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Sunday, 20 November 2011

Dressed to Impress? Or Dressed for Distress?

Being a woman of a certain age, it is not all that often that you will find me loitering in a taxi queue in the wee small hours. I have a very active social life but most of it is conducted on my sofa, or friends' sofas, or on Twitter, where you can eat too much and undo your trouser buttons without risk of arrest.

If I do venture into town, I usually make a point of getting home before chucking out time, when young people start humping lampposts and throwing themselves into the traffic.

But the past couple of Saturdays I was out and about till well past pub closing time and found myself, on my tod, stuck in a taxi queue due to wearing stupidly high, spindly, cheap heels that made walking home an impossible dream. (Imagine shoes made of jay cloths, sequins and twigs and you're in the right ball park. )

Cursing my idiotic footwear and coveting the chips of passers-by could only hold my attention for so long and, eventually, I got round to examining the fashion choices of my fellow revellers. Particularly the young women. And what an eye-popping sight it was.

When I was in my 20's, my flatmates and I would sometimes drink too much wine and then, for a laugh, put on our thermal vests, big pants and our one pair of court shoes and jump around the sitting-room to the theme from Wonder Woman. ("All the world is waiting for you, and the power you possess! In your satin tights, fighting for your rights, And the old Red, White and Blue!!)

Remarkably, it seemed that the attire of the young women in the taxi-queue had been inspired by just such a scene. (Although, unfortunately, without the super hero vibe).

Next to me stood a shivering girl clad in a medium-sized Lakeland piping bag, her lady lumps oozing out of it like fondant icing with goose bumps. Her friend wore microscopic denim hot-pants and a halter neck top only just visible to the naked eye. They were both shod in a nest of tables strapped to their feet with dental floss. Or near enough.

Wincing like The Little Mermaid at every step, looking for all the world like they had been hobbled by Kathy Bates in "Misery", their "look" was more "physio appointment" than "sexy time".

I am cringing slightly as I write this, because I am conscious that I sound like a snooty old crone. Am I the equivalent of the Victorian dowager nursing her hump and necking the laudanum at the sight of a finely turned ankle? Or the 1950's gynaecologist sneering "harlot" at the sight of a painted toe-nail? Maybe. Sometimes it's hard to tell. I'm a good twenty years older than the young women I'm talking about and perhaps I am, quite simply, out of touch.

I'm not setting myself up as fashion expert, which is just as well since I am mostly channelling Rip Van Winkle in Wallis party wear. It's not really about fashion.

My beef with the flesh on show is not that these young women were dressing provocatively. If they been enjoying their sexual power, reveling in the male gaze they attracted, then bloody good luck to them. But they weren't. They were cold, uncomfortable, self-conscious and clearly frankly bloody miserable. To be perfectly honest, it was a bit distressing.

The sad irony is that for many young women, dressing like a porn star seems to have become synonymous with sexual liberation. But it's not liberating if you're dressing that way because you feel like you have to. Just like it's not liberating to flash your boobs on Spring Break because you want a cheer from the guys. I weep that empowerment has come to mean shoes that make you bleed and bad sex in the loo of a "fun" pub in Magaluf. (If these girls are having earth shattering orgasms in these two minute couplings, I'm Eva Peron. )

I appreciate I'm hardly the first person to have commented on the mainstreaming of sex industry aesthetics. (See of course most recently Caitlin Moran's fantastic "How to be a Woman".) But some things bear repeating.

I'm not suggesting that young women shouldn't have sex. If they're old enough and mature enough to be having good, safe sex, then carry on, knock yourself out. I'm just sorry that some feel they have to be in a state of undress in order to "fit in."

Of course it's not true for all women. Some young girls stumble through the forest of adolescence and choose the road to a fashion identity of skinny jeans, Converse and Breton tops. Why do some go that way and others aim for the land of Jordan? Is it related to self-esteem? Class? The rise of narcissism? I'm not sure that we know.

I just know that it makes me sad to see young women reluctantly bound and trussed like prize turkeys in the name of being dressed to kill.


  1. I know exactly how you feel. I'm not sure if I've become a bit of an old prude but it really does upset me that girls feel the need to dress like this. I remember caving in to peer pressure a couple of times in my clubbing lifetime and going out without a coat but it's too damn chilly up north to be doing that, even in summer. And you're so right - it's not sexy in the least for girls to be shivering and in pain, except perhaps to some twisted minds.

  2. Snooty old crone. Stay on your sofa.


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