cold weather, hot weather, the roads we travel and the work we do.  And if women could take more of the pragmatic from menswear, maybe men might be free to take a fraction of the liberties women take for granted and particularly as it applies for dressing in hot weather – if not a skirt, then at least shorts.

You may not approve of all his clothes but you can’t argue with Yamamoto’s thinking.  Let’s give the last word to Yohji taken from a recent interview in Dazed.

“But, after almost fifty years in the industry, in which fast fashion has replaced craftsmanship, and globalisation has promoted homogenous idea of what’s ‘in’ across the planet, he’s come to have a critical distance from our cycle of trends. ‘Casual fashion became like garbage in the world. There are so many cheap, wasting fashions. Young people look so ugly.’ How can you avoid becoming a fashion victim? ‘It’s quite easy: don’t copy your friend,’ he enunciates. ‘Don’t be one of a group. Be yourself. Stay a little bit monotone – walk on our side of the street, don’t walk the mainstream of fashion. You’ll be polluted by trends.’

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Yamamoto from 2007, the no-pantyhose dress look.

Who am I kidding?  This won’t be the last word from Yohji.

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Yohji Yamamoto

Is tech a great woman’s world?

 

Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit - Day 1
Kara Swisher in action

Yes.  Look what Sheryl Sandberg has brought to Facebook, the race to bring new women on board at Uber (how about replacing Travis Kalanick with … not Sheryl – she’s staying at Facebook) and the renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher finding the fine line between connecting with Silicon Valley and calling them on their responsibilities to their customers and broader society all the while maintaining journalist integrity.  Read her ethics statement to get a sense of this straight-talking woman.

I’ve been enjoying Kara’s podcast Recode Decode where she interviews the founders, CEOs and innovators in the tech world.  I feel smarter already.

I will commit to tracking the great tech women.  Let’s call it Tech Talks.  Are you a great tech woman? What’s your story?

LeadOn:Watermark's Silicon Valley Conference For Women
Kara interviewing Hilary Clinton

 

 

An ageing adjustment

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Model Karen Graham for Estee Lauder

If you happen to be a woman of my vintage you might remember the last of the pre-internet glory days of the fashion magazine, stalwart among the pages were the Estee Lauder advertisements.  In my view, these were the most sophisticated, promissory ads – a life beyond the commonplace – country houses, elegant and refined clothes and the flawless face of model Karen Graham who appeared in a relentless stream of ads for almost two decades.  She must have sold a lot of make-up and skincare products before she retired at 40 for a life of fly fishing.  Yes, fly fishing.

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Karen Graham’s 2nd career as a fly fisher – really

Before we get to that, here is a sample of the spectacular ads shot by photographer Victor Skrebneski.

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The remarkable thing about the campaign, and the time, is that she looks like a woman.  Most of the ads today, unless called-out to women of a certain age, are populated by girlish-looking women. There is also a decidedly cinematic quality to the photographs. It’s not enough that she looks lively, she has a life – an adult life – an interesting life.  It is the woman that is interesting, and she happens to be gorgeous and use Estee Lauder, apparently.

Back to the Karen Graham story, after retiring at the ripe age of 40, Karen  followed her passion which led to a fly fishing company where she taught (and I believe still does) and takes people on fly fishing adventures.  Can you believe it?  How interesting!  The shot in the bottom right below is of Karen as a real fly fisherwoman, and then some from a revived Estee Lauder campaign leveraging her new profession and with Karen then in her ’50s targeted to the likes of me.

Estée Lauder - Angleterre - 1999
Targeting the older woman with authenticity

She’s a great looking woman any which way you look at her.  Most interesting is how she has allowed herself to age with grace and I can only imagine what that adjustment was like for someone so reknowned for being ageless and flawless.

Above left is a photo of her in her makeup selling days, without makeup and looking gorgeous and somewhat normal.  The photo to the right is Karen now in her ’70s.  Grey hair, makeup but not slathered on, obviously an acceptance of ageing has taken place.

The point of all this is that ageing is something we need to allow ourselves to do.  To move towards, to accept changes, gradually, and get used to the changes so we can be happy with them.  Succumbing to pressures to remain perennially 35 is exhausting, expensive and particularly female.  To follow the path of least resistence is to allow yourself to have grey hair (if that’s what you want), to accept changing skin and lines (as men do so easily even in their ’20s), and to refuse to let the ageing process define your opportunities.  Much has been written about accepting age – we can do a better job of making this easier, and the more we accept ourselves the more likely the culture will accept us as ageing, while still being more than capable of contributing to whatever endeavours we choose to pursue.  Even fly fishing.

