Tag Archives: sexism

We don’t want your summer music festival fashion tips

I like music. I enjoy live music. I go to see concerts. I’ve been to more than a few music festivals over the years.

I’m also pretty stylish and interested in fashion.

So why is it that every music festival related fashion story makes my blood boil? Why are they all so soaked in vacuous sexist assumptions? Why does every “festival fashion round-up” present a very limited spectrum of body types, and tend to be overwhelmingly female?

I’m thinking about this now because it’s the summer and it is everywhere. Osheaga is kicking off this weekend in Montreal, and here’s just a sampling of headlines:

Link after link, are we really encouraging women and girls to think more about what they look like than about the experience of enjoying music performed live? For real? I’m not surprised by fashion brands hopping on the “female music fan” bandwagon when festival season comes around, but I am dismayed by the tone employed by so many fashion writers.

This isn’t even about telling women how to dress – I really could go on and on about how impractical many of the suggested “looks” are, but that’s not what this is about. For years, I’ve been ranting about the ridiculousness of white girls wearing headdresses (from Halloween costumes to music festival “accessory”) and more recently bindis. But now that it seems we’re slowly starting to be on the same page (see link above) about how shitty those “music festival fashion choices” are, now I’m reminded of the bullshit female music fans have to put up with any time they decide to go to shell out hard-earned cash to go to a music festival.

First things first: you do not have to gender this shit.

If you’re hell-bent on taking photographs of fans at music festivals, include dudes. Better yet, try and reflect the crowd in your selection of 5-10 outfit photos. Are fashion writers, photographers, even considering about how they are representing communities by only highlighting a handful of conventionally attractive tall skinny white girls in their round-ups? The ever-amazing Jes Skolnik mentionned how fat people are rarely ever featured earlier this summer, and it has really stayed with me.

Yearly reminder to festival fashion photographers to include some fatties in your roundups. We, too, look cute as shit (and we have to work harder at it because of how society views chubby/fat bodies as inherently slobby). modernistwitch

But there’s something more that gets under my skin about these “festival fashion round-ups”: it’s one of the exceedingly rare mainstream moments where I see women represented as music fans, included as part of the conversation as music lovers. Why does it have to be all flower crowns and denim cut-offs?

Perhaps it’s because I feel these issues are so conflated with other sexist bullshit that permeates the music industry. Underscored by experiences I’ve had as a teenager who started going to punk rock shows at 15, 16, and never really wondering why I wanted to dress like the boys, meld in with the boys, to be seen as anything other than a girl. Because I knew what being seen as a girl could mean. Maybe it’s because I’ve been, and I’ve known many other young women, who have been sexually harassed at shows. Maybe it’s because I took to wearing steel-toed boots, not because of how they looked, but because it made me feel like I had a weapon on my feet if the wrong guy decided to touch me the wrong way, again and again, in the mosh pit. Maybe it’s because I’ve overheard one too many bro dudes tell me how the band on stage is “pretty good… for a girl band.” Maybe it’s because I’ve read one too many concert review which spilled far more ink on how a female performer was dressed rather than how she played her instrument, how she sang her songs, how she connected with the crowd.

Now that I’m older I care less. I care less about what people might assume about me, about my knowledge of bands because I don’t wear band t-shirts, because I don’t look like I would have band x in my record collection. I care less, mainly because of the people I surround myself with. I’ve made really great friends – hell, I even met the love of my life in line for a concert I impulsively went to by myself. Because it’s easy to make friends when you’re there because you genuinely want to be there. I don’t go to music festivals to socialize, to impress strangers, I go to enjoy live music, to support the artists who tour their butts off, and to have fun.

A selfie of the writer, garconniere, on her way to see Sylvan Esso in Montreal on June 18, 2014

Just last month, I ended up at the wrong venue in a city I still manage to get lost in even though I’ve visited more than a dozen times. Instead of at La Tulipe to go see Sylvan Esso and tUnE-yArDs, I ended up faced by a long line of mostly tall lanky long-haired white dudes dressed in all black. The clock was ticking and I realized I was at the wrong venue, but briefly debated going to see Xiu Xiu and Swans instead. As I was getting my bearings, I overheard one of the men in the crowd say “Someone’s lost.” It might have had nothing to do with how I was dressed. It probably had more to do with the bewildered, slightly frantic look on my face as the feeling of being lost sunk in. But it felt like a jab. It felt like a judgement, an assumption about what kind of music I would go to see live… because I was a girl in a dress.

