Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Political (Fashion) Statement

Recently, an Iraqi journalist chucked his black leather oxfords at President George W. Bush, causing a blushing world leader and chuckling from California to Iran. But this isn't the first time shoes have caused discussion on the national political scene, and while everyone rushes to the malls today, hoping to score 60 and 70 percent discounts on footwear, let's pause a moment and reflect on the times when our favorite accessory influenced political discussions.

-- Russian leader Nikita Khruschev was known for banging his fists on a table and yelling in Russian while other U.N. leaders were speaking. On Oct. 12, 1960, Khruschev banged his fist so hard against the table that his watch fell off his wrist. When he picked it up, Khruschev spotted his shoes, which he had taken of his feet earlier because the stiff new leather was bothering him. He then picked up his right shoe and banged it against his desk, infuriated the head of the Filipino delegation would suggest Eastern Europe be granted independence from the Soviet Union. Khruschev later wrote in a memoir, "I took off my shoe and pounded it on desk so that our protest would be louder."

-- In February 1986, Imelda Marcos left behind about 2,700 pairs of shoes in Manilla when she and husband Ferdinand Marcos fled to Hawaii after being ousted as the leaders of the Phillipines. Time Magazine wrote "If Imelda Marcos changed her shoes three times a day, and never wore the same pair twice, it would take her more than two years and five months to work through her shoe supply." The shoes later became a symbol of excessive government spending and corruption.

-- On Dec. 22, 2001, British citizen Richard Reid was arrested after American Airlines employees say he attempted to light one of his shoes on fire during a flight from Paris to Miami. Dubbed the "shoe bomber" after authorities find a detonator and explosives hidden in his footwear, Reid is sentenced to life in prison on terrorism charges. As a result of the incident, passengers are now asked to remove their shoes when going through airport security.

--In June 2001, designer John Galliano stirred a small controversy, when he presented a collection containing fish-net body stockings worn with hooker high heels and jackets stamped with political slogans, such as "tax evasion", "anar-chic" and "class war." This November, discussion also rippled through the fashion world, when Galliano used an African religious symbol as the heel of one of his shoes in the Christian Dior collection.

--On July 12, 2005, a member of Northwestern University's champion women's lacrosse team wore a $16 pair of flip-flops decorated with rhinestones to the White House for a photo op with President Bush and was denied entry to the Oval Office. The president required men to wear ties in the oval office and for women to be "appropriately dressed. A week later, a new sign –- banning jeans, tank tops, and flip flops -- appeared on the northwest gate of the White House where staff, press, and appointments enter the West Wing.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Nice List

Vogue recently released its list of the top 10 best dressed people for 2008, and most of the outfits are feminine and flattering. But no. 7 made me raised my eyebrows.

Diane Kruger pulls off the outfit well, but it looks so masculine, with the white dress shirt and black bow tie, and it doesn't look any different from outfits that men have been wearing for centuries. The outfit's not even a unique take on an old concept; the combination of the black high-waisted skirt and white shirt reminds me of something worn for years by receptionists and waitresses.

If the world's top-circulated fashion magazine wants to laud the German actress' sense of style this year, they should've picked something more fashion-forward that celebrates the differences between men and women, rather than blurring the line between them.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The winds of change in Washington?

What women need: a female politician who dabs on lipstick before kicking ass in a debate on foreign policy.

Right now, most female politicians chop their hair short and pull on dark suits, in an attempt to fit in with all the boys on Capitol Hill. Rather, we need a woman who doesn't care that magazine will write about her Versace handbag and yet manages to be forceful and intelligent without coming across as arrogant or bitchy.

We got a lot of forcefulness from Hillary Clinton, though she traded the pink and purple pant suits for more neutral colors later in the campaign, and she had to work against the reputation of having a wealthy, well-connected family and a husband who can't keep his mouth (or his fly) shut.

We got a lot of nice designer clothes out of Sarah Palin, but she lacked the tact to realize the ridiculousness of a shout-out to friends during a presidential debate. The wink only made the gesture, and her campaign, more absurd.

With Caroline Kennedy seeking Hillary's Senate position, I have to wonder: would it make any difference to put a female back in that seat?

After all, black suits are the only thing she's been wearing, and she looks just like the rest of 'em.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Naughty List

The holiday season is always puctured by lists of the year's worst dressed people. In January,
the infamous Mr. Blackwell releases his picks of tasteless clothes, but already Time magazine has described this dress worn by Vogue editor Anna Wintour as "sense of style gone straight to hell" and picked it as "the worst fashion faux paus of the year."

