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Women's Bodies or Women's Fashions: What Should Come First?
December 10, 2001 4:35 PM   Subscribe

Women's Bodies or Women's Fashions: What Should Come First? Comfort in Western dress is a relatively modern and liberal concept. In the last few years, though, it seems to have been forgotten by increasingly unforgiving - even sadistic - designers. Or is it just Art? Last Wednesday, the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened a new exhibition called Extreme Beauty: The Body Transformed. Judith Thurman, in the current New Yorker, suggests things have gone too far. The question is: should leading designers be free to be absolutely creative - as they seem to be at the moment - or should they adapt their creations to the actual shape of women's bodies? Has "haute couture" finally become an art in itself, with no pretence of actually clothing real women? Is, in fact, a certain hatred of women involved?
posted by MiguelCardoso (23 comments total)

 
Sorry Miguel. You'll have to try harder next time.
posted by holloway at 4:55 PM on December 10, 2001


should I have figured out from what I *have* read about the practice that binding feet starts with breaking four toes????!!!!???? dear God.

I don't know, miguel, if I think the new yorker piece argues that haute couture has gone too far. perhaps that past fashion did. nothing being created today matches the destructive and discomfort potential of the corset, for example.

though perhaps no more damaging than this culture's obsession with thinness, and the resulting continuous dieting and yo-yo-ing weight (and eating disorders, of course) of many women who, unable to accept their normal bodies keep trying with all their might to get down to a size 2.

as for hatred of women...perhaps disregard for women is more accurate. certainly, a disregard for *real* women's bodies, to be replaced with an ideal version instead, with the means to that ideal often damaging to the real bodies that ideal strove to replace.
posted by rebeccablood at 4:58 PM on December 10, 2001


Many feel one question mark is silly; FOUR are over the top!
posted by Mack Twain at 5:03 PM on December 10, 2001


Creative clothing...? Sure rummy, sure.
posted by Dark Messiah at 5:11 PM on December 10, 2001


Fashion? Phooey! All I want is 100% cotton, comfortable clothing.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:14 PM on December 10, 2001


You've linked the New Yorker twice there Miguel. Anyway, I think high fashion has so little to do with how the vast majority of women dress that it's irrelevant to them. I've heard the argument before that the top designers are women haters and there may be something to it, but I don't think that's the whole story. Fashion has always been sadistic and exploitative and attracts snobs who thrive on that. It's a form of self hatred I think. If you're pushing a form of elitism based on something as shallow as clothing you're bound to despise yourself and your customers in some way, and making them look ridiculous must come naturally, especially when you're a man and they're mainly women. You do get the impression that people like John Galliano and Alexander McQueen hate their models and clients.

I've always found Vivienne Westwood's stuff to be outside of that tradition. It's exaggerated and constrictive but has something about it that suggests female sexuality is potent and positive rather than dangerous and distasteful.
posted by Summer at 5:16 PM on December 10, 2001


Nudism is the answer.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:18 PM on December 10, 2001


Eh? Isn't the whole point of haute couture is that it's basically concept stuff, not designed to be worn at all?
posted by Charmian at 5:25 PM on December 10, 2001


I was going under the assumption that the clothes that appear on the catwalk were basically just advertising. I have no idea what the profits involved are but doesn't a company like Chanel make vastly more out of perfume and gaudy trinkets than out of clothes? Aren't the catwalk shows there purely to get names in papers?
posted by davidgentle at 5:40 PM on December 10, 2001


should leading designers be free to be absolutely creative....

sure, and we can refuse to wear their crappy clothes. heck, I know I'm at the low end of things but I don't think I've bought anything that was made by a high-end designer since high school and perhaps even never.

rebecca has a good point, women need to call bullshit on stupid design and uncomfortable clothes and high fashion that does not suit their needs and realize that if it doesn't fit you, and you can't move around in it, it's fine to wear something else. this involves getting more comfortable with your body as well as being more comfortable appearing in public in something that doesn't have XYZ designer's stamp all over it. it's bucking a trend, sort of, but it's also sticking up for yourself and saying "hey, I'm a short chick with no real waistline and your clothes feel icky on me so I'm not wearing 'em!"
posted by jessamyn at 5:52 PM on December 10, 2001


Comfortable jeans and a black turtleneck and i am dressed for the rest of the millenium as far as I am concerned.
posted by bunnyfire at 6:10 PM on December 10, 2001


Personally, if it ain't made out of 100% cotton, I don't see the point. And for me, wrinkles in clothing have always been in fashion. I love wrinkles.

So long as there are wealthy stupid people feeding the shark frenzy of top fashion designers, this will continue. The fashion designers that are most popular remain there due to the money that got them there. It has nothing to do with designing what the common person would wear, and I wish the common person would just ignore them. If enough people did that maybe they'd go away, or at least the press would quit giving them any lip service. However, some common people don't like being seen as common, and think being up to date on the latest fashions makes them uncommon.

This is like five or six sheep among a whole flock purposefully following one particular sheep around because they think that one sheep actually knows better than the rest. And it don't.

