Thursday, May 29, 2008

too hysterical?

(I don't have time to craft a full-on think piece right now. I apologize, and reserve the right to edit if said hours appear.)

There's a style column in The Wall Street Journal today arguing that "Sex and the City" made women proponents of sexier office attire and that this shift has had a negative effect on women striving to reach the corporate ladder's top rung.
The show promoted the idea that successful women could take a liberated attitude toward fashion; they could dress like women at work and not look like they were copying men. [...]

As Carrie might write in one of her columns, has sexy office attire gone a step too far? Women now feel empowered to be girlie, flash cleavage or have a rollicking good time. But how liberating is that if these freedoms fail to advance women's push for better jobs and salaries?

Women's gains in the workplace have been slipping for the past several years. In 2007, women earned median weekly wages of 80.2 cents for every dollar earned by men, down from 80.8 cents in 2006 and 81 cents in 2005, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The author's evidence that "Sex and the City" makes whoredom OK and that the movie will have some impact on women's fashion includes "online guides to dressing like your favorite character" -- welcome to the internet -- and the fact that costume designer Pat Field promoted her accessories choices as the next big fashion items, something which, more than anything, would be a boon to Pat Field. (But really,would you take fashion advice from this woman?)

The evidence continues to mount. "[W]omen seem to be unaware that liberation comes from actual power, not the power to wear bold clothes," the author, Christina Binkley, writes. "After a recent column on sexy evening clothes at business events, I received an outpouring of emails about smart, well-educated women wearing the kind of clothing inspired by 'Sex and the City' to work. One California man complained in an email about his psychologist's bared cleavage during their sessions."

There's no way that being distracted by the sight of a slight crease on a professional woman's chest would do more than make that man look lewd or puritanical, right?

The whole argument here is rife with irrelevancies. Women don't conflate the "power" to wear revealing clothes with the influence that comes with holding a prominent position in the corporatocracy, though I think many hope that, as women fill those ranks, dressing as though they're men who happen to have rounder bodies to be taken seriously will no longer be necessary. Look at the amount of influence Field has had on the fashion industry for the past decade despite looking like a refugee from an Almodovar film. What she wears had no bearing on her ability to do her job. If men can't keep their brains under control when women show collarbones, that speaks to the fact that, as successive generation of women learn to view themselves as equal players, their male cohorts need to be raised to think that way too.

My clothing choices are more complicated than "I'll wear this because I can" (tendency to wear predominantly black and green aside). I wear clothes that I think will make me look quietly attractive; I want to feel pretty without making a bid to be noticed as I proceed through my day. Some days I wear bolder clothes to challenge my own sense of confidence or to reflect an especially upbeat mindset, and other days I slink around in a hoodie. Some days, I build an entire outfit over the desire to wear a sports bra or a certain pair of earrings (fancy earrings need to be offset with more casual clothes in my style world, etc). But I never think, "What can I wear today to help me get ahead in a stubbornly patriarchal society?"

The funniest (and most telling) line in the column was when Binkley spoke of perusing photos to gauge how prominent businesswomen -- who achieved success in a man's world and continue to carefully deflect attention from their smaller, rounder figures -- dress for success: they wear "striking scarves or necklaces that distract attention from what lies below."

What would that be, again?

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