If ever there were a precarious moment when the foundations of the great houses of fashion should tremble this is it. Labels rely on three elements when crafting fashion, and one is about to become obsolete. Aesthetic, innovation, and scarcity rule the industry. Designers are skilled artists working within the medium of silhouette and texture. Their clothes tease out elements of rich subcultures, offering visual satire of our most sacred assumptions: gender, religion, desire.
“Ghastly!” we hiss. Then a little softer “does it come in black?”
Subdivision Cuff by NervousSystem $55 via Shapeways
Twenty-first century innovation has spawned revolutionary thought in manufacturing textiles. New technologies like AirDye utilize heat to transfer dye from paper to textiles, saving as much as 75 gallons of water per pound of fabric. Conventional dying, which many industry leaders outsorce to developing countries, produces up to 72 different chemicals, 30 of which do not break down and can cause significant groundwater issues. Inde label I Am Not A Virgin pairs unprocessed “virgin” cotton with synthetic fibers from reclaimed plastic bottles and lunch trays to make their jeans.
Having breifly established the relative continuity of aesthetic evolution and innovation, the lights turn to scarcity. After all, haute couture, basically boils down to a exclusive creation only available to the select few with the connections and the money to obtain it. I can name other industries that rely on scarcity to drive up prices, but the comparison most suitable is the music industry. That’s right, Alexander McQueen, prepare to meet your Napster.
The future of 3-d printing means anyone with access to 3-d software and a printer will be able to recreate haute couture’s wearable sculptures. They’ll be cheap(er), easy to modify, and perfectly specified to the wearer’s form. And for many designers, they’ll also be the end of outsorcing labor under deplorable conditions.
I’m saving an in-depth look at intellectual property where the fashion industry is concerned for another post: however, I do want to highlight a very important change that 3-d printing is bringing about. Even if budding designers don’t have access to 3-d printers, which are still relatively expensive, the technology is becoming more accessible every day. For example, Shapeways allows users to create or upload a design and they’ll send you the finished product. Similar to Etsy, Shapeways’ users are encouraged to set up stores and sell their products directly on the site. Shapeways means that anyone can break into the fashion industry regardless of their textile pedigree. And with the new crowd come engineers, gamers, and hacktivists. Tremble, Fifth Avenue.
Have you ever tried to discover the hidden meaning in the way you dress? How about in the way others dress?
Coco Chanel once said, ‘If a woman is badly dressed, it’s the dress we’ll notice; but if she is impeccably dressed, it’s the woman herself we’ll notice.’
How is it that clothes shape people the way they do? When reading Fashion Philosophy for Everyone, I learned that fashion tends to send signals. Those signals can be found to be in any sort of the following ways:
• Financial Status
The book was written in a series of essays with a variety of viewpoints from different authors and philosophers that talk about different aspects of fashion.Continue reading »
I ran the Firefly Run, a nighttime 5k where people dress up in illuminated clothes to run the race. Some people (like me) simply wore glow-in-the dark accessories, but others went all out in full LED costume!
Seeing all of those illuminated outfits at varying stages of design and style got me thinking. At what point does illuminated clothing go from gimmick to costume to fashion?
Illuminated fashion is a high-tech style genre that has been around for years, but has yet to take hold in the mainstream, probably because it’s mostly seen as impractical, and tends to fall into the “fashion of fashion’s sake” category. And, just as with many other styles, it is very easy to get wrong.
Project Runway did an Illuminated Fashion challenge this season, and while the clothes ended up looking cool the illuminations served no function. I think FashioningTech’s post is spot on when it says that all of the designers missed the mark, and were stuck in a stereotypical mindframe. This is how most of the world sees “illuminated fashion,” and it is difficult to change paradigms and mind-frames.
Illuminated Bridesmaid Dresses from Modern Family
Illuminated fashion can be seen as an extreme or gimmicky, but can actually be found fairly easily and can look good in formal fashions. For example, the bridesmaids and flower girl dresses in the wedding recently featured on Modern Family. In fact, you can actually custom order an illuminated wedding dress or a variety of other illuminated garments from Enlighted. Aside from the wedding dress, which I think turned out beautifully, although I would not have chosen yellow, Enlighted’s designs tend to fall more into the costume category, in my opinion. Part of the reason behind that, is probably their client-base, who seems to be Vegas-type shows, but I honestly think part of it is that Enlighted has been in the business for 14 years, and although on one hand, that is a good thing, meaning they have lots of experience, on the other hand, I think it is easy to get stuck in a style rut, and get stuck with one type of look.