It was a reminder, though, that even though I don’t particularly care, I’m lucky because I don’t have to care. I’m privileged not just because of my size and gender, my confidence and my friends, but because of where I live. Because the music scene I’m a part of in Quebec City is really exceptional. Because the music scene I used to be a part of in Peterborough was pretty awesome too. Because I don’t have to worry about being harassed or touched without permission in a concert crowd. Because there are festivals and off-shoots run by badass people who think about gender diversity in their programming, on their stages, and in their crowds. Because my record store is co-owned by a cool couple who never make me feel like they are judging me when I go up to the cash register with my choices.

Photograph of crowd at Festival OFF

Photograph by Maryon Desjardins

I found myself reflecting on that privilege I have after I saw this photograph Maryon Desjardins took of me, as Viet Cong wrapped up their set at Festival OFF. I didn’t know there was a camera there. I didn’t know someone had taken a photograph. And when I saw it, I loved seeing the look on my face. Remembering the feeling of that long drawn out song, the jangling guitars, the intensity of the room. Remembering that I went to this show by myself, who cares, because I wanted to see good live music and it was so fucking good and you can see how good I thought it was because I’m there, in the moment. And it was a reminder that I live in a place where I’m lucky enough to do that without worrying about what people might think of what I’m wearing, or far more importantly, worrying about my physical safety.

It strikes me more when I’m online, when I see these click-bait garbage lists over and over. It makes me worry about the young girl I used to be, the young people not entirely unlike the person I used to be, insecure and thirsting for community, for something to give them a sense of purpose, peppered in small towns around the world. It makes me worry about the young people whose access to music and the communities that build around them are limited or filtered by what they can find online. I worry they might think there’s only one way of looking like a music fan, and it involves wasting your money on destructive fast fashion.

Can we stop this ridiculously reductive way of speaking to young female music fans? I want to be part of a music scene that fosters, encourages, and creates spaces for young women, for diversity, for accessibility, for safe spaces. No one should be left feeling like they have something to prove. I shouldn’t envy the experiences of so many of my straight male friends who get to go to shows, be as enthused or unenthused as they want to be, without wondering if people are making assumptions about their knowledge or taste in music based solely on their gender or race or size or style.

Why waste our time with these stupid lists every festival season; let’s invest our time in more worthwhile battles. What are some of the festivals with the highest rates of gender diversity on stages and in the crowds? How do we create cultures at music festivals where we are working to prevent harassment, rape, and offering resources and support to people who find themselves in unsafe situations? What are some of the music festivals that make diversity part of their mandate? What are some of the most wheelchair accessible outdoor music festivals in the world? Who are the singers, the activists, the guitarists pushing for fostering creative spaces for growth and expression through music, like rock camp for girls? How do we empower young music fans to create the kind of music scenes they want to be a part of, instead of encouraging them to spend money on clothes for a 3-day music festival that will hopefully be more memorable because of the amazing music you got to hear?

So thank you to the people who smash this shit down on the daily. Thanks to the people writing about the latent sexism present in a plethora of music scenes. Fuck your condescending capitalist bullshit disguised as festival fashion tips. I’ll save my money for the merch table instead of your shitty magazine.

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Filed under music, personal

Material Mayhem

The month of May was one filled with more stories about the fashion industry’s failings than you could shake a stick at. It felt daunting to attempt to keep up with it all. And now that we’ve turned the page on the calendar month, the momentum to keep these important conversations going is dwindling. 

Then, I recognized I had barely made a peep about it here, on what I often refer to as “my real blog.” I’ve written about it a bit all over the place, but without any sort of cohesiveness. I am trying to resist the urge to share thoughts constantly, as they pop into my mind, to share them in the endless streams on Twitter or Facebook. For equal parts archival purposes, I’ll post longer versions of conversations. Let’s begin with something I shared on Facebook on May 24th:

Frustration of the month: the desire to publicly criticize clothing companies whose policies you disagree with – but would never shop at in the first place. I’m very happy to see people think critically about clothing brands, but can’t help but wonder what the end result is. Whether it be American Apparel, Abercrombie & Fitch, Urban Outfitters,  Joe Fresh… I have been seeing this ad nauseum in my Facebook and Twitter feeds.

