Nothing says action like sitting down! That said, at least she is dressed for action. I have recently found myself scrolling (for hours) through Pinterest captivated by fashion illustrations from the first half of the 20th century, and largely focused on the menswear illustrator Laurence Fellows. I have @GreyFox to thank for the introduction – as I do for so many insights and explorations into men’s style.
As noted by the Grey Fox, the gentlemen depicted in Fellow’s illustrations are largely, older, incredibly dapper, dressed appropriately for each activity, and I have to say – extremely fit. In an ideal world for men, they all would be 6’1″, broad shoulders slim hips, and just enough muscle to do a few laps in an Olympic-sized pool before cocktails. Here are a few fine examples of the man he portrays:
And then at work:
As with so many things on the internet, one obsession leads to another, and I was determined to find the equivalent for women – to absolutely no avail. Lovely illustrations of young women in beautiful dresses, lounging, shopping are everywhere,
and then this one of a young lady struggling to get out of a car:
A woman does need a few role models and while these were not found in fashion they were around in real life with women like these:
If you think about advertising today, not much has changed. In the real world, women are operating in virtually every field at all levels (not so much at the very top) and yet most depictions are delivered through the male gaze – or at least, what we believe to be the male gaze. I wonder if men find the images of made-up 15 year olds as attractive and alluring as we believe? I give them more credit.
We know that all women love to see a grey-haired model wearing beautiful clothes and living an interesting, engaging life, because we’re all going in that direction. Like I did on my browsing binge, you have to look for the images that inspire you. Of course, you will always find them here.
“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.
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?
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:
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.’
Who am I kidding? This won’t be the last word from Yohji.
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.
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.
It’s always reassuring to know you’re not alone, or crazy. Another indication of sanity came by way of the Times Magazine article on a menswear brand offering a line of menswear for women without any of the accommodations typically made (contouring, needless frills and fancies) in these circumstances. Think about every piece of classic basics produced by virtually any manufacturer and you’ll know what I’m talking about – white t-shirts with a fraction of the cotton, wider necklines; khakis that are low rise (no!) tapered legs with a little boot cut at the finish (no!) and so it goes.
The menswear line Save Khaki has collaborated with La Garconne to get it right. What does disappoint is the somewhat desultory manner in which these are shown. Is it really necessary? Just because you don’t want the uncomfortable and inconvenient shaping of women’s clothes doesn’t mean you’ve given up on life!
Maybe they could be shown with a little more of this vibe from Ponytail Journal (the lovely and talented Lauren Yates).
Not to complain. All to be done now is hope the trend continues. And that those of us trending in this direction will refuse to settle for less.
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.