ALL of the terms above are alternative names with the same basic meaning. Yes – men are beginning to wear the same fashions as women. For years, women have been able to wear men’s fashion – so why not the reverse? You might think that most men don’t know much about fashion but they are definitely interested and learning.
Some may find that some women’s clothing is more comfortable than men’s and for some the exact opposite might also be the case. For instance some women might often buy men’s clothes because of style, fit and cost. Others buy socks and shoes, because their feet are larger than what typical women’s fashion dictates.
Yet others find quite functional reasons for “cross dressing”. Army men have been known to wear pantyhose (socks) inside their combat boots for long distances. They wear them inside of their socks next to their skin – as they are great for preventing blisters! Above is just one of the practical reasons that men wear women’s fashion. It is only later when they discover that they are actually comfortable and don’t look all that bad that they start wearing more often.
This brings us to the term mantyhose. Mantyhose is a term that was brought about 3 plus years ago. Some might say that “shapewear” is inherently unmanly. That’s only because society’s minds are trained to pair tights with women’s wear. Some believe it would only be accepted if you were competing in a sport that would enhance your performance. Recently though, it has been noticed that it is possible to have a very masculine look when mantyhose are paired with other regular clothes.
Lil Wayne jumped around in skinny women’s pants during his performance at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards. Kanye West wore a multiprint shirt designed for women at the Coachella music festival. Kid Cudi has been seen in a plaid skirt, Snoop Dogg often wears jewelry designed for women, and Pharrell Williams is a fan of the Hermes-made Birkin bag, the ultra-expensive purse favored by Hollywood’s top actresses.
Over the last 50 to 100 plus years, women have fought for equal opportunities in the workplace. Now we see men fighting for equal rights on the style side. For a long time, women have had the physical benefits of such things such as make-up and spanx (the best thing since sliced bread in my personal opinion) while men have had to face the reality of what you have is what you got. They have no way to cover a blemish. That old saying of a “beer gut” is the excuse for having a gut… but what are your options if you are SHORT? What do you do? Well believe it or not, heels are becoming an option. Yes – men in heels! The picture below shows Lenny Kravitz even wore platform wedge boots to Fashion Week in New York.
When it comes to clothing at least, women can do pretty much anything and can be accepted. Do men have the same equal rights as women when it comes to choice of clothing or do they fear mockery if stepping outside of who society says can wear what?
You may have thought everyone was there to celebrate films over the last year, but in all honesty – the stories that people will be buzzing about for days after is what everyone was wearing and who made which list – the best dressed or the worst dressed.
Stylists and designers generally wait until the Oscars before bringing out the best in their collections. This year, it was pale shades from cream to nude which proved to be the most popular along with shimmering aspects of all kinds.
Fashion houses are already rushing to produce ready- to- wear inspired by “the most glamorous night of the year” by the time the dresses even make their way to the after parties.
It wasn’t only the fashion being discussed; Sunday’s Oscar ceremony produced 3.8 million comments on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites, according to data generated by Cambridge, Mass.-based Bluefin Labs. With those numbers, it made this year’s awards show the second most talked-about entertainment event on TV since the company began measuring traffic on social media sites. Comments on such sites surrounding Sunday’s ceremony and red carpet arrivals surged nearly 300% over last year. Literally, within seconds every minor detail of the Oscars broadcast was scrutinized and joked about.
Technology and fashion are evoloving and intersecting in multiple fascinating and unexpected ways. From clothing that moves to garments that offer healing properties for the skin, techno fashion applications are literally turning the contemporary fashion aesthetic on it’s well dressed head. Below I have compiled a few examples of recent developments in the techno fashion space. From the exceedingly cool to the just plain weird, the innovations detailed below explore designers and developements on the very cutting edge of the genre.
