all-sequined sheath dresses, ridiculous ruffles, giant fake rhinestones
October 19, 2017 6:27 PM   Subscribe

Tacky is also a way of saying, “That is too much.” It’s a way to say, “Hush.” You’re too loud, too bright, too attention-seeking. You take up too much space. You’re too costume-y. You’re too dramatic. Your excesses are not welcome here. Its antithesis is that old chestnut “flattering,” which, in my experience, applies to any item of clothing that makes you seem smaller than you are, both in personality and in physical size. (See also “tasteful,” which assumes a hell of a lot about whose taste you are trying to please.) An essay on tackiness, by Margaret Eby.
posted by Grandysaur (39 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

I love this. Thank you.
posted by songs_about_rainbows at 7:08 PM on October 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

Tacky looks and accessories are awesome, just don't do tacky behavior.

Flash and sparkle forever!
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:23 PM on October 19, 2017 [9 favorites]

On the male side of the equation, if you are a Man of Size, there will come a moment in your life when you realize you can wear a loud Hawaiian shirt - I mean, Velvet Elvis Painting bright contrasting colors with flowers, fruit, birds, maybe a classic car or surfboard (or both, with the two connected somehow) loud - with khaki cargo shorts and Chuck Taylor All-Star knock-offs...

...and make it work.

It's a liberating moment.

It's realizing the super-suave and mysterious Dodson becomes the least interesting man in the room once Nedry shows up, because Nedry isn't trying. He's just being Nedry, in the moment, inappropriately loud and enthusiastic and effortlessly confident.

You know.


(It's kind of awesome that Nedry loses his swagger when he tries to lie to Ray.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:26 PM on October 19, 2017 [21 favorites]

This is wonderful!
posted by purpleclover at 7:48 PM on October 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

Tacky can be fun. Slovenly, matronly, and like a hot mess are also fun looks. Someone should publish a spring catalogue!
posted by karmachameleon at 8:12 PM on October 19, 2017 [15 favorites]

I LOVE TACKY, and I always have. Neon, rainbows, sparkles, sequins, "stripper" heels, huge hair, I love it all. It's personality and character and fun, not just "follow this rule for its own sake." Reminds me of when I was getting marred and this article from Offbeat Bride was how I knew that website was going to be my bastion of sanity in wedding planning hell.

Bring me to the tacky, indeed.
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 8:17 PM on October 19, 2017 [7 favorites]

a fake rhinestone would be an actual gemstone, I'm pretty sure
posted by hippybear at 8:56 PM on October 19, 2017 [16 favorites]

See also: ‘Toddler Grandma Style,’ The Fashion Approach That Will Set You Free:
Toddler Grandma Style was my chance to embrace all the noisy novelty prints, sensible shoes, and Claudia Kishi accessories (excessories) I loved, while also living the patriarchy-flouting, male-gaze-dodging ideals of a Man Repeller. Because toddlers and elderly women are seen as devoid of any sex appeal, they stand outside the male gaze and as such get to ignore the rather limiting “rules” set out for women (in culture, and by ourselves) when it comes to personal presentation.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 9:13 PM on October 19, 2017 [36 favorites]

The rules are invisible and unspoken, and you have broken one.
This is the summary of the worst aspects of my upbringing, and it wasn't about body or clothing, and I was brought up as male.

It has done massive damage and I'm only beginning to unravel it all.
posted by runcifex at 10:17 PM on October 19, 2017 [23 favorites]

Obligatory Weird Al reference.
posted by DanSachs at 12:48 AM on October 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

If we're calling this "tacky" what are we calling the gold-played lifestyle of the Trumps?
posted by rikschell at 4:58 AM on October 20, 2017 [9 favorites]

I love this so much.
posted by thivaia at 5:20 AM on October 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

me, too.
posted by marycatherine at 5:20 AM on October 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

If we're calling this "tacky" what are we calling the gold-played lifestyle of the Trumps?

Pathetically self-important?

Something way less lighthearted and fun and goofy than tacky, with zero joie de vivre, that's for sure.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:29 AM on October 20, 2017 [18 favorites]

But if you’re a fat woman, the world encourages you to treat your body like Ikea furniture. It’s disposable; it’s just there until you replace it with something nicer.

This is v. v. good.

Fellow Dolly fans, she is doing the Bedtime Story here in the UK soon.
posted by threetwentytwo at 5:33 AM on October 20, 2017 [7 favorites]

This is so great, thanks for sharing. I am so tired of the conformity expected of women, their dress, and their bodies. If you like somehting and you feel good wearing it, more power to you! am living in a big city where LBDs and boots are the uniform and all I want is long, loose, flowing paisley. Professionally, if I'm not in scrubs (which I do love for their comfort, flexibility, and functionality), I have enough latitude to have some color and clashing patterns but not much more. I long for the day, in a couple decades, when I can wear Gudrun Sjoden to work everyday. (As an aside, why is it that we are more "forgiving" of older women's dress? I suspect it has something to do with a societal belief that they are no longer sexual objects so it doesn't matter if they're dressed up to fit what society deems men want).
posted by stillmoving at 5:42 AM on October 20, 2017 [9 favorites]

Dolly Parton, bless her wig barn, is tacky. David Bowie was a vision of tackiness. John Waters is tacky, brilliantly so.
I could quibble with the way she uses "tacky" here, but she seems to be having so much fun it would be tacky to do so.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:03 AM on October 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

David Bowie was never tacky. That man was pure style.

