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.
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 (like the overused ad featuring the woman above) 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.
I just read The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control and of the many things I learned from the book is that when emotions are at risk of getting out of control, a successful strategy is to picture yourself as a fly on the wall, watching the seen unfold before you. The vantage point helps you to see what is really going on, taking you (and your ego) out of the picture just enough to view the goings on with dispassion and hopefully more clarity.
That lesson alone is worth the price of admission. And then I thought, how often women feel they are subject to more intense scrutiny based on their emotional reactions to situations. In my experience, emotional intensity, or lack thereof, is more of a human quality than a female quality – maybe there is some quantitative evidence that women respond more emotionally to things, but most of what I see is anecdotal. What if we weren’t subject to gender bias thinking on a whole slew of things? What if we looked at all kinds of areas of our lives like a fly on the wall? What might I change? What would you change?
I’ve been doing more and more of that fly-on-the-wall-thinking, let’s call it FOWT for short. So from my FOWT perch, one of the areas I’m contemplating is time-wasters. Things that I do somewhat habitually that take time, cost money, and don’t add much if any value. One of them is the myth of variety. Two areas where variety seems to me anyway, to be a complete waste of time and money is food and clothes. I like something delicious to eat as much as the next person, but in my case, cooking is simply not my thing. After decades of trying to prove to myself (and my poor friends and family) that I can cook, I’ve finally thrown in the proverbial towel. What a relief – really for everyone. I leave it know to those who love to cook, and happily focus my scant talents on a few hors d’oeuvres and what I hope is scintillating conversation. As for looking after myself, I’ve come to rely on a routine of meals to get me through the day. An omelette for breakfast every workday morning (mushrooms, leftover potatoes, bacon, cheese when I’m feeling frisky), chopped crunchy vegetables (radish, celery, peppers, snap peas) and cheese or some bit of leftover meat or tuna for lunch, and a steady stream of nuts and greek yogurt as snacks.
Dinner is more of a hit or miss operation because there are other mouths to contend with. Eventually, I will routinize that one and have done with the whole damn thing.
The second area is around clothes and specifically work wear. The outfit above is terrific. She looks great and if that’s what many women consider workwear, it is pretty standard stuff. In fact, women have been wearing that outfit or versions of it since the 20th century. But activating my FOWT, that little voice inside my fly-like ear says, that is utterly insensible. The shoes speak for themselves, and I must admit that beyond the impracticality which is now trite, there is something going on with the fetish around women’s feet that eludes me. Surely women are not buying and wearing these things because men might notice them – men don’t and most women (if not all) are smart enough to get that. So she is wearing them for herself – because she can. Because they are structural phenomenons packaged in pastry-like filigree? Because your feet and legs ache at the end of the day? So the FOWT would say, stop it. Don’t do it. Stop wasting your money, give your feet/legs a break. Let the shoe manufacturers adorn our feet with shoes as beautiful and beautifully constructed as men’s shoes. Which, frankly, make me froth at the mouth – and for a fraction of the cost.
Moving up the outfit, bare-legged or pantyhosed – those legs in February in NYC are freakin cold. How does that make any sense to a fly whose own legs are lovingly wrapped in a furry coat. We shave off our furry coat so there’s no natural warmth left. That just makes no sense, besides the fact that if you go the pantyhose route (as most northern women do) the life span is about 3 wears, longer if they’re tights but if you get half a season out of one pair you lead a careful existence. And then, dear friends, the dress. And as much as I love dresses, these are for the summer and summer alone. There are few advantages in gender-based dressing but the one that we can really crow about is the summer dress. Nothing is better when it’s 32c with a humidex of 45c than the cool delicious pleasure of a cotton sheath. Yes, men will be truly our equals when they, too, can don a 100% linen, sleeveless dress with sandals (sans socks). Barring a temperature above 25c, there is absolutely no place for a dress for those of us who are still packing some kind of lunch, and I think that’s most of us.
The point this fly is hoping to make is that we do, in fact, have the freedom to question our choices. We should take more opportunity to flex our muscles and choose what makes good sense to that fly on the wall.
A nice reminder from The Sartorialist that college/university students need not rely solely on leggings and sweatpants for their sartorial choices. A little style usually helps to lift the spirits and with the Fall semester peaking followed by pre-Christmas exams anything that gives a hard-working college student a lift is worth it.
Shop your closet and see how good it makes you feel.
To the kitchen – Make an omelette – mushrooms and bacon at a bare minimum, happy to add leftover potatoes, grilled vegetables and throw in some herbs. I focus on protein and fat in the morning.
A quick scan of my calendar to frame up the day and get my head into the day’s priorities.
To the bedroom – make the bed. The proverbial first win of the day.
I don’t shower everyday but if it is a shower day then quick in and out of a cool (not icy) shower. Touch of coconut oil/shea butter mash-up on my face and neck, a few quick strokes of brow pencil and eye liner, brush teeth and then the bathroom is done.
To the closet – a menswear wardrobe makes dressing quick as a … well, quick as a man. Socks and underwear on, grab a shirt and suit off the rack (pant legs double wrapped over the hanging bar). Think about the shoe du jour (always a lace-up, always low-heeled and leather) and then unfurl the matching belt (no knickknacks, studs, fake gemstones), on goes the watch, in goes a pair of studs, and I’m heading to the door.
Fill jacket pockets with subway pass, glasses, iPod.
Bike to subway.
Scan podcasts (often the best part of my day) with current favourites being Tim Ferris of 4 hour work week fame or Art of Manliness. Start anywhere on both and then prepare to be entertained and improved.
Arrive at destination and head outside for the last leg of the journey and enjoy the final hit of fresh air before the day begins in earnest.