A Conjecture of Our Time

As I was sewing up a knitting project, I listened to Amanda Halley, as I so often do. In an episode about fashion forecasters, she pointed out that fashion has changed very little from 2008 to 2018. The Laird Hamilton and I have discussed this from time to time, as some of the clothes we wore when we first met are, at present, wearable and relevant. Still, Halley had pictures.

This isn’t to say that absolutely nothing has changed, but the overall aesthetic is so similar. We expect interior design and architecture to remain more constant, as to update anything more than throw pillows annually would break the bank. However, the streetwear-through-time pointed out that very little has changed in the way we dress our bodies. Halley argues that we don’t want anything new at present – we just want better versions of our old stuff.

I wonder if this is true. Do we want to subconsciously relive those years, when things were more predictable and the outside world felt normal? Or are we just sartorially lost? We’ve seen wave after wave of mini-trends and subcultures taking prominence, but nothing has stuck around. Runways have brought us the dramatic and extreme, but few things would suit a regular woman’s lifestyle. The 40s, 50s and 70s have all had their moments, and yet we still go back to our skinny jeans and slightly oversized jumpers. Very few of our everyday outfits are exciting, though as a society our purchasing has exploded.

As we know, the 1950s and 1960s each had a very unified look – a set handful of haircuts, a small margin of skirt lengths, prescribed shape wear. Today, it seems that we’re floundering a little, with so many of us seeking out the ideal wardrobe and then proceeding to wear 20% of it 80% of the time.

Of course, this paradigm of ‘more of the same’ is pitted against a consumerist model, in which 52 micro seasons now exist. Retailers are geared toward producing fast fashion pieces that keep us feeling pacified as the memory of our weekend recedes. Ultimately, we have much to choose from, but the selection is hardly any different from what we already have. Statement necklaces, check shirts, ankle boots – we’ve had them all, with slight variations. Are we so caught up in details that a slimmer heel outshines a block, or burgundy outpaces red?

I’m all for individual expression, particularly through fashion. However, I believe that what we’re seeing here is designers trying and failing to find a look that speaks to a generation – someone who creates an aesthetic conjecture of our time. Thus, they make subtle changes to previous designs because they sell. We buy them because we know that they work. And still, we spend our weekends in skinny jeans and oxfords paired with our husbands’ jumpers. (Or is that just Surrey?)

I wonder how fashion would change if the designers were all encouraged to take a year off. Like letting fields go fallow for the good of future crops. How much could things change in that time, without the external pressures of sponsors, parties and buyers? Would we be able to go back to a time of slow fashion made explicitly for the way we live now?

My Pants and the Patriarchy

Epilating, Waxing, Lasers, good, old-fashioned Shaving. I’ve done them all in an attempt to ‘deal’ with my body hair. Particularly my pubic hair. Being half-Italian, I have a lot of hair. Thus, this hair removal routine was not in an attempt to look like a porn star; it was just to keep said hair contained in my pants.

Lately, however, I have grown tired of this. Paying in time and money to have hair pulled out from the roots just to feel acceptable in knickers, that is. No man I’ve ever met goes through this nonsense, nor have they had waxes for anything less than their favourite charity.

As women, we’re often told that body hair is unsightly, or even ‘gross.’ When the bikini was created in 1946, it was right after men returned home from the war, and women were fighting to retain the same status that they held during wartime. They had held jobs, built airplanes, and worked in wartime intelligence. Yet, they were expected to go back to the home and stay there. It should be no surprise that, in an era that infantilised women, pubic hair needed to be removed in order to wear the current fashion. Hair indicates sexual maturity, even female desire. Is it such a leap from a sexually mature woman to a confident one?

The patriarchy likes to keep us focused on things that don’t really matter. Fashion flows one way and then the other; we are constantly on the lookout. In this way, our attentions are focused elsewhere and we are less likely to express outrage towards our circumstances. Bread, circuses and waxes.

Most of us have no need to remove our body hair, and yet porn culture has indicated to us that we should to be aesthetically pleasing to our partners. Most of us are not porn stars, and so we should not be held to the same standard of grooming. Our genitals are not being filmed, and thus letting the camera view penetration more clearly is not of importance. Because this is all waxing is for, really: the close-up.