As anyone who has ever been caught in phone menu purgatory, attempting to return wrongly sized or ill-fitting online purchases will tell you, the value of this technological innovation is significant indeed.
Take accurate individual measurements via webcam
UpCload, a company based in Berlin, has developed technology to enable online shoppers to accurately take their own body measurements for proper sizing assessments when shopping for clothes online. The only equipment required by the shopper are a webcam and a compact disk for calibration. The tool measures such characteristics and chest circumference and arm length and then adapts those measurements to correspond with online retailers clothing sizes. Even better, shoppers can create a profile to store their measurements and use them to shop at any participating online retailer “to ensure a consistent and reliable fit.” The service is currently in beta but has plans to roll out to stores worldwide and institute social networking capabilities whereby shoppers can compare purchases among their friends. Though there may be some hidden privacy concerns here, I believe this is an excellent marriage of fashion and technology with positive implications for the digital sartorial landscape. Also, no more phone menu purgatory!
Another German company doing exciting things in the techno fashion space is Innovation and Clothing Factory. The company recently launched Twosquaremeter, an eco-chic line of knitwear featuring garments constructed from “specially developed biological yarns.” As first reported on springwise.com: “The yarns contain either seaweed fibers or milk protein fibers, both of which are thought to contain healing and nourishing properties for the skin. To produce the milk-based knitwear, natural milk is skimmed and drained before the extracted proteins are processed into fibers. Twosquaremeter claim that these fibers bind sweat and neutralize the smell, while also regulating body temperature.” Other healthful benefits of the line’s garments include clothing constructed from cotton seaweed that is purported to have skin-rejuvinating abilities. Here’s a short video showcasing the brand’s entire line.
Garments that have the ability to literally heal the wearer really represent the truly limitless potential of the techno fashion genre. Manifestations of the cyborg, whereby clothing augments human capability, have often been met with consumer circumspection. I feel this brand does much to lead the conversation in a more positive direction. Especially, considering that in addition to the healing properties of the brand’s clothing, the label has also made a commitment to ethical business practices including sustainable and environmentally sound garment production. This is surely a label for other brands to watch…and emulate.
In an irreverent take on the concept communicative fashion designer John Nussey and design student Steven Tai have developed a dress constructed from vibrating pen nibs. Literally marrying analog and digital communcations technology, the dress is constructed of 42 rows of vibrating pen nibs with each row wired with a vibrating cell phone motor. Here’s a short video of the garment in action:
The vibrating rows of nibs can be controlled, including being powered on and off, with an arduino. Hence the virating pen nib dress also possesses programming and sequencing capabilities. Of course the dress, like any good garment, is also mobile. Per Nussey in an interview for Wired UK: “The whole lot is powered by a rechargeable lithium battery, so it doesn’t have to be plugged in.” With wired vibrating nibs that remarkably resemble sequins Nussey and Tai have literally expanded on the communicative capabilities of fashion in a particularly unique and creative way. Perhaps the Pen Nib dress heralds the beginning of a techno sartorial communications revolution.
The following dress turns Manovich’s media theory of transcoding on it’s head. If trasncoding is the transformation of media into compter data, what do we call it when computer data is transformed into analog media? Behold the Angry Birds Dress.
Angry Birds Dress
Spotted on an attendee of a gala at the Finnish Presidential Palace, the Angry Birds Dress is media in its truest sense. Indeed it communicates something about the wearer (particularly that she has an offbeat sense of humor) and our contemporary media landscape. Allow me to channel Marshall McLuhan for a moment. I believe we are witnessng here no less than an extension of man, or woman as it were, as the Angry Birds dress is an apt illustration of the extension of the digital into the realm of the physical. Hence contemporary fashionistas are in the midst of a redefining of the self - a redefining that must make room for the digital.
These are but a few of the latest developments in the genre of techno fashion. As illustrated here the field is as broad as it is wide, and the implications for these innovations are significant indeed. As fashion and technology evolve and intersect it will be interesting to witness what innovations will come next.
