November 13, 2017

"Modest fashion might come across as a humblebrag: You have to be a pretty stylish, pretty good-looking woman to claim ownership of such radical dowdiness...."

"It can also sometimes seem like an elitist project of sociocultural self-positioning: By embracing the covered-up look, you declare yourself part of a particular psychographic tribe, one whose members don’t just dress for other women, but for a particular subset of other women — those who get it, who are sophisticated enough to understand that opting out of conventional beauty standards makes for its own kind of conceptual, better-than-thou fashion. It also, however, has the feel of a real dare. Observing this version of feminist signaling, which conflates the rebel, haphazard spirit of a Bloomsbury Group-like smockishness with traces of early ’90s grunge and a dash of post-bellum Sunday best, we might begin to ask ourselves: What happens when women start dressing in ways that are less than conventionally flattering? Why are they doing it? And what does it look like when fashion choices that might have been linked to female oppression perform in the service of liberation?"

From "Modest Dressing, as a Virtue/What’s really behind fashion’s — and women’s — love of concealing clothes?" by Naomi Fry. The NYT published that article on November 2nd, but I only noticed it yesterday, when it was featured on the front page. I'm thinking that it has — in the last week and a half — become more timely, because of the sexual harassment/assault stories in the news. The author tries to answer her question by talking to some women to find out why they are clothing themselves in a manner that doesn't flaunt their body parts. Specifically "nonreligious women" are asked — because they are "trendier" and more likely to be deciding for themselves what they want to wear.
“I really disagree with women who think walking around naked is liberation. I’m like, ‘I’m sorry, too many people get to enjoy this for it to be liberation,’ ” [said Aminatou Sow, a 32-year-old digital strategist and podcaster], only half in jest. Instead, she cites figures like Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, who, first as actresses and street-style sensations and later as designers of the Row, made dressing in long, hobo-ish layers chic. “It was really jarring, and men didn’t like it,” Sow recalled to me. “But there was something disgusting and liberating about it. These were girls who didn’t care how anyone else was supposed to be dressing. It was the rejection of body politics.”
The last paragraph of the article begins with one hell of a sentence: "Navigating the world in a woman’s body remains a fraught proposition in the most quotidian and granular of ways."

Are you in there — in your body — navigating it? Are you not at one with your body? If not, why not? And, more importantly, what kinds of clothes and hats and shoes could reunify you with yourself?

Navigating the world in a woman’s body remains a fraught proposition.... The oldest meaning of the English word "fraught" is "Of a vessel: Laden" as in "The drowmound was so hevy fraught That unethe myght it saylen aught" (a1400 Coer de L. 2459)(OED).

38 comments:

Ann Althouse said...

"unethe" means "Not easily; (only) with difficulty; scarcely, hardly."

A "drowmound" is a kind of big medieval ship.

"The drowmound was so hevy fraught That unethe myght it saylen aught" means: The ship was so heavily laden that it could sail only uneasily.

Darrell said...

Last year I had to buy a pair of pants.

rhhardin said...

Crocs and sweatsuit everywhere. It seems like a simple choice.

Tim Gilliland said...

I'm not sure which is worse, the proponents of the fashion world or the women who get caught up in it.
On the rare occasion I see news articles about fashion, the pictures always show models (Skinny stick figures with poofy lips*) wearing unwearable crap that could be generously said to have been designed by a blind five year old -With apologies to the Blind Five Year old community.
There are only so many ways to dress a human. style and hem lines go up, go down, or some which-way, and if you look at historical photogs you see the repetition. The constant seems to be that people buy this stuff as a matter of showing status or advancing their place in the hierarchy.


* Extra credit for recognizing the trivia reference.

Tommy Duncan said...

Are you in there — in your body — navigating it? Are you not at one with your body? If not, why not? And, more importantly, what kinds of clothes and hats and shoes could reunify you with yourself?

Important questions that occupy the female mind... It's good to be a straight, white male wearing jeans and a sweatshirt.

Assrat said...

I suppose that "I don't want to emphasize my sexuality" would make for a short article.

Humperdink said...

Spouse and I got ready for church yesterday.

Me: Shower, shave, get dressed (jeans and sweater), out the door.

Spouse: Shower, get partially dressed, make-up, finish dressing, blow dry hair, curl hair , brush hair, review shoe choices, pick shoes, review jacket choices, pick jacket, out the door.

David said...

Ms. Fry teaches writing.

traditionalguy said...

The Galleon style of ships were fraught to turn over because they were top heavy from building castle like towers on the ends so they could shoot down on attackers. Effective use of iron Cannons as weapons only came in the last 250 years.

Laslo Spatula said...

“But there was something disgusting and liberating about it."

This can also be said of many sex acts.

I am Laslo.

MayBee said...

There is a muslim woman who may win Project Runway this season. She dresses her models modestly.

I don't like it when she calls their outfits (when they are wearing headscarfs) "fully modest". I don't like the idea of headscarfs as modesty in America. That's religious, and there's no word you can use to get around it. I personally believe it's subjugation, but that's me. But it isn't simply "modest".

rehajm said...

I kind of like the way the Olsens dress.

I do recall one of them admitted they like to get naked for chores around the house, like vacuuming.

wildswan said...

In addition to modesty, subjugation and artisanal dressing, what about Wisconsin winter dressing? Hat, scarf across face, shapeless-because-heavy-with-warm-filling, knee-length coat, leggings, heavy socks, boots.