 

Thing is, the people sharing these links are overwhelming the people who have never/would never shop there in to begin with. The main criticism seems to be about size availability, or explicitly sexist marketing/branding. Are these the most “popular” reasons to criticize a brand? Why aren’t we lauding the companies and brands that we believe do a good job? That design and sell quality products, and respect their workers?

 

Why do we spend so much time and energy in attempts to hold the white male CEOs of shitty brands to account, when they’ve built their empires on these very same toxic attitudes?

 

Wouldn’t you rather laud brands who have challenged those notions?

You can read what my very smart readers had to say by visiting my Facebook page. What do you think? 

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Filed under Uncategorized

Questioning the Meaning of “Ethical” Fashion

In late April, I received a thoughtful email from a long-time reader, and asked if I could share it and answer it publicly:
Hello Julia,

My name’s Dawn and I’ve been reading à l’allure garçonnière for years as well as following on LiveJournal for some time. I am writing to you today because I’m attempting to practice more of what I preach and end my support of clothing companies that sell pieces made in sweatshops as well as contribute to many societal issues.

My question is: do you just shop thrifted and vintage for everything? When I attempt to do that, I still feel that I struggle with finding non-Gap, H&M, Urban Outfitters, etc. brand clothing that was made in a way that I don’t want to support. Do you ever support some of these brands that you know use unethical business practices if the items are second-hand? Do you also support newer brands, and if so, have you ever shared which you do in a blog post or on a list somewhere? Do you have a knowledge base of brands that treat/compensate their employees ethically/don’t contribute to our mainstream warped views of beauty or do you do research before new purchases? (Sorry, that was a few questions in a row!).

I feel that finding new clothing that is made in a way that I support ethically is sometimes near impossible, and when it is it’s generally well out of my price range. As much as I’d love to deck myself out in sparkly couture that’s not my reality right now.  Also curious about everyday clothing items like bras/underwear, socks, tights, shoes, etc. I imagine finding some of these used might be tough (or weird?) and wonder which brands you feel are okay to support for items like this.

I’m also vegan and don’t wear any products that come from animals at all, so that makes things even a bit harder than they would normally be.

Any resources, thoughts or tips that you have or are willing to share would be appreciated. Thanks so much for your time and for sharing your writing with the world.

A longtime reader/supporter/fellow queer feminist,

-Dawn

A lot to get into here! Let’s break it down:

Do you just shop thrifted and vintage for everything?

Pretty much. Recently, I have stopped purchasing clothes pretty much altogether – new, vintage, thrifted or otherwise. This is due to a combination of factors: having accrued a wardrobe I know and love over the course of ten years (and staying relatively the same size), working full-time, and researching the (Canadian) fashion industry.

When I was younger, though, my initial draw towards thrifting was largely due to the fact that I loved being able to express myself through fashion – without feeling guilty about spending the small amount of money I had, or the guilt of buying new (creating waste, guilt over $$$) and potentially supporting brands that used sweatshops to produce their goods. When I was about 15 or 16, I had a particularly fierce anti-corporate stance, confident brand boycotts were the most effective tactic to employ. Also, I was never particularly enthused about the idea of wearing the same clothes as my peers.

Later in life, when I was underemployed, I had all the time in the world to thrift… but no money for anything other than food and rent. The funny thing about working a 9 to 5 – Monday to Friday schedule is that my free time doesn’t match up with the hours of the thrift stores in my town, and I just don’t have the time to scrounge the way I did five, ten years ago (as much as I love a good hunt). The small amount of new clothing I own falls largely into the category of “new to me” – mostly thrifted, aside from gifts and/or the occassional irresistible deal.

1940s British War Propaganda

1940s British War Propaganda

This year is also the first time I found myself a tailor. I brought a bag of dresses I had been holding on to but hadn’t been wearing for years because of varying small defects – the hem had fallen out, holes along the seams, etc. After swearing I’d find the time to mend them myself, a friend suggested a local tailor. The feeling of having “new” dresses from simply taking them to a local tailor and paying a small fee? Unreal! Highly highly recommended.