Retailer H&M has received some decidedly negative scrutiny recently for using computer generated models on their website. As reported on mashable.com the retailer came under fire for superimposing real models heads onto computer generated bodies to showcase a range of collections on it’s retail site. To the unsuspecting viewer nothing is amiss, however if one looks closely it becomes evident that all of the models have perfectly identical body types. Key word being: “perfect.” The retailer has incurred the ire of many who view the casting of virtual models as setting an unrealistic standard for women to live up to.
This H&M boondoggle puts me in mind of the 2002 film Simone. Simone tells the story of a beleaguered film producer, played superbly with frazzled panache by Al Pacino, who, fed up with the antics of spoiled Hollywood starlets, creates a computer generated actress who proves to be a little too good at her job – and in short order takes over his entire life. The story is a funny, albeit slightly disturbing, modern day, emerging media Frankenstein – and a cautionary tale for brands. However, we’ll touch on that later. Here’s a clip:
H&M asserts that the fake models make it easier for their customers to focus on the clothes rather than on the models wearing the clothes. Per H&M spokesperson Hacan Andersson, “The result is strange to look at, but the message is clear: buy our clothes, not our models.”
Though the retailer’s strategy was particularly ill advised I’m not sure I read any deliberately dubious intentions. Frankly it strikes me as a rather sophomoric attempt at cost cutting. I am concerned however, with the side effects of this practice. Does the use of fake models set up an unrealistic expectation of perfection among women? Or does it legitimize an expectation that already exists? Contemporary human fashion models most often do not present a realistic representation of the average female body. Not even close. However the employment of computer generated models, whereby an advertiser can literally code whatever model body measurements they like, literally says to ordinary humans, model or otherwise, “You’re not good enough.” I find this particularly troubling and more than a little misogynistic.
More H&M Computer Generated Models
Indeed, what does this say for the company’s regard for women, it’s primary customer base? Not only is the company legitimizing an unrealistic aesthetic, they are literally dehumanizing half of the world’s population. Placing a real model’s disembodied head onto a fake, computer generated body, a body that is exactly identical to several other fake bodies sporting real heads, is just…offensive. Terribly so.
Additionally, I find the practice of designing all women’s bodies identical immensely troublesome in itself. If the idealized collective male fantasy is a world where women are literally interchangeable then we as a society are in trouble indeed. Real women’s bodies aren’t identical. Even supermodels figures have variations. While I do suppose it would make it easier on clothing manufacturers if they only had to make clothing in one size, the idea of a world populated with bodily identical women is frankly disturbing.
It is time for retailers and advertisers to realize that the images that they disseminate are more far more than just advertisements for goods. Indeed they are cultural artifacts in the truest sense of the term. Contemporary advertisements are inevitably informed with the aesthetic sensibility of the context within which they appear. As much as they promote they also reflect. Perhaps unwittingly, they reflect cultural norms, mores, desires and expectations. They are imbued with meaning far beyond the intentions of the photographer or the commissioning brand. Accordingly they wield a tremendous power that extends far beyond just selling attire. Indeed I contend that images unconsciously promote the idealized self. Now it should be a little more evident why the employment of idealized computer generated, nay computer manipulated, models is a spectaularly bad idea.
Of course I am not suggesting that the masses of the ad viewing public are mindless drones literally powerless to defend our virgin eyes from the whims and caprice of evil brands. Far from it, in fact. The brands, though often misguided, aren’t evil, and the layer of cultural encoding that results from advertisements is complex and nuanced. No one can state with certainty that any advertisement has a direct effect on consumer behavior. It is the cumulative and collective effects, effects that indeed have nothing to do with short term consumer behavior, or merchandise sales, that I am referring to here. The negative effects of cultural artifacts like the H&M fake model images are far more subtle – and ubiquitious – for both for the viewer and the producer. They make it ok to objectify women, they promote a literally unattainable (unless one day we really will all live in the Matrix) aesthetic ideal, and they legitimize and promulgate the Stepford fantasy…just to name a few.
Poor H&M. It seems the retailer has unwittingly created their own little army of long legged digital Frankensteins. While their computer generated models showed off their merchandise beautifully, and cheaply, they also did a superb job of showcasing a contemporary ethos bent on misogyny. Good job, girls! Well done! Like the aforementioned movie producer in the film Simone, the brand may find it in their best interest to destroy their creation before they are able to wreak more havoc. However if that film taught us anything it’s that digital cultural artifacts have a way of taking on lives of their own.
