Welcome to the Dismantle After Party. Glad you’re still here. We’ve all been working hard writing, teaching, learning, organizing, fighting hate and complacency, surviving…It’s not easy, and we’re not going to stop. But sometimes we need to take a little extra time to just be together and talk about things we love. Dismantling doesn’t just mean pulling down what’s wrong. It’s also about building up what’s working in critical way.
At this month’s After Party our editors and some past contributors answered the question: What widely mocked styles do we secretly love?
Anna Bernstein: Leggings as Pants
They’re comfy as hell, and they come in all sorts of fun designs. As a fat girl, I assume I’m breaking some important rule every time I wear them in public (so honestly, I don’t do it often, unless they’re paired with a skirt). Girls are not supposed to wear clothes that remind us that bodies have different shapes, and fat girls are definitely not supposed to be okay with anyone actually seeing their shapes. BUT they’re comfy as hell, and they come in a truly ridiculous range of fun designs.
André Falconer: Shoulder Pads
I am really into shoulder pads, or just garments that enhance and shape the shoulders! I think it was my childhood fascination with Grace Jones and her cover of her album Nightclubbing that turned me onto them. They have this ability to blur visual cues for masculinity and femininity! I for one am glad that they are making a comeback, much to the dismay of 80’s babies I reckon.
Elise Chatelain: Rompers
I know rompers can be inconvenient. And they’re also a bit infantilizing, which is always concerning for a young women’s fashion trend. But I love their existence, for reasons similar to those outlined by Sara T. Bernstein in this piece about maxi dresses. I don’t own a romper now, in my late 30s, but I’ll never forget when I was a teenager, looking for something dressy to wear for an upcoming performance and struggling to find anything in a size 16 that was cute, comfortable, and maybe just a little flattering. My mom and I were yet again having a frustrating experience at some mid-range department store, digging through racks, when she found this cute red romper made of strong, silky fabric, with a subtle pleated top and capped sleeves that nicely balanced out my curves. It fit perfectly, accentuated features of my body that were not often highlighted in clothing my size, and felt comfortable while also being beautiful.
The thing about rompers is that they have a range: their versatility makes them work many body types and offers options for casual to dressy occasions (or for just hanging around the house). And rompers accentuate –help produce, even – the feminine body that makes many of us feel beautiful. They can generate subtle curves while also gently hiding parts not usually celebrated by external gazes, such as a thick waist, saddlebag hips, or small breasts. While some, of course, are designed only for slender, stick-like bodies, the style itself has the potential to be more wide-ranging, which is why I love their existence. As a teenager, I wore out my romper and was so thankful to have found it. I’m glad that this trend hasn’t died just yet, so others, too, can also leave the mall feeling as great as I did with my mom that day.
Sara Bernstein: Eileen Fisher
A couple years ago, an old friend and I were driving to dinner. The subject turned to fashion, as it often does. After a while my friend asked, “Are we old enough to wear Eileen Fisher yet?” I wasn’t sure.
For most of my adult life, the brand Eileen Fisher, with its loose boxy linens and drapey knee-length cardigans, has been used as shorthand for “women of a certain age” (which is assumed to be negative) and also women who have “given up.” But I’ve always secretly loved how easy the style looks. It’s simple, tasteful, comfortable, ethical. And, now I see that, like our aging bodies, it’s full of surprises – stretching, wrinkling, never quite ending up in the shape you thought it would. At 40, my friend and I were feeling the allure of tapping out of “fashion” and sliding into some undyed linen drawstring pants. And then along comes “#Menocore” and other youthful celebrations of the look, and suddenly it is fashionable.
I guess that’s ok. I mean I kind of wish the kids hadn’t jumped the line, but a brown flax tunic and sun hat will always mean something different on a middle-aged body than it does on a 20-something. And the 20-somethings will move on to new trends, and then they’ll become 40, 50, 60-somethings and they’ll come back and they’ll understand. And we’ll be here to welcome them with crinkly, low-impact, earth-tone, natural fiber open arms.
Madeleine Barbier: Visible hair on femme bodies
I am a woman with body hair, and I love all of it: leg hair, excessive armpit hair, and a mild mustache. On one hand, my mother and my aunts are confused by this and definitely a little grossed out. On the other hand, my art school peers are either unphased or supportive, glad that I am not playing along with the rules of gender expression. From both sides there is potential judgement and mockery (shaved or non-shaved). While this situation can be slightly uncomfortable and bothersome for me, my identity as a woman is never questioned nor doubted because of my visible body hair. This is not the case for trans bodies – for instance a trans woman – and when I talk about loving and flaunting my body hair, I realize I come from a place of privilege. Building on this idea, it is especially important to accept the manifold forms of body hair expression within a world that has a long way to go in terms of understanding gender and gender expression.
Christina Owens: Chokers
What decade are you in? Are you advertising your blow job skills? Are you asking for anal sex? How could so many judgmental absurdities be inspired by just a tiny swath of fabric wrapped around a femme neck? All this hate directed against chokers reminds me of the 1990s hatred directed against Gen Xers, only distilled, concentrated, and aimed directly at femmes. That hatred was tiresome then and it’s even more problematic now. Let us have our chokers. We shall wear them in cross-generational, gender affirming, body positive, consensual solidarity. We middle-aged Gen Xers will wear them in love and solidarity with the Millennial and the Gen Zer femmes who follow in our tired, knowing footsteps. We shall wear them knowing that within patriarchy whatever we choose to wear can be used against us. So we might as well wear what we like.
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