Short version to this question: I mostly buy thrifted and/or vintage, except for shoes and underwear.

Do you ever support some of these brands that you know use unethical business practices if the items are second-hand?

First things first: I think it’s a slippery slope to infer that by purchasing a piece of clothing (whether the item be purchased at their store, or second hand) that you are categorically endorsing everything that company does. This is something people of many varying political perspectives often infer, and it always slightly irks me.

“Support” here is the tricky element. Yes, I have purchased items of clothing from brands whose practices/advertising I despise. There’s at least one Urban Outfitters dress in my closet, and I used to love American Apparel’s thigh-high socks (I say “used to” because they changed designs, and also because I no longer live in a city with an AA store). This reminds me of part of a conversation I had with Jes Sasche back in 2010 about American Apparel. This is probably the clearest example of a brand that supports unions, decent wages for its garment workers… but then has questionable ad campaigns at best… while the company’s founder and CEO is known for sexual harrassing and assaulting models and employees at worst. I asked Jes for her thoughts on it, and it comes back to me quite often:

Me boycotting AA is ridiculous. You show me a fashion line that rocks my disability politics. None of ‘em do! I’ll wear what I want to, because my body, like everything else, contradicts itself.

There you have it: how do you define a clothing brand you want to enthusiastically support? You are a fan of the designer behind the brand? Do you buy things that you like, exclusively from companies that represent the same political perspectives as you? These questions are complicated even moreso when we add things like body politics, disability politics, whether you try to buy exclusively vegan, etc.

All of these conversations boil down to the question of how you define “ethical.” The Western conversation is endlessly dominated by “sweatshop = bad” or (often tinged with xenophobia) “jobs overseas = jobs taken away from my country” tone. Let’s dig deeper than that.

Does buying second-hand automatically mean buying “ethically?”

Another conundrum when it comes to second-hand: when you buy from a thrift store, the money does not go to brands or the companies that made the clothing in the first place – it goes to the thrift store or church or organization that is selling it. There are questions there, as a queer woman, about whether or not I want to be “donating” to certain charities that, say, endorse racist, sexist, or homophobic organizations. Those are the bigger questions I ask myself when thinking about where to thrift. But that’s a whole other can of worms…

I should also note: in my case, brand logos are never visible on the clothing I buy (if I were a t-shirts and jeans kind of person, this would be different obviously) so this isn’t really a question I ask myself.

Do you also support newer brands, and if so, have you ever shared which you do in a blog post or on a list somewhere?

Good question. Recently I’ve found myself really interested in Quebec-based brands, and Canadian companies that try to produce clothing – from the designs, to the sewing, to the selling – in Canada. I haven’t done enough research to attempt to compile a list, but that is definitely a project worth embarking on and I’m glad to be asked about this. Do you know of any fashion bloggers that do this? Leave a message in the comments!

Do you have a knowledge base of brands that treat/compensate their employees ethically/don’t contribute to our mainstream warped views of beauty or do you do research before new purchases?

This is another phenomenal question I wish I had the answer to! Generally speaking, I really don’t shop much so this isn’t something I encounter very often. That said, with basic online research skills, this could probably be relatively simple to do. Has anyone come across a resource list like this?

When it comes to vegan items, I’ve gotten most of my tips from friends. I follow some vegan fashion lovers online as well, and keep my eyes peeled. That said, a lot of the things I find in my online hunts are mostly made abroad that are totally out of my price range. Quandries.

You know what helps me though?

Reminding myself I don’t need 99% of this shit.

Untitled, from Everything is Necessary (2012) by Nikita Gale

Untitled, from Everything is Necessary (2012) by Nikita Gale

Capitalism has a way of convincing us our material things are what make us who we are. That the clothing we wear is a reflection of our worth as human beings, especially as young women. I constantly struggle with my affection for fashion and my distaste for the fashion industry. I struggle because of the empowerment I’ve found through expressing myself with my clothing and style, all the while never having the wallet, desire for high-end brands, nor the materialistic drive of someone who would proudly boast the label of clothes horse or “fashion lover.”

