Friday, June 10, 2011

a few thoughts on the nature of fashion (part 2)

To continue from last week’s post

The common denominator to fashion is, in my view, the following. Women’s fashion is based on the concept of revelation, while men’s fashion is based on the concept of concealment. And what is being revealed or concealed? The body, of course. If you look at women’s clothing, designs emphasize the female form, whether directly by showing skin or body parts like legs, back, feet, or cleavage, or indirectly through form-fitting fabrics (e.g. leggings). By contrast, men’s wear tends to conceal the form of a man’s body. Clothes, even when tailored to fit, tend to be loose on the frame and generally don’t expose very much. Just look at how people dress at award shows and formal occasions – times when people put on the expensive designer clothes – and notice how women show off their legs and curves while men are encased in suits.

We already know the results of designers’ focus on women’s bodies; this has been thoroughly discussed by now. Complex body-image issues arise for women that can lead to anything from insecurity to eating disorders, all because of media-disseminated social standards of beauty. Concurrently, however, designers celebrate the female form by offering women a dizzying selection of clothes and accessories. Whether aligned with trends or choosing an iconoclastic route, women have tremendous freedom in using fashion to express themselves. Like anything else, fashion’s ability to be oppressive or liberating depends on how it’s used and who uses it. Of course, all this manifests itself, intentionally or not, within men’s attraction to women.
So what about men? On the surface, it would seem that men have it easy. Without that great fashion freedom there are no higher standards of appearance to adhere to. While women fuss with beauty salons and colour-coordinated accessories, it seems that men just need to put on a reasonably well-tailored suit, shave, and comb their hair to look good. But a question arises on the nature of women’s attraction to men: don’t women like to look at men’s bodies?

When you consider the number of strips clubs and overwhelming fashion focus on women, there’s no doubt that men love to look at women’s bodies. The reverse, however, is quite isn’t true in the same way. Despite the odd fireman’s calendar or Chippendale review (are those guys even still around?), women just don’t seem to get excited about men’s bodies. I realize, of course, that this is almost hopelessly generalized and not the most precise reasoning, but as a straight female friend pointed out, even she would prefer to see a naked woman running up a flight of stairs than a naked man. If there’s any merit to this, at least on a stereotypical level, it lies in the fact that beauty and fashion are often means of bonding among women; spa days, trips to the nail salon, etc. For (heterosexual) men, not so much. So how does this tie in to my little theory of fashion design?

Time to cut this short for the sake of manageable reading, but next week I’ll wrap things up with the point of all this blah-blah. After that, it’s back to the (un)usual assortment of fashion finds. Promise.

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