The following article details the recent and remarkable rise in the status of fashion bloggers from dismissed outsiders, to contemporary arbiters of style. Author Alisa Gould-Simon explores the current fashion media landscape and examines how fashion bloggers have upset the traditional fashion media paradigm.
Personality Rules: The larger Than Life the Better
As the article alludes, and it certainly seems to be the case, a major selling point of the contemporary blogger is the blogger’s unique personality. I don’t know that I would characterize this as a sharp deviation from business as usual per se (Ever heard of Anna Wintour? How about Nina Garcia?), but it does mark a significant point of departure from traditional journalism. Indeed one of key pieces of advice I always give my blogging students is to develop their own unique voice. That is because as a blogger, it’s their lifeblood. Bloggers literally live and die (Ok maybe not “literally” but you get my meaning!) by their voice, and moreover their unique personal sartorial aesthetic. That is, after all, the key reason why we read and follow fashion blogs, for the distinctive voice, personality and taste of the blogger. As readers we seek out bloggers whose aesthetic sensibility matches, or maybe inspires, our own aesthetic sensibility. We seek out their unique tips, and style guides and the like, as no one but they can present them. But does that mean that objective factual reporting is an antiquated construct? Hmmm…I’ll circle back to that one shortly.
Advertorial vs. Editorial
A particular source of handwringing amongst traditional fashion publishers seems to lie in the tendency of contemporary bloggers to blur the line between endorsement and editorial. While this is an important distinction, I’m not sure that I agree that it was bloggers who eradicated the sacrosanct separation of the two. Now don’t get me wrong. There is indeed something to be said about bloggers who fail to disclose that the editorial that they are producing has been commissioned by a particular brand. That is highly unethical and I believe just plain wrong. For reasons why, please see the preceding paragraph. The first “advertorial” that I ever saw, however, was years ago in a traditional print publication – way before fashion bloggers upset the proverbial applecart. Of course the piece was labeled as such, and I had no idea what the heck an advertorial even was, nevertheless fashion bloggers didn’t invent the practice that has traditional publications so peeved. Traditional publications did. In fact, isn’t the ubiquitous infomercial nothing more than a televised advertorial? Dutifully disclosed so as to maintain the established trust with a bloggers readership, established bloggers who accept paid commissions to blog on behalf of brands are doing no more than traditional print publications have been doing all along. There is no inherent conflict here.
Also, what of publications whose editorial is clearly influenced, if indirectly, by the interests of the advertisers they hope to retain or attract? I believe this is a more serious breach of the reader’s trust as the reader is mislead to believe that the writer’s (editor’s, etc.) ideas, information opinions or advice are purely their own and completely uninfluenced. For instance how likely is it that reporter (or an editor, even) for a fashion magazine will truly take a major designer to task in the pages of the magazine if that designer is also a significant or sought after advertiser in that magazine? Not likely. Well, not if they hope to maintain their status as employed, anyway. So their opinions, at the very least have been…nudged. Of course I’m not advocating that reporters start trashing designers publicly. I only aim to point out the illusion of purely unbiased, uninfluenced reporting. I told you I’d circle back.
Stiletto warfare: Traditional vs. New Media
I, for one, am excited to see bloggers stepping up and taking their place among the heretofore closed ranks of traditional fashion media. Though there has been a shift in the media paradigm I believe that shift is much more subtle than most traditional media would have us believe. There is nothing inherently disingenuous about bloggers being compensated for their unique sets of skills and abilities. Traditional and print personalities have always been compensated for theirs. Now, as pointed out in this article that I found recently, there is a distinct need for a standard code of etiquette which may (or may not) include the training of independent bloggers on the myriad ins and outs of professional fashion reporting. That is of course if fashion bloggers aspire to be considered journalists. This disconnect, I believe, is the root source of much of the friction that exists between traditional and online fashion media. Of course I say this as a bona fide media outsider. But what if, as the Mashable article indirectly alludes, fashion bloggers are more interested in becoming media personalities, commodities or walking brands even, than reporters? In that case, might not a different set of ethical rules apply? Whatever the case there is certainly room in the contemporary media landscape for more than one type of fashion media…and it’s about time.
