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

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

War is declared on Britain

My attention has been drawn to to this piece in the Times today comparing British and American women's appearance:

I’m recently back from a two-month sojourn in Los Angeles and New York. Maybe I have come back with fresh eyes. Maybe I have grown accustomed to the effort American women put into their upkeep. Either way, you don’t exactly need callipers to figure out in which country the women look after themselves more.

An informal poll of my US female friends revealed that they spend roughly $700 (£350) a month on what they consider standard obligatory beauty maintenance. That covers haircut, highlights, manicure, pedicure, waxing, tanning, make-up, facials, teeth whitening etc. They will spend a further $1,000 (£500) a month on physical conditioning such as military fitness, spinning sessions, vikram yoga, Pilates, deep-tissue sports massage, personal training etc. On top of that, add the occasional spa day, a week-long “bikini boot camp” in Mexico at the start of every summer and seasonal splurges on personal shoppers and clothing. I’m not sure any of my British female friends spends £700 during an entire year on her appearance. American women see these costs as a simple and sensible investment in their future.
Hard to argue with our bad nails and eyebrows, but we lack here those Vietnamese walk-in nail salons who will strip down every follicle and push back your cuticles in ten minutes flat for $30. I don't quite spend £350 a month on grooming, but it's a lot more than £700 a year.


Ms Baroque said...

Well. What a load of tosh. Maybe in NYC and LA there are subgroups of the population who have that kind of money to spend, and the aesthetic to drive it - and maybe it pleases the Times journalist to imply that she is that "glamorous" - but it is ridiculous to suggest that this behavious applies to anything like the entire population, even in any given age group.

Whoever wrote the piece for the Times should go to Connecticut! I was recently told at my father's funeral, "I can see you're from London, you look so much more elegant than the rest of us" - and I was in a little black pencil skirt from Gap, a cropped tweed jacket from Monsoon, and $20 shoes from Marshalls, with black tights. It was an intrinsic difference, to do with the conception of the outfit and what clothes are for, not merely one of degree. (I, not my sister, had instigated & paid for that morning's manicures.)

To be honest, if you wouldn't be able to get away with dressing CT-style in London (as we see in so many US tourists here), we can equally see that I stuck out like a sore thumb there.

The divide between city and suburbs or country - and even between major cities and small, provincial ones - is much wider than the divide between countries, I'm sure. And age: my mother, who looked elegant at the above-mentioned funeral, told me that very day that she's never had a manicure in her life. She was a little shocked at the £12 each my sister and I had paid.

Deja Pseu said...

Sorry, but I think that writer is an ass who's drowning in his own sense of entitlement. I live in LA, and know few women who can afford to spend $700/month on "upkeep." He must travel pretty high up in the social ether.

Polly said...

Don't believe it. That is not representative of American women.

I think elegance relies more on a sense of what is appropriate, than on money spent on upkeep.

L A Lady said...

I work for a very rich family in Los Angeles and, yes, for the under-50's set, the expenditures listed by the writer would be within normal range. The end result, however thin and blonde, is not so great - lots of grooming, but no conversation or concept of the world beyond their beauty parlors and gym, because that's where they spend all their time.

mq, cb said...

I saw this yesterday and thought about sending it to you but as Ms Baroque so succintly pointed out, it's such a load of tosh that in the end I decided not to bother.

The main thrust of Mr Safran's argument seemed to be directed at whether British women really did think that they would be able to attract a man worth having (subtext: one like him (a "screenwriter (single)") when their grooming was so poor? And by the way, there's no point in buying those shoes you like "ladies, [because] the only time a man will notice your shoes is if your feet are wedged on top of his shoulders bouncing either side of his head". This may be true but who cares whether some bloke likes your shoes? Frankly, I am not surprised that Mr Safran's friends felt the need to "sell" their acquaintance to him. Faced with a choice between him and a second helping of shepherds' pie, the latter sounds far more appealing.