Yes, even in Labyrinth.
posted by Dysk at 6:14 AM on October 20, 2017 [17 favorites]

I've always thought this was the ultimate tacky dress.
posted by Catblack at 6:15 AM on October 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I could quibble with the way she uses "tacky" here,

I think she is skimming over the distinction between unknowingly tacky and self-aware tacky (kitschy, I think would be the word). John Waters is clearly in the self-aware camp, as is Dolly; they made their careers out of self-aware use and repurposing of tackiness.

It's a fun essay and she makes great points about the construction of rules and constraints, and how freeing it is if you are able to stop following some of the rules.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:19 AM on October 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

In fact, my main takeaway from this article is that 'tacky' apparently means something kinda different and much, much broader in middle-class Alabama than it does in lower-middle-class Britain. But good for the author for getting to the point of dressing for herself, not for everyone else. It sounds so simple, but it really isn't (if your personal taste runs counter to what it 'ought' to be, anyway).
posted by Dysk at 6:21 AM on October 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

I think the author's experience of "flattering" is very telling not necessarily of how generic monolith ~woman~ is treated but of how fat women in specific are treated here.

I have the impression that older women still get judged for dressing too "young", and in visual media, an older woman dressed in skimpy/revealing clothing is sometimes played as a joke.
posted by inconstant at 7:02 AM on October 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

I think she is skimming over the distinction between unknowingly tacky and self-aware tacky (kitschy, I think would be the word).

Yeah, "tacky" as I've used it and I've generally heard it used is a synonym for "cheap," "shoddy," "crass," and "boorish," all marked by an ignorance of its own cheapness and boorishness. Trump's design style is tacky. Clarke's chestful of imaginary medals is tacky. Wearing a confederate flag doo-rag is tacky. Reality TV revels in the tacky. Duck Dynasty, The Jersey Shore, and Chrisley Knows Best are all ground zeros of tacky. Note that Malvina Reynolds famously used the word to evoke a world of cheap uniformity, not spangles and sparkles: "And they're all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same."

A lot of tacky stuff can be performed in a celebratory manner and, I'd argue, becomes something else along the way, camp or kitsch or pop or glam. A lot of tacky stuff can't be re-purposed. It would take a John Waters grasp of black humor to make living in Dictator Chic or wearing a confederate flag doo-rag funny. Anything less would be merely "ironic," and that would be tacky.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:27 AM on October 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

My look, as I grow older, I think of as "8th-grade art teacher" (lots of shawls or tunics, long necklaces, quirky glasses, earth tones or dark colors.)

If I was using sparkly stuff/gold/bright colors, I'd call it "Golden Girl-esque" though. Which is indeed tacky, but happily so.
posted by emjaybee at 7:28 AM on October 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

The Online Etymology Dictionary has some interesting stuff on "tacky."
tacky (adj.2)

"in poor taste," 1888, from earlier sense of "shabby, seedy" (1862), adjectival use of tackey (n.) "ill-fed or neglected horse" (1800), later extended to persons in like condition, "hillbilly, cracker" (1888), of uncertain origin. Related: Tackiness.

The word "tacky" is a Southern colloquialism. It was coined by a wealthier or more refined and educated class for general application to those who were not sheltered by the branches of a family tree, who were "tainted." Those who were wealthy and yet had no great-grandfathers were "tackies." The word was used both in contempt and in derision. It is now nearly obsolete in both senses. There are no aristocrats in the South now, and therefore no "tackies." No man who has the instincts of a gentleman is spoken of as a "tacky," whether he can remember the name of his grandfather's uncle or not. But it has its uses. It is employed in describing persons of low ideas and vulgar manners, whether rich or poor. It may mean an absence of style. In dress, anything that is tawdry is "tacky." A ribbon on the shopkeeper's counter, a curtain in the bolt, a shawl or bonnet, a bolt of cloth fresh from the loom may be "tacky," because it is cheap and yet pretentious. In Louisiana the inferior grade of Creole ponies are known as "tackies." [Horace Ingraham, Charleston, S.C., in "American Notes and Queries," Feb. 15, 1890]
This accords with my understanding of "tacky," which is that it is a specific kind of taste in dress, comportment and/or behavior that is indicative of lower socioeconomic class and therefore discountenanced by members of higher socioeconomic classes.
posted by slkinsey at 7:32 AM on October 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

This accords with my understanding of "tacky," which is that it is a specific kind of taste in dress, comportment and/or behavior that is indicative of lower socioeconomic class and therefore discountenanced by members of higher socioeconomic classes.