Image captured from BBC Sports, url: http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/boxing/15452596.stm
The following article details recent developments in the world of women’s boxing. The sport has recently scored a major coup in that Women’s Boxing will be featured for the first time in the 2012 Summer Olympics. This milestone is significantly diminished, however, in that if the Amateur International Boxing Association has it’s way these fearless Olympians will be competing in…skirts. Citing that the skirt uniform will “make the women easier to distinguish from the men” the association is pushing for the sartorial revision over the vocal and numerous objections of many competing in the sport.
This proposed requirement is problematic in several ways. First of all it it has the distinct effect of sexualizing female athletes. By emphaszing the sex of the competitors this rule effectively legitimizes the conception of the female athlete first as decoration (eye candy) and second as competitor. I know several female athletes who would take particular issue with being objectified in such a manner. This policy would further trivialize the female athlete by casting her as as something other, and thus deviant, from the standard norm of the male athlete. By forcing female boxers to wear skirts the rule places the sport squarely within the purview of the male athlete while giving only token credence to gender equality in sports.
Additionally the sexism inherent in such a policy is difficult to ignore. Male athletes uniforms are designed for function, not form. They are not, nor to my knowledge have they ever been, designed to highlight the masculinity of male competitors. Why should the attire of female athletes be held to a different standard? Moreover, why is it important that the uniforms of female athletes be designed to highlight their femininity in a realm that is supposed to be gender neutral? By emphasizing form over function this rule yet again trivializes the participation of female athletes in the sport, as well as legitimizes a rather troublesome stereotype of of the superficial, appearance obsessed female.
Speaking of stereotypes, what of the idea of the hyper-masculine female athlete? If this proposed amendment is a clumsy attempt to give back the allegedly “lost” femininity of the female athlete, then it is problematic in several regards. First, it assumes that femininity and sportsmanship are mutually exclusive. Is the association asserting that the only way the spectator can tell a female boxer from a male one is by virtue of the boxer’s attire? The ridiculousness of such an assumption is indeed laughable. Also there is no evidence to suggest that such a visual signifier is even necessary. If the competitors name isn’t enough to distinguish her gender then perhaps the televised subtitle reading “Women’s Boxing” will have to suffice. Of course this does nothing for the live spectator but one would assume anyone who went to the trouble and expense of traveling to view the Olympics in person would be pretty deliberate about which events they attended.
Additionally this proposed rule places aesthetics in a realm where it is highly and particularly irrelevant. Athletes the world over have historically been trained to develop their physical skills. Appearance has nothing whatsoever to do with physicality. While the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, they certainly aren’t (and never have been) mutually dependent. However, this rule squarely places a higher value on aesthetics than it does skill. It would be tantamount to advising athletes, both male and female, that their practice sessions would be better spent accessorizing their uniforms, or having their hair done. This rule effectively undoes the very underpinning of athletics, that is the development of skill as inherent to the success of the athlete. Per this rule the successful athlete need only(or primarily) tend to their appearance, as victory will undoubtedly follow the most aesthetically pleasing and gender appropriate.
Female athletes have fought long and tirelessly to achieve some semblance of equality in sports. Of course I don’t mean to suggest that the current “playing field” is completely even. Far from it, in fact. However, significant progress has been made and the proposed amendment to the Women’s Olympic boxer uniform is a resounding slap in the face to generations of female athletes. This is certainly not the first time that attire has been employed as a vehicle of female oppression. It is, however, one of the most egregious. Female boxers are competitors, not decoration. They have ascended to the top of their profession because of their ability to compete, not their ability to titillate. Athletics, by design, is one of the few cultural realms that is truly gender and aesthetic neutral. Gender, and all of it’s social and cultural baggage, has no place in the ring.
What do you think? Is this proposed requirement taking gender representation a bit too far?