In all this drivel, he completely missed the opportunity to say anything insightful about American and British attitudes to dress or grooming but then as long as he can get his end away he probably doesn't care.

materfamilias said...

Whether or not the journalist has made an accurate assessment of what is representative of either country, my quibble is with the characterization of women "looking after themselves." Sorry, but maintaining oneself according to certain standards (externally imposed, but again, that's another quibble) is not at all the same as looking after oneself!

Anonymous said...

$30 for a manicure? Not in Boston, unless you go to Newubry St. How about $15, and $20 for a French. Hi-Tech Nails on Bromfield St. downtown. Phyllis

Linda Grant said...

I have just spent literally four hours sitting on a sofa in a bar drinking cocktails with someone I haven't seen since I was a teenager and have nothing sensible to say on any subject. Apart from the fact that I bought a Vanessa Bruno dress and petrol blue patent Mary Janes, this afternoon

dana said...

Of course, the author would never spend this kind of money on his own "upkeep." And based on what we've learned about his social life, maybe it would be a good investment. It might help distract from his personality.

I'm still reeling at the suggestion that I would ever make do with a $400 dress, instead of getting the $1200 one. I've never even spent $400 on a suit.

Toby Wollin said...

Linda - I had the same experience at my 25th anniversary high school reunion. Worse yet, a girl who I had quite disliked sat across from me at dinner, leaned over close and said, "You hated me in school, didn't you?"
I'm given the curious reputation for being insensitive and brutally honest but in that circumstance I could not bring myself to tell her the truth. Looking back, given the means and opportunity, I probably would have done something quite dastardly to her and taken a certain amount of pleasure doing it.
Ah, lost opportunities.

Robin said...

Most LA Vietnamese nail places are $10 for a fantastic manicure. $12 for pedicure.

enc said...

I live in Southern California, and I work at a gym, teaching Spinning. I don't know a single woman who does all that stuff. The women in my gym—for the most part—are real women with issues of their own and families and lives. They don't drop that much cash on looking good. They spend time, not money. They come to class ready to work, and they sweat more than the men, by and large.

Now, that doesn't mean there isn't a contingent of spray-tanned women with faked-up racks swanning around the weight room, but they're a very small percentage of the general population.

That's my community, anyway. I'm south of LA, and I will admit that there is a much meatier number of faked-up/over-maintained women there than there are here. However, I contend that they're after careers in modeling/acting/entertainment, and thus must feel the pressure to work extra-hard on their appearance, unlike the rest of us.

Chaser said...

Blue patent mary janes and cocktails! I think my cranium just popped out of envy. Ow.

Whenever one of my grad students comes in and beats herself up because she's not doing as well as "so and so" I always say the same thing: comparisons stink. There are gorgeous women in London, LA, DC, NYC, Moscow, Mexico City (go to the opera there one night! See the glamorous ladies!) Paris, AND Des Moines (Yes, I've seen them there, right there, in Des Moines). There are also slovenly people in all those places.

To be honest, I am not really interested in what most men have to say about women's appearances, unless these men are playful, interesting, and appreciative like the Manolo. I could give a rat's fanny if somebody like Lagerfeld or this dude thinks I'm spending appropriate amounts of my resources on pilates or eyebrows, thank you. When he pays my bills, he gets to have an opinion--until then he's going to get ignored.

indigo16 said...

I wrote about this article too on my blog I found the tone quite offensive. I am begining to wonder if the Times is not becomming a little bit Red Top.

brooksie said...

This article has just blown up the tempers of women on the net. I read the comments in Jezebel and just cracked up.

Well, I give the guy credit for one thing, he inspired alot of HIS expense.

hampel said...

I´m 56 years old and never have had a manicure. Have I missed something? No-I have saved a lot of money which has been spent on something just as foolish. Btw- I had some pedicures a few years ago,got addicted to them ´cause the massaging part was so great. Now I do the manicures and pedicures myself.A body massage is fantastic too-got hooked with it too and decided to end it,although I have promised myself to get a treat now and then.