So non-chic, so sharia friendly. And transgender - underneath all that who knows? (Though actually you can tell who is there. You can tell either gender or whether they are from Dane County.)

We were Paris and never knew it.

PS the African look - the light, beautiful, flowing, summery, colorfully-patterned look. No. You got to understand that by summer we mean 50 degrees Fahrenheit and the sun has been out at least once that day and, above all, it is June, July or August.

Mac McConnell said...

"Instead, she cites figures like Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, who, first as actresses and street-style sensations and later as designers of the Row, made dressing in long, hobo-ish layers chic. “It was really jarring, and men didn’t like it,” Sow recalled to me. “But there was something disgusting and liberating about it. These were girls who didn’t care how anyone else was supposed to be dressing. It was the rejection of body politics.”"

The Olsen twins started a fashion craze because they were short little girls who didn't know a good tailor in NYC. There is no shortage of lemmings in NYC or intellectuals to rationalize their bad taste.

Ralph L said...

Louis CK specialized in granular propositions.

Ralph L said...

The Olsens didn't want to distract from their sick-puppy eye makeup, so they wore unattractive clothes.

Mac McConnell said...

Ralph L
You've inspired me. Ralph Lauren with the exception of evening gowns, has dressed American women modestly for almost half a century and become a billionaire doing it.

Ralph L said...

I personally believe it's subjugation, but that's me.
I call it the Muslim slave collar.
Even the silk ones look like polyester; the mere thought of synthetics around my face gives me a visceral disgust, since the first one I saw in real life.

Hari said...

Women who dress modestly can also be signaling that they are attractive enough to pull it off.

Kevin said...

"Modest Dressing, as a Virtue/What’s really behind fashion’s — and women’s — love of concealing clothes?" by Naomi Fry.”

Has fashion finally left itself nothing but Amish chic? Or is this just the latest step in preparing the Upper East Side to lead the drive for Sharia Law?

Either way, not good.

tcrosse said...

In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking.

tim in vermont said...

Since you brought up old fashioned words, the word that I would bring back is "eft" as in "It was the eftest way to get 'er done." I guess maybe "deft" comes from "eft"

The Cracker Emcee Activist said...

What a bizarre post. It's really about psychological safe places, not fashion or women's bodies or feminism, but what dark and obscure annex can they retreat to, from which they can launch their little forays into "real" life. They're more like preppers than fashionistas.

tim in vermont said...

Three words I would ban for a year, then bring back on probation.

"Artisanal","curated",and "tactical"

Mary Beth said...

$5500 for a coat you wear backwards?

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Slap on a burka and and be done with it.
The self-involvement is more annoying that the self-congratulation (and attendant overblown sense of self-importance) but it's neck and neck.

mezzrow said...

Navigating the world in my body means often turning sideways to fit through tight spaces.

More white, male privilege. Not guilty. Not a bit.

R.J. Chatt said...

I live in a town which has a reputation for being "trendy." Everyone dresses casually; no matter how much money they have, you can't tell. The clothing is chosen appropriately to the weather and individually according to how warm or cool they feel. It's a temperate climate so on any given day you will see some people in tee shirts and flip flops and others with jackets and leggings, boots, sneakers. Generally the younger people accentuate their sexuality and older people dress more modestly. Who knew that modesty has to be rationalized?

I love the fashion world but don't want to spend that much money, time, and attention on clothing and keeping a wardrobe up to date. You might think that modesty is the goal, but it's not. Anyone spending thousands on a coat that is too long to be functional is not modest IMO. At some point I'll start sewing my own clothing designs if I have to "make public appearances." That's called making a statement.

mezzrow said...

Oh, and look up Gamble Rogers' tale of Penrod and Elfreda for the finest use of the word 'fraught' in the 20th century.

buwaya said...

Hah! This is a guy thing too.
As my wife says, I dress as a Cuban taxi driver.
I get by with my personality.

Seeing Red said...

For some of us it's winter. We want concealing clothing.

Seeing Red said...

The 60s look was due for a resurgence. The Olsens happened to be the ones who chose to look like bag ladies.

Unknown said...

Religious women aren't likely to decide what they want to wear?

Dust Bunny Queen said...

I do recall one of them admitted they like to get naked for chores around the house, like vacuuming

I dunno about vacuuming, but if I'm cleaning the bathrooms, scrubbing the showers etc., naked is the only way to do it. You get all wet, soapy and gross anyway: why not just finish up with a long hot shower in your sparkling clean bathroom :-D

Without know what the author thinks is "modest fashion" or how it looks, I assume no cleavage or excessively short clothing, it is difficult to make any substantive comments. How I dress, modest or uncovered depends on the weather, how warm or cold it is, what I am doing and where I am going.

I need visuals.

Fred Drinkwater said...

Edna Mode, of course. Best scene in the movie by far.

Christy said...

All we know about dressing we learned on TV, where even ladies wear their clothes too tight.

Cracker nailed it, I think, as safe spaces. With all that's been revealed recently, I find myself speculating about every female in Hollywood. Could the Olson twins have gone frumpy because they were sexualized as toddlers. Does the former teenage star of Blossom go dowdy because of what she experienced, or saw happening to others? (Mayim Bialik did an episode of What Not To Wear. She dressed not unlike her character in Big Bang in the "before" part of the makeover show.)

Clyde said...

Not giving a damn what other people think is very liberating. Be yourself, please yourself. Let your mantra be, "I can only please one person per day. Today is not your day. Tomorrow's not looking good, either."

Mountain Maven said...

"Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain..." Solomon