First off let me state that this is not a fashion book. Nor is it a beauty book. Nor, and you may find this surprising, is it a feminist manifesto. Still interested? Good. As the title suggests the author, Linda M. Scott, offers a fresh perspective on the relationship of fashion to radical feminism. Now you may be asking, “What relationship?” That universal misunderstanding is precisely the stereotype that Scott tackles, head on, in this volume. Professor Linda M. Scott, with meticulous research, challenges the longstanding assumption that fashion and feminism exist in stark opposition to each other. In a nutshell, Fresh Lipstick: Redressing Fashion and Feminism is a revisionist approach to the history of fashion and feminism.
Feminism: The Good, The Bad, The Pretty
One of Scott’s most salient revisions to feminist history appears in the opening chapters of the work which examine the origins of the first wave of the movement. Per Scott’s retelling American “feminism” had less to do with establishing equality for women than it did with asserting and maintaining strict demarcations of class and social status. Scott characterizes early feminists as wealthy, and upper middle class, Caucasian women mainly concerned with improving the social standing of wealthy and upper middle class Caucasian women. Take, for example, Scott’s depiction of the movement’s attack on the corset. Much early feminist rhetoric lambasts the evils of the corset. A deliberately uncomfortable accoutrement, it literally held women prisoner within their clothes by making even basic movement all but impossible. So early attacks by feminists were indeed not unwarranted. What makes Scott’s take on the controversy unique, however, is that – as she points out in meticulous detail – the only women who wore corsets were women of a certain class. You guessed it, the women of the American aristocracy. As Scott reminds us slave women certainly didn’t wear corsets, nor did immigrant women or working class women. So exactly whose rights were these early feminists fighting for? This is a theme that underpins much of Fresh Lipstick, in fact.
Much feminist rhetoric, both contemporary and historical, extols the virtues “sisterhood,” essentially giving the impression that one merely needs to possess a vagina in order to be represented by the movement. Scott, rejects this representation as pure fiction and details a history of feminism that is far more dubious – or at least class, race and appearance conscious. Per Scott both first and second wave feminists defined feminism in very narrow terms and deliberately excluded certain classes of women from the movement. Scott details a history of feminism that is particularly exclusionary to women who fall outside of the feminist ideal – whatever that ideal happens to be at a given time. Scott also challenges feminism’s attack on the beauty and advertising industries and argues that feminist literature attacks these industries while completely disregarding social and historical context. Though Scott makes a valid point here perhaps Fresh Lipstick’s biggest weakness is that it makes no distinction between academic and popular feminist literature. While I don’t disagree with Scott’s assertions in this regard it does warrant mentioning that many of her arguments regarding feminist “dogma” make sweeping generalizations of the movement, effectively painting all feminism with the same brush. Ironically this is a crime that Scott nails feminist leaders on again and again.
Still, one of the things I found most interesting about Fresh Lipstick is how it challenges the anti commercial rhetoric associated with contemporary feminism. Scott asserts that not only is there no over-arching conspiracy perpetrated by the collective beauty industry to coerce women into buying products that they don’t need, but that there never has been. Scott traces the history of female targeted advertising and makes a very convincing argument that throughout history much of the advertising directed at women has been researched, developed and written by women. In Chapter Six Scott details the history of one of the most famous advertising campaigns of the twentieth century – one, in fact, that many credit as the first advertising ever to “use sex to sell a commodity”. (179) The ads, which first appeared in 1911, were for Woodbury Soap and were developed from concept to execution by Helen Lansdowne Resor, Creative Director of J. Walter Thompson. JWT was the largest advertising agency in America for half of the twentieth century and Scott makes a point of illustrating that Resor was hardly a professional anomaly. In fact until well into the 80′s most advertising agencies, as a fundamental part of their hierarchical structure, included highly active “Women’s” departments that were responsible for developing advertising, including market research, copy and creative, to appeal to women. These departments were often the largest, most influential and most profitable in their respective agencies – and were typically completely staffed by women.
These are only a few of the book’s eyebrow raising revelations regarding the history of fashion as it relates to American feminism. Indeed Fresh Lipstick’s challenge to feminist rhetoric is quite extensive and highly organized, examining the movement from it’s nascency to present day . Backed up by a staggering amount of meticulous research, the book is both a fun and enlightening read. I highly recommend it for anyone fostering an interest in the history of the feminist movement, or how feminism helped to shape the American fashion industry.