Month: September 2012

Dressing for men: a rebuttal

Who do you dress for?

I bet it’s not something you ponder on a daily basis, even though, at some level, it informs every clothing-related decision you make; it influences your style, which in turns determines what clothes you buy and how you wear them.

Generally speaking, I am of the view that “your style is your business”. Unlike other areas of human endeavour, style is supremely subjective. Style bloggers who willingly wear high-waisted jeans prove that. But an article I read last week made me break from my stance long enough to write this post. In it, the writer proudly asserted her choice to “dress for men” – a choice I support as an exercise of free will, though I disagree with its merits. [I pause to add that this, to me, is the epitome of “feminist sisterhood”. I will come back to this later.] All fine and good so far. The writer then proceeded to list a number of increasingly stupid propositions – from “men don’t like red lipstick” to “men don’t like cardigans” to the final, glorious conclusion that “men don’t like feminists”. Excuse me while I execute a face palm.

And I’m back.

Before I tackle the “f” word, let’s deal with that whole “dressing for men” business. It’s fine. Just like watching what passes for programming on TLC, or reading Fifty Shades of Grey – it’s fine. It might not be the best use of your time and resources, but it’s fine. You want to lend a hand in the objectification of your body, you go right ahead. But, please, don’t be smug about something that takes so little effort. Also, this just in: men don’t care about what you wear. Not in the sense that it significantly affects their assessment of your hotness (which is, presumably, what girls who “dress for men” are concerned about). At best, it factors into their assessment of your likely receptivity to their advances (and most girls who “dress for men” are only undiscriminating in regards to whom they want to attract, not whom they are willing to accept). The discourse around the unintended and misapprehended messages of women’s attire is too swampy a morass to wade into here, but the point I want to make is simple: I’m pretty sure no guy would find Miranda Kerr any less desirable for wearing a potato sack, whilst no amount of push-up bras and guy-approved lipstick would make Susan Boyle the next Victoria’s Secret angel. So what’s the point of “dressing for men” again?

[On a related note, “dressing for your man” is also likely to be a waste of time because, if your man is anything like mine, his favourite outfit will be the one that involves little or no clothing at all. Just sayin’.]

Another reason is that men are not a monolith; as individuals are wont to do, they tend to defy broad categorizations. Some men hate red lipstick. Some men hate nude lipstick. Some men hate lipstick. Some men hate red lipstick on blondes, but love it on brunettes. Some men can’t tell when someone is wearing lipstick. Some men wear lipstick. The world is a great and wondrous place, filled with endless variety. For every masculine prototype you can muster, there are hundreds of others who resemble it not at all. So who are you really dressing for when you “dress for men”?

Who do I dress for? That’s easy: me. I don’t see why getting dressed is any different from any of the myriad other personal tasks I might undertake in a day. I don’t choose what I eat or read because of the appeal my choices might have for some hypothetical audience. What I wear, eat, or read can certainly influence how I am perceived by others, but I don’t see that as sufficient reason to edit my decisions. I have no interest in “playing pretend” my entire life; after a while, it’s simply exhausting. Oh, and for the record, I’m OK with being judged for wearing cardigans. I like cardigans. I don’t mind looking like a librarian. I loved being a librarian.

When it comes to style, I’m like the honey badger. Honey badger knows what honey badger likes, and honey badger don’t give a f*** what anyone else thinks about that. Honey badger will enjoy his honey, never mind the stinging bees, thankyouverymuch. And I will continue to enjoy my kitten heels, and my boyfriend chinos, and my cardigans, and my occasional red lipstick … and for no other reason than because I like them.

And, finally, because I said I would, let’s talk about the “f” word: feminism. Feminism is a sort of philosophical Hydra. Everywhere you look, another “version” of feminism pops up. Some are uglier than others to behold. So before anyone can venture sweeping generalizations about feminists, we really ought to make sure that everyone is on the same page about what “being a feminist” means. If the “dressing for men” writer thinks that feminists are people who “hate” men then, yes, I’m willing to concede that men probably dislike feminists. I don’t know about you, but I’m generally not overly-fond of people who purposefully antagonize me. I am also prepared to assume that there are, indeed, people who self-identify as feminists and who also self-identify as being “anti-men”. So what? There are a bunch of white people out there who are proud to call themselves racists. Would anyone be prepared to go so far as to say that all white people are racists? So, let’s try this again: what is being a feminist all about?