At the heart of a lot of these important questions is the challenging the systemic inequities we know exist in the fashion industry. For as long as I’ve loved to get dressed, questions around what impact my consumer choices may have at some point down the line have come up again and again. When I was younger, I was more concerned about the marketing choices and ad campaigns of the companies I bought clothing from. Now, I find myself more concerned about the environmental impact, whether items are vegan or not, whether the person who made the item was paid a living wage.

Capitalism Is The Cri$is

Montreal, 2012

It’s easy to feel like you’re listening to a broken record.

This past month, The Current interviewed a guest who famously made Kathy Lee Gifford cry in 1996. 1996! and he is still involved in trying to find a solution to sweatshop labour!

Worse yet, the situation in some Bangladesh garment factories echoes some of the tragic incidents that took place in North America a century ago. Yes, a century. The importance of labour unions and governments when it comes to corporate accountability cannot be understated. The creation and growth of unions in Canada’s textile factories often meant their closure a decade or two later – namely because companies know they can go elsewhere for cheaper labour. When interviewing countless Canadian fashion industry experts this past November and December, one recurring answer to this question kept coming up: people, especially but not only young women, have become accustomed to owning and wearing more clothing and paying less for it.

Asking questions about which companies pay their workers – along every step of the way – a living wage, and generally operate in an ethical manner is important. Some answers are easier to find than others. In the end, my answers for Dawn aren’t very conclusive. In short, the Internet is a great resource. Thinking critically is important. Check your sources. Ask questions.

La majorité, c’est vous

Keep the pressure on. Contact the companies you do support, recommend them to your friends. Contact the stores you think have the most egregious errors, let them know why you won’t shop there.  Don’t forget to look at the big picture. And keep fighting the good fight.

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Filed under fashion, politics, shopping, Uncategorized

what you’ll never find at à l’allure garçonnière: red carpet fashion reviews

as most of you know, i’m on tumblr. for the most part, i like to follow critical feminist tumblrs that often post interesting photography, great quotes, links to interesting fiction and non-fiction, and so on and so forth. i discover a lot of inspirational and amazing things via tumblr. but sometimes, as in the rest of my (internet or everyday) life, there are moments where i feel… shall we say… alienated?

one of those particular times is during what i refer to as “peak pop culture moments:” a long-running television series comes to an end, a celebrity who i have never heard of does drugs and it is a BIG. DEAL, an a-list couple gets divorced, etc. many critical people love their fair share of pop culture, and i’ll give ‘em that. that’s cool. i mean, i’m not going to lie; it’s often strange for someone like myself, who doesn’t own a television and consumes relatively little mainstream culture, to see images of mainstream media sandwiched between an audre lorde quote and calls for safe and legal access to abortion services. but it’s cool! i mean no judgement by acknowledging its existence. the point of this post is not to call out feminists who are attempting to marry their love of america’s next top model with their criticisms of the modelling industry and body policing. (all of this reminds me of teresa chun-wen cheng’s zine, dirty (un) feminist secrets).

image of the cover of a zine by teresa chun-wen cheng. it reads dirty unfeminist secrets and is a drawing of an "upskirt" photo

but! what i do want to talk about is what i find potentially most alienating about pop culture. no, it’s not beauty pageants (they seem like this incredible archaic vestige of gender norms and femininity whose allure i cannot deny… plus, have you seen drop dead gorgeous?) no, it’s not that: it’s award shows. more specifically, the red carpet that happens before an awards show.

award show red carpets are perhaps, in fact, the pinnacle of what i loathe about pop culture, and what i cannot for the life of me every bear witness to without feeling ill and generally an overwhelming feeling of alienation. since the golden globes happened earlier in january, and now with the oscars happening today, i know regardless of whether i care or not, i will be seeing what celebrities wore and i keep on trying to put my finger on exactly why they bother me so much… so here is me trying in words.

when the entertainment television shows and blogs were abuzz with who wore what on the red carpet of the golden globes this january, it was martin luther king jr. day in the states. of course, they weren’t only talking about what people were wearing; this year, the most talked about topic was probably how many people host ricky gervais offended with his jokes… and i think some people won some awards for some stuff? but that doesn’t really matter. the stories we talk about after the trophies are handed out, however, are who was wearing what. but this is my problem: people aren’t talking about clothing. rather, more often than not they are actively engaging in really shitty body policing and shaming attitudes that masquerades itself as fashion commentary. and we are the ones consuming it.