To me, there has to be an element of trying to be something you're not about it for it to be tacky. Farmhands and lumberjacks are poor, but plaid shirts and flatcaps aren't. It's not just association with poverty that's tacky - it's misunderstanding of style that is.
posted by Dysk at 7:55 AM on October 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think Trump's style is "dictator chic", not tacky. At least it would make me feel better to draw that line.
Love this article.
posted by chapps at 7:57 AM on October 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

Love this piece, especially the art complete with the middle-finger-up tiara!

When I had less money but had just started a formal office job I did the uniform thing: 5 pencil skirts, about 10 shirts, that's it. Now I can afford more and our office has switched to mostly casual, so I can embrace the two extremes I like to dress in:
1) loud dresses
2) masculine hipster (jeans, boots, flannel, vest)

It's fun to be out on the edges instead of trying to do a classic, timeless look. Sometimes I still crave classy but I was never any good at it. The last wedding I went to, I wore a pretty standard (not exactly timeless, because of the whole current lace trend I got in on) bridesmaid dress plus this amazing bracelet.
posted by Emmy Rae at 8:50 AM on October 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

I have mixed feelings about this. I have always, and still, enjoyed dressing in somewhat tacky ways -- I have 'rescued' things from the thrift store because they were so ugly they were kind of endearing. But I think there's still a BIG element of classism in discussions of how tacky can become classy or trendy or fun, on the right people. Young middle-class women dressing like the Golden Girls is seen as fun and wacky. Young poor women shopping at Walmart in the same outfit is still seen as "couldn't afford anything else from the Goodwill." (And there is still a HUGE gulf between "shopping at goodwill for fun/bargains" and "shopping at goodwill because it's your only option"). There's still a lot of privilege in being able to wear tacky things in various contexts.
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:20 AM on October 20, 2017 [14 favorites]

When it's by choice and reflects a strong intention, it's good.

When it's by necessity or reflects a lack of awareness, it's bad.

Semantics! Word meaning is not really discoverable in a dictionary. It's all dependent on what you imagine happens around a thing. See: marriage, nice, 'he knew what he was signing up for', 'bless', liberal, conservative, socialism, deserve, entitlement, articulate, aggressive, exploit, and pretty much every other word ever.
posted by amtho at 10:36 AM on October 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

No conversation about tackiness is complete without Tacky the Penguin, who is fabulous and loud and awkward.
posted by carrioncomfort at 1:07 PM on October 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

posted by Grandysaur at 1:09 PM on October 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Shopping at thrift stores for decades. Drab clothes for the work week, rayon Hawaiian shirts for summer weekends (like Alan Alda in MASH;) The 1990's Lounge Music revival, relaxing, listening to Martin Denny, Les Baxter, The Three Suns... good times.
posted by ovvl at 6:15 PM on October 20, 2017

If we're calling this "tacky" what are we calling the gold-played lifestyle of the Trumps

My grad school advisor had the perfect word for this aesthetic: helluscious.
posted by Sublimity at 8:55 PM on October 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Baroque is actually the term I think you're all searching for. The style of 18th century monarchies in Europe.
posted by hippybear at 9:10 PM on October 20, 2017

Dolly Parton was NEVER tacky. Neither was Elvis.

Tacky is arriving at a gathering empty-handed.

Tacky is helping yourself to seconds before everyone else has had a first taste.

Tacky is everyone else sitting down before the oldest and most frail people are seated.

Tacky is talking about a party or event front of other people that one knows have not been invited.

Tacky is arguing or deep kissing or fondling or brawling in public.

Tacky is leaving other people at the table out of your conversation.

Finally, anyone who ever describes themselves as a typical Southern gentleman or lady -- is most definitely . . . NOT.
posted by jfwlucy at 1:42 PM on October 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding Baroque with hippybear, but substituting "Fauxroque" due to the fact that it's all recently made, not antique, and probably from Korea, the current masters of such furnishings.

You don't honestly think they would have 250 year old furniture, do you? It would have blemishes.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 7:28 AM on October 22, 2017

Baroque: marbles with dramatically shaped surfaces, paintings showing lots of light and darkness juxtaposition and tension, dramatic natural lights from carefully-placed windows (NOT necessarily floor-to-ceiling), and J.S. Bach's music played on a harpsichord in some adjacent room by a well-mannered court musician.

Fauxroque: fake-gold plated bland panels everywhere, fake Time Magazine covers on the walls, lots, really lots of golden lamps everywhere, and You Can't Always Get What You Want blasting from an adjacent floor.
posted by runcifex at 9:24 AM on October 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

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