KG now

Links & resources

Fly Females: Six women who are revolutionizing the world of fly fishing – a bit of fun showing how women the march of progress

Art of Manliness – How to cast a spinning reel – this site is a wealth of tips and knowledge on everything a great man and woman might want to know

 

Avoiding perfection

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Mad Men women

There are so many views on perfection:  It is the key to success or a recipe for dissatisfaction.  It can never be achieved, it is the only way to achieve.  It can drive passion or foster unhappiness.  What is a great woman to do?

We are all too familiar with the pressure to look perfect and the tired tale of the role advertising continues to play in convincing us that perfect hair, nails, makeup, clothes, legs, arms, abs – I could go on – is the route to happiness, success and romance.  That is a load of nonsense and I hope you, dear reader, have let that go.  It’s a bit like meditation, you have to practice releasing these thoughts consciously before it becomes second nature. The critical move is to start questioning the value of what you do on a daily basis to get yourself ready to face the world.  Removing one bit of bondage at a time is a good way to test the value of your efforts.

What of other pursuits? Is perfection an idea or a standard?  As an idea it enables you to think something through to what you hope will be its natural conclusion.  You ponder and introduce new ideas, reject others.  It leads to practice and improvement, accomplishment and confidence.  As a standard it may become a relentless dictator, leading to processes and procedures that give the illusion of achieving perfection while driving those around you (not to mention yourself) absolutely crazy.  When I think about the people I enjoy working with and for, they are the ones who look at a thing from every which way to arrive at clarity.  The ones who try to turn perfection into a standard and a specific way of behaving and recording, can become rigid and critical,  labeled as a merciless micro-manager – demotivating and alienating everyone in their path.

The quest for perfection seems to be rooted in criticism.  Criticize the young relentlessly and you will render them slaves to perfection.  This is so true of children but also true of people embarking on careers.  Criticism can bring the brightest soul to their knees, and they recover their stance often through the pursuit of perfection, second-guessing themselves, working long, fruitless hours, and in turn rendering them in turn as employers who wreak the same havoc on their employees.  I don’t think the perfectionist drive is gender specific, but I do think women have often compensated for a lack of power (perceived or otherwise) by subjecting themselves and others to standards of perfection that are not valuable.  I know women of my generation, many of whom entered into professions and workplaces still largely dominated by men (and if not by men alone then certainly by male-thinking) found that on the outer edge of acceptance, the path forward seemed to call for pushing harder than everyone else –  dotting more ‘i’s’ and crossing more ‘t’s’ . I understand all that very well.  I also know that it is behaviour we don’t want to pass to the next generation of working women and certainly not to our kids.

A woman can and will be great without being perfect, distinguishing between constructive and ruinous criticism, by focusing her energy on the stuff that provides deep satisfaction. By letting the small things go, by actively leading a balanced life, pursuing interests for pleasure and accomplishment, without expectations of perfection. Don’t let perfection stand in the way of learning something new, doing something differently, or pursuing an interest.  If you’re not perfect, don’t worry, you don’t have to be.

I would be interested in the role perfectionism has played or not played in your life.  Let me know.

Links & resources

Become the woman of your dreams – a great TED talk that says it all so much better

Modest style: A trend or a shift?

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Margaret Howell SS17

This recent article in the NY Times on the trend towards modest dressing is one of several over the last year.  The skeptic in me wonders if it’s a natural part of the buying cycle – sheer, short and tight have been in, shopping is declining, time to launch a new trend – loose, covered, and long. So the question is, are we looking at a trend or a fundamental shift?  Let’s consider.

It’s fair to say you will consume what is available, and for those of us not inclined to wear low-waisted, tight pants, sheer tops and short skirts, the last decade has been a challenge.  A change is welcome.  But the change I’m look for is one beyond the buying cycle.  Have we reached the point where we will no longer select clothing through the lens of the male gaze?  And to be fair, it is a perceived understanding of what men find attractive.  Mass media frequently underestimates their discernment often reverting to cliche.  What options have they had?  The infiltration of pornographic images into mainstream media, proliferated by the internet and sadly, the music industry, have inundated all of us with a narrow view on what is attractive.  Fortunately, for the vast majority of women, the level-headed man does not embrace the cliche, though I think it is a particular challenge for young men and boys developing into men to keep a balanced perspective.  It’s said that the formative years are where many of your life-long perspectives develop (guilty as charged – still love the clothes of the ’70s and that’s what I see coming back into play now) and so what the young of today have witnessed in clothes, behaviour and culture in the last decade will inevitably have an impact.

