Over the weekend I was flipping through Elle and came across an article by Daphne Merkin, Portrait of a Lady, in which she dissected spring’s new fashion (FYI- for the dudes reading this, don’t worry, this isn’t a post about dresses and shoes. Well, maybe a little, but it’s more than just dresses and shoes).
I know some of you don’t give a hoot about fashion, preferring to march to the beat of whatever drummer is playing in your head. I agree. If you happen to be anti-fashion, and would rather spend life in crocs and culottes, hey, whatever floats your boat. I personally only adhere to trends if it suits me and was already something I liked. However, while fashion can be very silly, it does say volumes about whatever is happening culturally at any given point in time.
I almost opted not to read Portrait of a Lady, and just scan the accompanying photos to peruse the spring runway pics. But Daphne Merkin’s bolded name caught my eye, and she sometimes says some rather outrageous things, so I decided to give it a go. For those of you that have no idea what is in vogue right now (or don’t give a shit), there is a definite turn back to femininity, i.e. pleats, full skirts, nipped in waists, etc. And, the look is pre-Mad Men, more late 40s and early 50s than 60s. Fashion of that era was referred to as The New Look, as created by Dior, which brought back ultra feminine apparel. Merkin rightly points out that The New Look came shortly after WWII, work shirt clad women, and such iconic images as Rosie the Riveter (after the war, the men came home to work, and the women went back home after years of working). At this point Merkin pondered what cultural movements contributed to the current ‘New Prettiness’ (the term for this season’s look, real original, right?). She writes,
“Another answer might be that we have all, designers and customers alike, grown tired of identity politics, that we yearn for the sort of social sureties we imagine existed in the decades right before consciousness raising and bra burning.”
Huh. My initial reaction was to laugh, but then I began to think. Is the notion (and pressure) of ‘having it all’ getting to some women? Or perhaps the realization that having it all isn’t quite what we thought it would be? Surely this line of thinking might ruffle some feathers, but it is important to note the words “we imagine existed.” Possibly for some women, the idea of living in the late 40s through the 50s comes with dreams of being protected and coddled. Females weren’t expected to have a career, or contribute to the family income. Sure, in some ways that sounds nice, because it closes the world, and creates only a small bubble. Confining worries to home and family is very likely alluring and certainly less daunting than fretting over home, family, and career.
There is a reason so many females (and males, don’t forget about all the men that contributed to the women’s movement) protested and burned bras and fought for equal rights. Perhaps it may appeal to one’s fantasies to imagine a life in which the only obligations were to attend to husband, children, and household responsibilities. And, perhaps the reality of such a life might suck. Today, many women are stay at home moms, but they have the ability to do something different. That freedom exists, when it did not before.
Merkin also points out that she sees “a withdrawal from embattled agendas of self-definition”, particularly in young women. Personally, I think this comes from growing up after the battle was fought. I’m in my mid-thirties, so my formative years took place in the 80s. People often associate women’s lib with the 60s and 70s, but the fact of the matter is that it continued well into the 80s. At that point in time, women made up nearly half the workforce, but the vast majority of decision making jobs went to men. I still have a vivid recollection of some of the neighborhood women gossiping over a schoolmate of mine in the neighborhood that came from a ‘broken home’. In fact, some of my friends were not allowed to attend sleepovers at this particular girl’s house because her mother was divorced. Interestingly, many of these mothers eventually became divorcées themselves.
Nowadays, divorce is beyond common, and more than half of children born to women under the age of 30 are out of wedlock. So, I think it’s safe to say that young women have come of age in a time when what is considered ‘normal’ is very different. It’s okay to have a child without a man in the picture. Many, many women are single mothers, and excel in their chosen careers. Hell, many women pay alimony. That does not, however, mean it’s easy. Perhaps this withdrawal from ‘embattled agendas’, and the allure of soft and feminine looks of bygone times is indeed a result of young women wishing for a return to a time where expectations weren’t quite so high.
I wonder if this might explain the fact that more young females aren’t spitting mad over the current assault on women regarding birth control and reproductive rights. Because make no mistake, decisions are being made in courts and by our government that could potentially set women back in terms of freedom over our bodies. Women in their 20s have more or less come of age in a time when female independence is accepted, far more women obtain degrees than men, and having a female boss is common. I’m not saying all young females take these things for granted. On the other hand, it’s hard not to take for granted what you grow up with, we do it without thinking. Could this be the reason more young women aren’t talking about what is happening right now? Because it’s something they don’t quite realize could be taken away?
I respect people who are pro-life. And I say that with all honesty. However, that does not mean their beliefs should dictate what another woman chooses to do with her body. And if a woman does not want a child, then for Pete’s sake, don’t force her to jump through fiery hoops in order to terminate a pregnancy. What good does that do? Women should have the freedom to choose what is right for them.
While discussing this with my husband, he made an excellent point. He wondered if perhaps we are heading towards another revolutionary movement. At the moment, there is indeed a fascination with the 50s and early 60s. And not just fashion, but also in terms of values. At the same time, reproductive laws are changing. Access to birth control has the potential to be limited, and while there are certainly women protesting, there are more that aren’t, and don’t particularly seem concerned.
Wow. How did we get here from spring fashion? Is this simply a Vesta-tangent, or is this all connected?