Time magazine didn't consider that Ms. Wintour wore the dress to a Costume Institute party celebrating superheroes and fantasy, or that the white dress has more artful construction than the list's other outfits, including Britney Spears in ripped fishnets, a man's dress shirt, and (what appears to be) no pants.

Unfairly, Time decided to rip a cheap shot at Wintour, who is so well-known in the fashion world that runway shows don't start until she arrives, and took the opportunity to point out the one less than flattering dress the fashion editor donned all year. Besides, what's so wrong with taking a chance and trying something new once in a while anyway?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Not That Innocent

Like the spinx, Britney Spears is trying to rise from the ashes.

The pop singer released a new album called Circus last week, with a cover reminiscient of the old school Britney. She looks pretty and poses suggestively, yet she doesn't look slutty, and the background colors also exude feminity and innocence.

It's a far cry from the tight outfit and falling-out breasts that we would've expected from the party girl who got married on a whim in Las Vegas. But since those days, Britney has also suffered a tumultuous relationship, a baby, and a string of bad P.R. innocents, which produced some nasty headlines.

Certainly, people rolled their eyes at her kissing Madonna and shaving her head, but Britney never faded from the spotlight, and millions of people are still buying her music, with Circus hitting no. 1 on the charts this week.

But her outfit on the album cover suggests she doesn't want to be known as a wild child, but rather as the former Mouseketeer in the naughty schoolgirl uniform that teenagers fell in love with.

If Britney can surround herself with good people and keep the good headlines pumping, it might be good to have a woman who can overcome the stress of raising kids and being in an abusive relationship.

But it's not going to be easy, because a mere glance at an album cover isn't going to convince anyone that she's innocent.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

What is Victoria's Secret?

"She's like a mish-mash of all these wonderful things, beauty and brains," Heidi Klum said, during a segment on Wednesday's fashion show referring to Victoria's Secret.

Klum poorly faked the praises of the company, which allowed her to recently launch her own make up line, and for most woman, Victoria's Secret misses the mark, almost as clearly as celebrities failed to nail down Victoria's identity.

In fact, Roy Raymond opened the first Victoria's Secret in the late 1970's, because he felt embarassed shopping for lingerie for his wife in a department store. Raymond's store featured paired lingerie outfits, which would be easier for men to browse than racks of panties. He also decorated a store to look like a Victorian brothel and launched a 42-page, mail-order catalog, just to make men feel a little better about the shopping experience.

In 1995, the company's first fashion show also attempted to attract males with commercials on the Super Bowl, and this year, Co-Ed magazine, which is geared toward college-age men, published a list of the model's Facebook pages. And I'm willing to bet the supermodels didn't sign up for the social networking site to be poked by women.

The Victoria's Secret lure doesn't work quite as well on women. Two female writers confessed they ate stacks of chocolate cupcakes and KitKats during the show and moaned that model Karolina Kurkova's only flaw was the lack of a belly button.

Obviously, one model's confession about eating donuts didn't score any points with females, because it felt so forced and feigned. Maybe, we'd believe a small cookie or a granola bra. But a donut? Come on.

But no one's likely to question the legitimacy of models' cooing about how sexy they feel in lingerie or the shots of model's needing their clothes repinned, because surely, males were closely watching those shots, just hoping maybe, they'd get to see a little more breast and not all those "wonderful things" Heidi was referring to.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The "F" Word

The word "feminist" makes people shudder.

For most men, the word conjures images of females dancing around a burning pile of aprons and bras, ranting about centuries of being forced to bake and vacuum. Most women don't utter the word, for fear males will think they have a suppressed desire to chop off their genitals. And no girl ever gets a date that way.

So I'm starting a blog (which I will write with all my underwear in tact) to provide dialog on how fashion contributes to the evolving perception of women. Some might say it's silly to take shoes and lipstick seriously, but if you think about it, clothing is always at the forefront of discussion. Remember Hillary Clinton's pant suits? Or Sarah Palin's $100,000 wardrobe? And who could forget the naughty schoolgirl uniform donned by a "not that innocent" Britney Spears? Or her lack of clothing thereafter?

Above all, the point of this blog is to encourage women to enjoy their appearance and not feel guilty about investing time and mu-lah into their appearances. After all, frocks went out of style with the Puritans, and we should work to keep that way.