I consider myself a feminist, and to me, feminism is about respect. Respect for the autonomy and dignity of the individual – female or male. This is not a notion that is entirely alien to our society, just one that tends to be applied more consistently to one gender than the other. To respect someone’s autonomy means recognizing their basic human right to make free and informed decisions with regards to their person, their legal rights, and their possessions, and upholding the exercise of that right even when the result offends your religious, ethical or aesthetic sensibilities. To respect someone’s dignity means recognizing their inherent worth as a human being, separate and apart from any differentiating qualities and abilities. And differences exist. Not just between men and women, but between people in general. Not all differences are gender-based. Some personal qualities and abilities have higher social value than others; in some cases, that value is dependent on the context (cultural, temporal or other), and in some not. It’s idiotic to pretend those different don’t exist, or that they don’t have real-life implications. But the basic, inalienable worth of a human being is not contextual, and it’s not gender-based either. Recognizing it in (all) others is the minimum prerequisite for being part of (and benefitting from) a lawful, stable society.

If feminism means something else to you – hey, it’s a free country; might as well make the most of our right and freedom to agree to disagree. But to those who would condemn it, I say “have at it” … but know that you are doing nothing more than shadow-boxing with your own prejudices.

So, dear readers: who do you dress for?

Friday Flashback: A whiter shade of pale (the spray tan experience)

This week’s flashback, called a “Whiter Shade of Pale”, was originally published in April 2009.

Lindsay Lohan is a budding entrepreneur. I feel funny writing that, but it’s a kinder opening than my alternative: “Lindsay Lohan seems to have an awful lot of time on her hands these days.” Having started by designing a collection of fancy leggings (including a style equipped with built-in knee pads – the girl is nothing if not a visionary), she is now rumoured to be going into the fake tanning business. Now, I’m not sure if you’re the kind of person who reads this news and feels compelled to run out and try out fake tanning, or whether the fact that Lohan’s name is linked to such endeavour is enough to convince you to give it a wide berth. Either way, I have decided to capitalize on my first-hand knowledge of the subject, and put together another one of my educational posts, this one on the topic of “why fake tanning is not for everyone”.

Before I go any further, I feel that I should share a few pieces of personal trivia. One, I am one of Nature’s unfortunates – an indisputable ginger. Two, I am not actually capable of tanning naturally. For some reason, people struggle with this fact. I’ll break it down for you: after about 10 minutes of unprotected exposure to direct sunlight, I start to turn a gentle shade of pink. After 30 minutes, I resemble a boiled lobster. One summer, when I was 10, I got third degree burns playing at a public swimming pool for a couple of hours. The only time my skin is a colour other than paper-white or hot pink, is when my freckles get darker and start to spread; but the SPF 65 I spend my summers slathered in usually takes care of that.

Now, to continue.

Two winters ago, I decided to get a spray tan. I was heading to Cancun, whose beach is exclusively populated by people of varying shades of caramel. This time, I told myself, I wasn’t going to stick out like an undercooked hot dog amid a sea of lusciously tanned skin. I chose a spray tan because (a) home self-tanners are notoriously messy and prone to splotchiness, and (b) I can’t get a real tan. (Did you forget that already?) I booked an appointment at a reputable salon in town, and awaited the event with much anticipation. I entertained visions of myself prancing on the beach like Gisele Bundchen’s shorter, gawkier cousin. I was going to sizzle! [Ed. note: not literally. One third degree burn is enough for a lifetime.]

In due course, the appointed day came. I went to the tanning salon scrubbed, exfoliated and ready to be transformed into a tan goddess. The receptionist gave me a 10-minute explanation of the 30-second process, and popped in an instructional video for my further edification. I should have known then that my experiment would not end well. But, naïvely, I plunged ahead. The video demonstration lady did her job, appearing none the worse for wear (apart perhaps from a slight orange tinge to her complexion). She did it equipped with a couple of protective items I appeared to lack – goggles and a nose guard – but as they hadn’t been offered to me, I wasn’t too worried.

I proceeded to the private room where the spray tan booth was located. I had been instructed to strip naked prior to entering the booth (underwear optional) and put on a special kind of cream on my nails (to protect them from getting sprayed). The tricky part comes next. Once inside the booth, you have to assume the “position”: legs apart, arms bent out and away from the body, fingers splayed out like a claw. This ensures that the entire surface of your body (front and then back) is exposed to the spray. Standing in position inside the booth, like some spasmodic Superman in freeze-frame, you feel like a right twit. The really awful business comes next.