[image description: an artistic installation made with pink neon lights. the word "beauty" is spelled out, but the lights blink to light up two words in that one word: "buy" and "eat"] (if anyone knows the name of this artist please let me know!) operations are standing by by jean bevier

the body shaming/policing

for those uninitiated few, the basic premise of the red carpet is as follows: have the stars and creators of hollywood movies arrive so they can be photographed for the press before going into a theatre to watch their movies. this of course has extended to award shows, and expanded from its originally small hollywood publications and radio, to television and the internet. (sidenote: i would source these statements if i could but when you google “history of the red carpet + awards shows” most of what you find is a bunch of celebrity gossip about who wore what. how apropos.) today, in 2011, we broadcast the red carpet on television, and talk about who wore what in as many media as possible. the main commentary is still made by a few paid “red carpet reporters” whose job it is to yell the names of celebrities until they look in their direction, in an attempt to get a moment of their time and find out what brand they are wearing, who did their hair/makeup, and how expensive their jewelry is.

we, the viewer, are encouraged to make judgements about who is the best dressed and who is the worst dressed. there are always, of course, unspoken rules about what clothes are “appropriate” for the red carpet and/or suited to the celebrity’s “body type.” this is where we get into the territory i find murky and uncomfortable.

think about the language used when a joan rivers type is describing what someone is wearing. think about it as you’re watching or reading red carpet coverage of the oscars today. joan rivers is known for being unforgiveably mean when panning fashion choices on the red carpt. in once case, she describes a dress as “fashion birth control” because, of course, women only dress to be perceived as fuckable (by men, of course) ((this is namely my problem with the entire concept of the man repeller but that is another blog post)). not to mention who is assigned to be a red carpet reporter; namely comedians, “celebrity reporters,” and in more recent years (gay) male fashion designers. this propagates a culture where a “reporter”/fashion designer can grope a woman’s breasts without her permission, and it’s alright (well, not quite alright if you actually ask the person who was groped – NSFW link). and of course this is often argued that it’s to “touch the fabric” or see how the dress is built, where it is simply reinforcing the idea that women’s bodies are accessible at all times. for the purposes of my critique, i’d argue that there is very little differentiation made between what a person is wearing and what that person’s body is like or worth, and this touchiness speaks to that question. but also, we must think that using language like, “that dress/that fabric did her no favours,” or “someone with her body type should not wear that cut” is simply policing people’s bodies masquerading as fashion commentary. sure, short and fat people are permitted on the red carpet, but only if they wear things that give the illusion that they are tall and thin.

a picture of anne hathaway on the red carpet in In Style magazine. the title reads "who owned the red carpet in 2010?"

an article that adequately represents this point is sarah nicole prickett’s article in Eye Weekly, January Jones and the slutty double standard. while her article calls attention to how the mainstream media villifies and makes assumptions/shames a blonde white woman’s sexuality based on what she is wearing (not only is she wearing red, but she is showing cleavage! and even sideboob!), i definitely disagree with prickett’s conclusion that it is easier for mainstream media outlets to villify a thin white woman than a “hugely abnormal” body type like that of her co-star, christina hendricks. just another example of how women are consistently pitted against one another; we cannot defend a thin blonde woman from being called a slut without criticizing a large busted woman of being out of control.

actress christina hendricks having a cigar lit by a young man, with the quote "i'd be honored to bring curves back"

reporters like joan rivers and the internet/blog equivalent, go fug yourself.com, set the standard for mean-spirited attacks on what celebrities wear on the red carpet, and often turn them into personal attacks; if helena bonham carter wears two different coloured shoes and have a big hairstyle, not only does she LOOK crazy, she must BE crazy. replace ableist word with a sexist one (slutty, whorey, old, etc.) and the point remains the same. but here’s an interesting twist on this entire discussion: celebrities have very little say in what they wear at public events like these. there are entire teams and industries built around what an a-list actor will wear to what event. which leads me to my next point:

the illusion that what celebrities wear represents who celebrities are.