And yet, viewing penetration isn’t generally sexy for women. Women also aren’t dragged out of the moment because of hair. We are more turned on by a story, an atmosphere, an unspeakable chemistry. Perhaps it isn’t even that sexy for men, either. Over the weekend, I was in a vintage shop in Brighton and overheard two guys going through a basket of old Playboy magazines, which they evidently preferred to the newer editions. They complained about the amount of airbrushing that bodies receive in modern porn, and about the lack of hair. Bald like ten-year-olds. What’s the point?

But I digress. What I really wanted to talk about was knicker shopping. So, I recently bought some new styles of underwear, having disposed of all the bikini styles that require the eponymous wax. And all of the Brazilian styles, which, well, ditto. Even with American Apparel declaring that the minge is back, this was not an altogether successful undertaking, unless I wanted to continue my life looking as if spiders were escaping the legs of my pants.

It wasn’t until the Laird Hamilton and I were off for a little drive that he suggested I look to countries like France, where pubes are more normal. I remembered seeing a French emcee at a burlesque show. She wore a sheer costume, and fully visible beneath was a natural bush. What better for the retro styling than retro lingerie? French knickers have saved the day, with their fluttery style and longer length. Though they are inappropriate for tights and jeans, I hope that I’ll find another solution for those. For now, I’m happy with silk knix and suspenders.

In short, the patriarchy contains many elements which either intentionally or inadvertently tax female citizens, both in finance and in time. Young women in particular feel compelled to shave just in case a spontaneous sexual encounter occurs. I’m calling bullshit on the whole thing: we have better things to do with our lives.

The Titty Tax

This is going to get heavy, but I promise it will get better. Just probably not today. Unfortunately, this isn’t even an article about bras.

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For anyone who pays attention to American news, this has been a triggering couple of weeks. Victim blaming has reminded many of us why we stayed quiet in crucial moments. The credibility of those brave enough to speak has been called into question because the women were young, drunk or both. Anger has made me shaky and hot. Then freezing. Then hot again.

I am a survivor of sexual abuse, harassment and rape. All these things happened on more than one occasion, and I never reported any of them to law enforcement. In almost all of those instances, I felt that I shared part of the blame. I gave myself reasons for this. For instance: I didn’t fight back hard enough (even though fighting at all made the agony worse). I was asleep naked (as if that were an invitation). I had been too close to the perpetrator. I was related to the perpetrator. I hadn’t bought myself a lock for my bedroom door.

Add these to a culture which, where I lived, shamed women who were not virgins until they married. My ‘greatest gift’ was gone. I was used. I was that chewed piece of gum held up triumphantly in sex ed to the rhetorical question, ‘And who would want a chewed piece of gum?’ I’d chewed my boyfriend’s gum once, trying to get a raspberry pip out of my teeth. It fell apart in my mouth. No one wants chewed gum.

And yet, telling my mother that I had chosen to have sex was easier than telling her that I’d been forced. It carried an air of rebellion with it, a rejection of the religion that would now reject me. Months later, when I told her the truth, she didn’t want to hear about it – but she did  ask me questions that put me on the back foot. Was it the first time I’d had my clothes off around him? Why was I alone with him? Was it still going on? Rather than feeling supported, I believed that I’d had a hand in my own rape. Never mind that I’d bled for days afterward, or that the stress nearly made me lose my mind.

Not every girl’s ‘loving family’ is ready to give her agency, especially if the family religion belittles anyone without a hymen. Best keep it quiet.

But back to the present day. I write this after Christine Blasey Ford provided testimony filled with vivid detail, including the increased volume of a stereo when two men closed her in a bedroom with them. Her silencing was the most frightening thing for her. She also spoke out knowing that it might not make a difference.

Throughout the internationally reported ‘pre- and post-hearing’, the phrase ‘ruining a man’s life’ has been bandied about with particular abandon. As if barring a man from sitting on the Supreme Court ruins his life (not that he’ll ever know). Moreover, this attitude ignores the women’s lives that have been ruined by male entitlement. The hours of therapy we have paid for, the silence, the learned helplessness, the loss of confidence, even the inability to show complete love to our chosen partners – these are the tax of being a woman with a past of compromised safety.

Blaming women for not reporting their own abuse is fairly standard these days, usually accompanied by the implication that future victims are on the first victim’s head. However, the low rate of conviction (or even belief) also begs the question – which of us are worth protecting, and which of us are to be left without justice, our credibility compromised by our own vulnerability? Within this framework of partisan justice, is it any surprise that so many of us stay silent?