Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

A mouth painted with Chanel lipstick can still say anything it likes.

JANUARY 1993: I was standing in the offices of The Daily Telegraph being issued with a company flak jacket. It was navy blue, fastened at the sides with Velcro tabs and weighed a ton. "Don't take it off," they warned me. "I absolutely won't," I told them. I loved my new flak jacket more than any item of clothing I have ever owned. It could have been designed by Coco Chanel herself, that was how attached I was to it. Why? Because I was going to Bosnia.

. . .

I tell this story because a myth has grown up that you cannot be serious and be interested in fashion, or in anything else that defines femininity. If you read the Economist, you cannot also read fashion magazines to find out what's happening on the catwalks.

Why? Who says? People who want to put down intelligent women, I think. It's a kind of warning to the wannabe babe: hide your brains, darling, if you don't want to wear flat shoes and no make-up for the rest of your life. It's as if there is some piece of government legislation on the matter: be a babe or be a bore, it's your choice.

published in the Telegraph February 2002

(the Bag Snobs meet the Wall Street Journal here)


Thomas said...

As hard as it is for women to walk that divide, it is just as hard, if not harder, for men. I think this explains why there is so little quality writing about men's fashion, and why most men's magazines are utterly devoid of any "serious" discussion.

The number of times people in my office comment on my patterned shirts, striped socks, and even sweater vests solidifies in my mind that to dress too "differently" is to identify yourself as frivolous, as though I could not possibly concentrate on both work AND what I happen to be wearing.

Here's to men wearing suits that fit them, and women wearing whatever they want.

twollin said...

As someone who is 56 years old and was of college age in the 70s, I think this whole "if you are serious and female, you can't be interested in fashionable attire" stems from that period. This is the same thinking that was generated from the John Morris "Dress for Success for Women" where we got stuck (oh, I'm gagging here) with dark suits and blouses with little floppy bows -- the thinking was - if we wanted to be taken seriously in the workplace, we had to dress in the female version of the male uniform. Now, there are certain aspects of that argument that I will agree with: no one's brain gets taken seriously if she is wearing clothing that is showing too much skin or is cut so tightly that all the "girly bits" underneath are outlined in high relief.
But one of the other lessons of the past 40 years in the workplace trenches has shown me that in some cases, depending on where you work and what city you work in and the field, it won't make any difference what you wear. In some situations, you can't win no matter what mode of dress you have or who you are emulating. In which case, I think you should wear what pleases you and makes you feel good, as long as you are not stopping traffic or causing accidents. I think there are a lot of women who wore those dark suits and floppy bows 20 years ago, and who worked hard and tried to emulate the male style - and have looked back and said, "Damn - that sucked and did not do anything for me."

enc said...

It's a stigma that I've fallen victim to: I expect good-looking women to be brain-dead Barbies.

However, that may be because I live near Los Angeles.

George S said...

But wasn't this a strand of 1970s feminism that set itself against gender roles? The bra burning, the dungarees, the cropped hair, the general dissocation from tainted ideas of 'attractiveness', tainted because even if it was what you yourself wanted it might be what the enemy wanted?

Linda Grant said...

Quite right, George. And in a way, what got feminism such a bad name. I thought it was pretty stupid at the time.

La chipie said...

I read your article with delectation because its prejudice I just never understood and that I suffered earlier today.
I'm still a student but the number of times, I've been put down for expressing a serious interest in fashion or wanting to write about its importance in an academic context is amazing and completely ridiculous.Some of the most intelligent women I know are also some of the most elegant.
For now, I just remember my great aunt, one of the most independantly minded person I've ever met as well as an amazing dresser who wears Guerlain perfume every day.
Your Tanner Krolle sounds wonderful.

Meg the Florida Bargain Queen said...

I can't tell you how much I hate the stereotype that women can't be smart AND care about their appearance.

I graduated college with two majors, two minors, and a perfect 4.0 GPA -- and no, I didn't study basket weaving (or writing or fashion, interestingly enough). I know I'm smart and hard working, but when I mention to people that I write about fashion and style, I often sense that they look down on me as 'just one of those shallow, ditzy girls.'

The conversation frequently ends up with me feeling patronized by comments like, "Well if you studied X you'd know Y", where X and Y are often topics I know plenty about.