red carpet culture encourages us to convince ourselves that if we like what an actor is wearing, we like the actor themselves. and this is fair enough; how many people have gotten really excited when making a friend who is not only stylish, but wears the same size shoes as you? so can you imagine fantasizing about that with a celebrity who has endless access to all kinds of high-end fashion designs? we might OMG I DUNNO like share each other’s closests! you could borrow my thrifted lanz dress that sarah jessica parker wore, and i could wear your alexander mcqueen SS05 dress! (don’t even pretend like you don’t wish you could wear a fucking carousel for a dress, you know you want to)

i feel like i totally understand why this happens, and would be lying if i said i didn’t fall into this fantasy camp at times (hello michelle williams, tilda swinton, etc…). but i feel like it is important for us to acknowledge all of the capitalist/industry planning that goes into these kinds of events. but i think it is important not to lose sight of the main reason the red carpet takes place: to set trends, and most of all, to sell dresses.

consumerism/capitalism as fashion/style

the first question red carpet reporters who is wearing what brand. that’s because the viewer is supposed to take note, and suddenly have the amount of money required to purchase a designer dress (not to mention have an occassion to wear it to). okay, fine, that’s an exageration, but it’s not far off. in reality there is an entire industry of high-fashion knockoffs which will pick a handful of the “best” dresses to replicate and sell in department stores. yes, sometimes “the dress of the season” might be a dress from an actual film (most recent example, kiera knightely’s 1930s style green gown in Atonement and all of its knockoffs) but for the most part, this happens on the red carpet. the dress that is deemed “the best” is most often simply the most universally neutral, inoffensive. as soon as the celebrities have paraded down the red carpet, the knockoff industry is sketching out designs and getting ready to peddle those dresses to the future prom queens only a few months away. this is something i could go into at length but i’ll just leave it at that: the red carpet makes money for the fashion industry at many different levels. there is certainly an exorbitant amount of planning that goes into deciding which actress wears what dress, including contracts and free swag and ad campaigns. to me, reducing the fun of dressing up into a business opportunity kind of bums me out. i understand that this is how it works, but i dislike how it doesn’t necessarily present itself as such.

see, i love to get decked out to the nines with my friends and prance around, work it for the camera, tell people it’s Thrift Store Haute Couture circa 2006. and i mean, yeah, i’ve definitely seen garments on the red carpet that i would love to wear myself, and i do quite enjoy the escapism permitted in wearing (or fantasizing about wearing) extravagant, over the top clothes. but when it happens within this specific context, i feel like so much of what it represents is just straight up, inexcusably oppressive. for example, the fact that someone can’t show up with hairy legs or armpits without it being the talk of the town the next day. i have vivid memories of this being ingrained in  my mind as a young girl in the 90s – remember the kerfuffle when julia roberst dared to not shave her armpits (or hell, maybe even just forgot to) and where a sleeveless dress back in 1999? what a shitshow.

Julia Roberts at the London red carpet premiere of Notting Hill, 1999. She is waving to a crowd behind a reporter and we see her armpits aren’t shaved.

on top of enforcing those “beauty” norms (thin, all potentially visible body hair removed, falling within a narrow definition of what is acceptable/appropriate), the red carpet also offers us of a visual showcase that hollywood is white, straight, polished. the sea of white actors, reporters, and handlers on the red carpet is kind of astonishing when we think of the racial makeup of the city of los angeles itself. even worse, when there are people of colour, and when the media talks about the handful of actresses who happen to a colour of skin other than white, the media constantly exoticizes them. “latin siren” sofia veraga “flaunts her famous curves” at the golden globes this year. in fact, i’ve never heard of her purportedly “famous curves.” i have heard she’s the best part of a sitcom called modern family, but no, she is latina so she must be famous for her goddamn curves. think of the way you’ve heard any number of women of colour described on the red carpet; penelope cruz as voluptuous, salma hayek as fiery or sensual, jennifer lopez as bodacious. it begs the question, what is worse? the complete erasure of people of colour in Hollywood, or their constant tokenization and exoticization when they are present?

