Monday, May 5, 2008

I'm sorry. What year did you say it is? Sexism reigns.

Julia just sent me a link to an article in the NY Times Fashion Diary, April 24, 2008, "Long Live the Dress (for Now)" by Guy Trebay. Here's the message she texted to my cellphone about it: "OMG I just read a Times fashion article that made me so mad. I'm going to email it to you." I thought, huh? What could be so anger producing? Uh, this article can, that's what.

It begins with three photos of beautiful, slim women in dresses, with the following caption underneath: "The summer dress, in all shapes and styles, is preferred by many women, and by men who like watching them."

I thought, aha, it's the caption that bothers Julia. Yes, it is a bit sexist. But, alas, I read on. In discussing the fashion industry prediction that the dress is dead, Mr. Trebay expresses his own dismay and then suggests that

"It may also come as unwelcome news to the female members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose wildly anachronistic Laura Ingalls Wilder frocks, Skechers and wave-pool hairdos have become as much an obsession in certain Manhattan circles as their polygamist habits and 416 children."

Hmmmm. Was Julia taken aback by his racist remarks about the Mormons? I just don't know. I thought I'd better read on.
It is also, for what it’s worth, unwelcome news to me.

That is because, unlike Ms. Slowey, I am not eager for women to become “a little more hard-core, a little more androgynous, a little more butch.” Yes, gender play is fun, and trousers are a useful wardrobe default for the woman in business. But unless you are Thomas McGuane and find nothing sexier than a woman with crow’s feet, tight Wranglers and suede chaps, you will have to concede that, for flattering a woman’s body, nothing is quite like a dress.
Trebay writes about Irwin Shaw.
Irwin Shaw covered all this is in his classic story “The Girls in Their Summer Dresses,” the tale that secured him a permanent place in anthologies if not exactly a perch on literary Olympus. And for all the creakiness of this warhorse about the fragile dynamics of love and desire, there remains in Shaw’s descriptions of the women on the streets of Manhattan, in their ripe young multitudes, something unexpectedly fresh and also recognizable.

Shaw wrote the story decades ago, in the era that directly preceded the feminist one that first killed off the dress, a time when women wore them all the time and not with irony. When, as Shaw wrote, “the warm weather comes” and the streets of the city were filled with women in shifts and shirtwaists and tunics and baby-dolls and sheaths, arms and legs bared, the effect they had on the urban landscape was a glorious thing.

Here are a couple of other snippets to whet your appetite.
"It’s my anti-mommy-blob outfit,” said Lesley Hartnett, who was out shopping one warm noontime last week and looking lean and sleek in a Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress. “I feel glamorous in a dress, and it’s easy.” This view was shared, it would seem, by a lot of women stopped that day by a reporter on the street.

“I’m a girlie girl,” said Jacqueline Kelly, whose flowered dress was bought for her, she said, by her mother, a tiny blond bombshell. “I find that dresses are slimming, and they cover all the problem areas and highlight all the curves.”

The dress, Jennifer Emory, another midday shopper, said: “is very easy and very flattering — a no-brainer, really. It’s comfortable, and you can easily go from day to night. And guys like it because it’s so feminine.”
Do check out the article for yourself. It's a short read and it's not rocket science. No, it's not even close.

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