When you are ready, you press a button. And you wait. A spray tan is exactly what it sounds like – a spray of tanning solution. It is also very cold. There is no warning. For a few interminable seconds, you are hosed down. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. The spray moves down the body and then up, a movement that is then repeated a few more times. When I say that it goes up, I mean that it goes all the way up … up into your nostrils – and God forbid that you should open your mouth in shock. Eventually, it stops. Relieved, you turn around for a repeat performance aimed at your back (the “position” is slightly less ridiculous here, in case you were wondering). Of course, by now, the damage has already been done and the second half of the ordeal is a relative cake-walk. And then you have to go through the whole thing all over again a few days later, so the tan can really “take”. Sounds like fun, right?

So was it worth it? Well, two applications of the level I spray tan (the least aggressive, colour-wise) resulted in a vague yellowish-orange tint which made me look, in photos, like I had been gently marinated in orange juice. The colour was unlike anything I’d ever seen in nature; a day at the beach gave me plenty of opportunities to discover the patchier bits of the tan, where it looked like I was afflicted with some strange skin disease. I ended up scrubbing off my tan that first night, and never looked back.
In my spray-tanned glory
Being a whiter shade of pale is my destiny. Now, this is not to say that spray tans are a terrible thing. Like I said at the beginning, they’re just not for everyone. The important thing is to have a good sense of humour. You’ll need it.


Ed. Note (August 2012): I remember that vacation to Cancun vividly. It ended up being uncomfortable for other reasons as well, primarily because my traveling partner was the boyfriend I broke up with a few weeks prior to the trip. [Neither of us felt like walking away from an expensive vacation.] We were given the honeymoon suite – and we weren’t stupid enough to decline it. Free upgrade is still … well, a free upgrade. Since we remained on cordial terms, things were mostly awkward rather than tense. Traveling with a companion can be, at the best of times, a bit of a strain on one’s nerves, because it’s relatively unlikely that you end up with perfectly harmonious daily routines. I recall that on my first Mexico trip with my (now) husband, at around the day-3 mark, I had a minor meltdown and told him that I needed my space, dammit! Luckily, he took it in relatively good humour – though he periodically reminds me of my erstwhile request any time I complain about us not spending enough time together.

The other funny thing about this post is the intro. God, remember when Lindsay Lohan was still somewhat relevant? Not a complete late-night show punchline? I had to look this up, but she is still only 26 years old. Twenty-freaking-six! Her most recent foray into acting (after a stint on a Lifetime movie playing Elizabeth Taylor – who surely deserves better) has involved acting with some guy who normally works in porn. An indication of things to come? Part of me is inclined to feel sorry for Lindsay – it seems like she got dealt a crap hand when it came to parents – but then I remember that she has been an adult for quite a few years, and is responsible for any number of poor choices in the interim. Not least of all leggings with built-in knee pads.

Fashion’s Night Out!

In honour of Fashion’s Night Out – taking place today in New York – I made an extra effort with my outfit of the day, even though it’s just another Thursday at the office around here (and close enough to casual Friday to justify a more relaxed standard).

For the new fashion year (which starts in September, natch), one of my resolutions is to finally experiment with hosiery and, in particular, patterned tights. Hold on to your hats, BCRL is getting adventurous! Or not – but definitely stepping out of my comfort zone; like Duchess Kate, I tend to stay loyal to my nude panty-hose. To break out of this rut, I recently purchased three new pairs of fancy Givenchy tights featuring lovely geometric and floral patterns. What better time to wear them for the first time than in celebration of Fashion’s Night Out? Without further ado:

Skirt, BCBG; belt, Kate Spade; halter, MICHAEL Michael Kors; cardigan, Joe Fresh; tights, Givenchy; shoes, Ralph Lauren; ring, Winners

If, like me, you are interested in experimenting with patterned tights, I would definitely recommend giving these Givenchy ones a try. I found them at Winners in a variety of patterns for a not unreasonable $7.99. I think they had just come in, because they hadn’t been picked over yet – always a concern at high-traffic Winners. If you do pick up a pair, make sure to go a size up if you’re borderline (like me); they seem to fit a little bit on the small size.

Also at Winners, I found this little gem of a ring; although it is hard to see in the photo above, it works perfectly with the colours of the blouse.

Looks like fall, captured in a gem

One of the most exciting things about Fashion’s Night Out, for me, is waiting to see what exclusive nail polish colours will be released by Chanel in conjunction with this event. Last year’s Coco Blue, Blue Boy and Blue Rebel (Les Jeans de Chanel) were a huge hit, and it looks like Peter Phillips has decided to dazzle us with another trio this year, Les Twin-Sets de Chanel: Infidele, Provocation, and Delicatesse. As a fan of twin-sets, I adore the name, and can’t wait to get these on my digits. Stay tuned!