vanity fair cover 2010

a perfect (terrible) example of how white-washed hollywood is: the cover of vanity fair’s 2010 “new” hollywood issue, the year gabourey sidibe (a fat black young woman) was nominated for best actress at the academy awards.

you may have noticed that throughout this entire tirade (sorry, it’s come to that) that i have not mentioned very many people of the male persuasion. this was not unintentional; it reflects the kind of culture the red carpet breeds. yes, women and men (and people all across the gender spectrum but there is very little place for us to talk about that in a hollywood space) wear clothes, but it seems that it is only “fashion” when it is on women’s bodies. men are present, but they aren’t the main show. of course, we will make a passing comment here and there about male actors’ suits, but it is not nearly in the same vernacular or tone as the way we talk about women’s fashion choices. for the most part, red carpet reporters comments will lean towards the “clueless men of the real world! take note of how great this ridiculously rich celebrity dresses, and take a lesson.” men are given a short passing glance, because at the end of the day it is easier and more socially acceptable (i would even argue socially encouraged) for us to tear down women’s bodies and fashion choices.

it’s just so strangely muddled: we so often argue that “clothes make the man,” that our clothing is an outward representation of who we are and what we’re about. but when it comes to what celebrities wear on the red carpet, it is about what we are being sold. what image is this actress portraying by wearing a plunging neckline? what role should that actor be cast for when he is wearing a very stiff expensive christian dior suit? there are so many other aspects i could get into: the fact that whenever the celebrities are asked their honest opinion, many complain of the discomfort of wearing 4 inch heels, the terrible fear of potentially losing half a million dollars worth of jewelry, how they had disordered eating for weeks beforehand in order to fit into a sample size. the behind the scenes of this fantasy land beauty factory is of course really, really ugly.

aside from that, i just get really grumpy about the way the mainstream media talks about fashion. describing a dress as “romantic” or “elegant.” and seriously, do you EVER describe any of your friends outfits as “breathtaking?” do they look “radiant” or do they positively “glow” when wearing thousands of dollars worth of conflict diamonds? can we just stop? not to mention the way fashion reporters talk about pregnant women’s bodies. for the record! now and forever! may it be established! NEWSFLASH: a pregnant woman’s belly is not a BABY BUMP. IT’S A FUCKING PREGNANT BELLY. if we want to get really accurate about this shit we could call it a FETUS BUMP or a UTERUS ENGORGED BY ITS CURRENT HOUSING OF A FETUS BUMP.

so at the end of this rant, i feel like i can wrap up my feelings in some manner. tomorrow after the oscars, people might ask me, a known lover of fashion, who i thought was the best dressed on the red carpet. i can never answer that question. it doesn’t matter what my answer is. i feel like no matter what i say, i would be participating in a side of fashion i’ve always hated the most: the elite, classist universe of hollywood’s relationship with the fashion industry. that’s it. the reason i dislike red carpet culture so much (and have devoted many hours to writing and researching this article) is because it represents the exact opposite of what i love about fashion. the red carpet sets the “trends” for the masses, dressing an elite largely homogenous group of people in a palatable boring representation of glamour, beauty, and wealth. those “trends” fall into categories such as: strapless, knee-length, beige/”nude”, or the “long sleeve” as is the purported case with this year’s golden globes. to me, that isn’t fashion. that is business. that is capital. what fashion really is to me is revolutionary. it is throwing off the shackles of prescribed trends and the idea that you can (and should) buy style. it is saying fuck you to that. it is representing yourself, your identity, however complex or simple that might be. it is being playful, it is storytelling. and at the end of the day the only thing i feel like a red carpet dress is trying to tell me is that my body isn’t acceptable, my friends bodies aren’t acceptable, i’m too poor to afford to look that good or glamourous… and who wants that? not me.

PHEW. well. if you’ve stayed with me until the end, you deserve a little high-five or something. this is something i’ve wanted to get off my chest for a while now. to end off, i’ll leave it to you, dear patient readers: do you have a way of reclaiming red carpet culture? do you think i’m totally off-base with these critiques? will you be watching the red carpet of the oscars tonight, and what will you get out of it? i’d really like to hear how other people feel about this.

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