How will we know if it is indeed a shift rather than a trend?  Hard to tell what the future holds.  It’s really up to us to make the first move – to dress for our gaze alone.  To rebalance priorities that focus on our taste and comfort, and for what helps contribute to a reasonable approach to consumption – one that doesn’t jeopardize financial security.  If we can resist the lure of new for the sake of newness, break the compulsion to buy, spend our time on more rewarding (and often simple) pursuits than shopping, then we will be in control of whether it is a trend or a shift.  That’s real power.

Links and resources:

For more on modest dressing

The sublime style of Margaret Howell

A bit of women workwear from Nigel Cabourn

The reliable and affordable classics from Muji

 

An even younger you

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Nothing about this post is new.  The relentless pressure to, if not look 25, then at least be seen to be working at it continues. It is, of course, behavioural control which if we worked together, would lose it’s power.  So let’s work together on this one.

It’s one thing for women my age who are endlessly targeted with before and after images of what one sort of filler or another can do to change our features, it’s quite another when the women targeted are even younger, and from what I can see in the younger women I know, they are succumbing to the pressure in alarming numbers.  When you’re my age-ish the issue is primarily one of employability.  Does having a few lines and gray hair signal your thinking is beyond value?  That seems to be the inference. (Though it does make me wonder why so many male CEOs and board directors are well into their 5th, 6th and even 7th decades.) I’m fighting the resistance there and we’ll hope I will succeed in overcoming the oppressors.  If romance is what you’re after then any potential mate who defines him/herself by the age of their partner has issues and that sounds a bit exhausting at my stage of the game.  I’d rather shovel some snow. That’s where I stand but I largely stand alone when it comes to naturally graying hair, and a naturally ageing face.  I can’t really fathom the energy and expense required to be in your 50’s and have to try to look even 45.  It would be a fulltime job for me.

When women in their 30’s and 40’s are choosing intervention to change the nature of their lovely faces, that’s a worrisome thing.  Let’s face it, a woman’s 20’s are not the easiest time, and here’s just a sample:

What am I doing with my life?

How will I make a living?

Who am I?

Who are you?

Do I like this?

Is this normal?

Do I really have to put up with this?

You know what I’m talking about.  It’s tough, and though it was a long time ago for me, I certainly remember those years as being full of ambiguity and indecision.  What is easy, is that you look young.  More like, deer-caught-in-the-headlights young.  And that has it’s attraction. But once in your 30’s you’ve sorted a lot of this stuff out, and through the sorting out you’ve gained character, maybe become more of who you are (personality) and gained a modicum of wisdom.  That will change you inside and out.  It’s really only the relentless force of consumption that puts a negative lens on any of this.  Yes, you won’t be mistaken for 19, but you’re all those questions don’t leave you reeling anymore.  There is also the crushing pressure to have a family, whether that is really the right choice for you or not (more on that in an upcoming post).  This pressure requires a mate, and so the all-consuming distraction is around attracting and securing said parent in a timely manner.  The other scenario is that you nailed the partner/kid thing but the relationship did not survive the effort and you find yourself in your 40’s with a keen desire to find a better match.  All reasonable motivations, all ripe for youthful interventions.  Men are also being targeted for many of the same messages.  There just seem to be a larger number of them who don’t seem to care.  The parallel issue (and one that we’ve all commented on) is how an ungroomed/unattractive man frequently attracts his polar opposite.  While I don’t think women are any better than men at spotting the ‘good’ in people, I do think that men have not been effectively marketed to, and so women may simply have lower expectations around what the potential might look like.  If you’ve ever heard a man comment that he likes a woman with long nails then you know the power of advertising.

Now if we were all to stop this nonsense then expectations would reset.  We could all stop sporting long hair and bangs into our 50’s when we’d really rather just let those curls curl, wearing short short, tight skirts with 4″ heels when we could wear a long, full skirt, or even a men’s cut suit (me), cut off those skinny jeans once and for all (and I don’t mean into shorts) and present ourselves fully as individuals – clean, mind you – but without fillers, buffers, paints and plasters.

What say you?  Shall we go for it?

P.S. More on family life in an upcoming post.  And I warn you, I don’t hold back.