There should be more obstacles put in a fashion designer's path, to make things more interesting. Rules of the game like:

1) The design must be able to get through the door of a subway train.
2) Materials for the design must be less expensive than a school teacher's monthly wage.
3) The design can't look like it'd be at home as a costume in a cheesy B-rated scifi flick.
4) It should look as good or better on a well-rounded woman as it does on a walking coat rack.

However, if these rules were laid down, I bet it would be discovered that the most famous and most expensive fashion designers on the planet are full of crap and really don't know what the hell they're doing. This could ruin the entire fashion industry and tens of thousands of jobs would go down in flames. Considering our present unemployment rate, perhaps it's best to just leave things as they are. Live and let live.
posted by ZachsMind at 6:15 PM on December 10, 2001


There's a common theme running through this thread that Haute-couture designers should design for the "real woman", for normal people, like us, you know?

Why?

If they did, they wouldn't be "haute-couture", would they? This is like saying Cordon-Bleu chefs should cook big-macs and Picasso should've designed get well cards for Hallmark.

The truth is, fashion designers don't "impose" anything, they design things for people who appreciate and buy them. Not everything is for everybody. There's no reasonn it should be. This knee-jerk anti elitism is just plain silly.
posted by signal at 7:11 PM on December 10, 2001


(it used to be that haute couture was actually an expensive version of the styles that everyone would be wearing. now it's just wild theatrics, and the off the rack clothes that supports the designers are nothing like the clothes they send down the catwalk.)
posted by rebeccablood at 7:17 PM on December 10, 2001


Until they get around to successfully creating fashion designs that properly put Jane and George Jetson in their proper place as models to adore, they'll never get it right. And by the way where is my flying car? I want a flying car!
posted by ZachsMind at 7:38 PM on December 10, 2001


Speaking of comfort, Could the New Yorker start designing online fonts that are easier on one's eyes? The tyranny of elitist magazine designers, I tell you. It's like foot binding, only for the eyes.
posted by raysmj at 7:52 PM on December 10, 2001


When the Metropolitan (I'm pretty sure it was the Metropolitan, I remember trying to find parking) exhibited Jacqui Kennedy's wardrobe, it completely outdrew the equi-temporal Vermeer exhibit (which I was there to see). And those were clothes a human woman actually wore.

I tend to think it's OK to create impossible fashions that would be unhealthy if anyone actually aspired to fit them -- if it's art, it's art, I'd think; people should be able to tell the difference. But I then I also know that my aunt, whose 11-year-old daughter (my cousin) won some prize at some piano recital last year, told me all the other girls were wearing heels. And if people today don't have better sense than to keep 11-year-olds out of high heels, then I'm really not sure what to think.

(BTW, the NYTimes also has a review of the exhibit at the Met: For a Body That Nobody Ever Had. (y2karl will eventually tell you all how to login; I forget.))
posted by mattpfeff at 8:23 PM on December 10, 2001


anyone notice the little new yorker cover graphic, with bin laden riding a Segway?
posted by th3ph17 at 8:56 PM on December 10, 2001


ID: metafi; password: metafi.
posted by allaboutgeorge at 9:35 PM on December 10, 2001


I'm no doubt too late to the party again, but for the historical perspective, nothing beats Seeing through Clothes by Anne Hollander, excerpts of which can be found here (ick, it's the Amazon excerpts page, I know, but what can you do for short attention spans on short notice?)--and here, if you are patient enough to wade into a very full site and hit-and-scroll down at E:2/Escala:2: The Ways of Dressing, The Ways of Art--ok, it's bilingual but the excerpt and title are in English, lazybones--there's plenty more from Seeing Through Clothes, which I found at the Costumer's Manifesto/Fashion Theory links page, which is a treasure trove, as I mentioned here. That's if you want an informed opinion, which is the exception rather than the norm on any topic here at Metafilter but especially with anything related to this category of fashion and the ever-changing ideal woman's body in history...
posted by y2karl at 9:57 PM on December 10, 2001


ps. hat tip to allaboutgeorge from epicharmus: the hand washes the hand: you must give something to get something
posted by y2karl at 9:59 PM on December 10, 2001


I always thought that the current haute-couture was primarily just advertising, an absurd game of one upmanship designed to get into the newspapers in order to establish name recognition, while the real money is made on pantsuits and sensible shoes.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:43 AM on December 11, 2001


Class is a matter that underlies most of what is going on in this discussion. A woman wearing jeans not likely to take the subway to a top management job at publishing firm. Losers take subways. Better offs take cabs. Top of the heap have drivers for long black caddies.
Ironic that the New Yorker --a vast storage bin of what is hip among the hip--should run an article about the silliness of high fashion (speak Amrican; not French).
But all goes back to class. When working in fields in 16th century was a task for many woman, the idle eschewed suntans and preferred stark white skin. With factory system, girls had no tan and thus the idle wanted tans to make a statement.
Naked may indeed be good but alas much clothing useful for concealing less than perfect bodies.
posted by Postroad at 12:41 PM on January 5, 2002


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