Men’s Fashion, Eugenics, and Cultural Capital

The suit led to "a remarkable repression of Narcissism among men." So this group of men wanted to get rid of it.
Members of the Men's Dress Reform Party, 1937.   Here’s a party whose caucus I’d love to watch: The Men’s Dress Reform Party. While researching the history of men and makeup, I ran across a mention of this odd-duck British party in the 1930s whose sole purpose was to agitate for loosened clothing restrictions on men. They paraded about in shorts, open-collared shirts, and color-coordinated socks; if a member wore a tie, he might fasten it inches below his Adam’s apple. The idea was that the dark, heavy clothes men were expected to wear were unhygienic (it was difficult to wash a suit before widely available dry cleaning—indeed, that’s part of why suits are traditionally dark, to mask dirt), and ugly to boot (we’ll get to that). Men’s clothing was a health hazard, they claimed, which fell into line with… Read More...

The Mile-Long Club: The Luxury of Eyelashes

On eyelashes, physiognomy, and terrible beauty advice.
When I first heard about eyelash extensions, I threw it into the bin of Things I Would Never Do, along with Vajazzling and placenta facials. But when it came time to take my author photo—which will probably serve as the definitive photo of me, Internetwise, for quite possibly the rest of my life—laying on my back for an hour and a half to have my eyelashes individually extended seemed utterly reasonable. I wanted to look my best, but still wanted to look like me; emphasizing my eyes without wearing more dramatic makeup than I’d normally wear seemed like a good way to do that. It got me thinking about eyelashes—before getting eyelash extensions, I didn’t understand their importance. I don’t know how many studies I’ve read that say that the number-one must-wear cosmetic women cite as essential is mascara. There… Read More...

On Beauty Tips and Morality

Beauty-as-goodness might seem like it's a relief of the beauty imperative, but what's more wrist-smacking than the idea that you'd be prettier if you were a better human?
You've undoubtedly heard the Audrey Hepburn mini-essay she composed when asked for her beauty tips. It begins, "For attractive lips, speak words of kindness," and goes on in that vein ("For beautiful hair, let a child run his or her fingers through it once a day"), culminating with "The beauty of a woman grows with the passing years. You can read the whole thing here, along with a right honorable debunking of the idea that Audrey Hepburn penned it. (She didn't, nor did she ever claim to, but she did recite it often; in fact, it was penned by a Borscht Belt comic.) Certainly the idea that beauty is goodness isn't a new one; for much of history, we've equated beauty with moral goodness, the idea being that what is beautiful is good, and vice versa. But still, I was… Read More...

On Pageantry, the Virgin Mary, and the Smart Girl

To be the smart one and the pretty one would violate the fairness that I believed ruled the cosmos. A Christmas Tale!
 Christmas pageant, 1930, plus witch.   My parents raised me in the Methodist church, halfheartedly. The “halfhearted” part would come as no surprise to anyone seated within two rows of our family, as they may have noticed my mother substituting female pronouns in hymns, as well as her reputation for, if you placed her in the right company, questioning the existence of a god of any gender. My father was a bit more enthusiastic, going so far as to teach Sunday school, but even at 7 years old I sensed he was coming up with scripture role-plays out of community spirit, not devotion to Our Father And/Or Mother. When I found out as a teenager that my parents chose the church not because they were Methodist per se but because it was the only church in our South Dakota town… Read More...

Catcalls, Compliments, and Weariness

Compliments can go to the heart of the real problem of street harassment: surveillance of women.
Still deciding if it's okay to catcall cats. The first time it happened, I was in Hell’s Kitchen, steeling myself against whatever the man walking toward me was sure to say. If you live in urban areas long enough, and if you’re a woman, you learn the little signals that let you know a dose of street harassment is coming: He’s searching for your gaze and doesn’t avert it if your eyes catch his; he’s either alone or standing in a stationary cluster of other men, none of whom are looking at one another but who are clearly associated. Most of all, he’s got the look, which boils down not to physical clues—he could just as easily be dressed in Silicon Valley chic as in the clichéd construction-worker gear—but an expression (or is it an expression you redraw in your… Read More...

The Tightrope Walker

Are you angry that you are dancing backward and in high heels and that it still comes down to how good you look in your ballgown?
In an interview last week in Rolling Stone magazine, Donald Trump said the following about you. Quote, "Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?" Mr. Trump later said he was talking about your persona, not your appearance. Please feel free to respond what you think about his persona. You are running for President of the United States; the number of women who have done this on a serious level in the 239-year history of this country can be counted on one hand. You are not qualified—no, really, you aren't—but you are exactly as qualified as the current front-runner of your party. And you are smarter, and more articulate, and more poised than he is. You have excellent recall, and you are the only candidate in the second national… Read More...

Sex Appeal, Beauty, and Normalcy: Rachel Hills’ “The Sex Myth”

Desirability is not the same as desire itself.
The first time I had sex, I couldn’t wait to tell the first friend I saw. As it were, the first acquaintance I ran into afterward was my high school social studies teacher—I was in college at the time but he was visiting the campus, and I spent what would’ve been a very pleasant coffee date with him desperately trying to not blurt out, I’m not a virgin anymore, Mr. Tatum. After that excruciating coffee, I saw a friend, grabbed her arm, and said what I’d been dying to say. She was excited for me, and asked all the right questions that allowed me to give all the right answers. As we talked, I became aware of the light behind her head, the atmosphere that suddenly seemed thinner, lighter; I remember seeing the faded blue of her chambray shirt as… Read More...

News Flash: Beauty Customers Aren’t Suckers

Cosmetics ads' science claims don't hold up, and they don't need to. They just need to nudge us over the border of where hope and possibility meet.
  The headlines regarding this recent study about claims made in cosmetics ads indicate things like "Most 'scientific' beauty product claims are bogus." As per usual, the headline isn't accurate at all; the study measured whether product claims were seen as accurate, which is an entirely different matter. Luckily, the question of whether customers think products are bogus is arguably more interesting than whether or not they actually are, so let's go from there— In short, the study found that women think most beauty ads are bullshit. And appropriately so: They found ads that directly claimed superiority over other products to be flat-out false, and ads based on science to be vague or omissive. Interestingly, the ad type that was perceived as being most acceptable was endorsements—which makes sense, as most of us implicitly understand that at the very least,… Read More...

Watching Women Want

To watch elite female athletes is to watch women not give a shit when they look ugly
[/lr] To watch elite female athletes is to watch women not give a shit when they look ugly I’ve been watching a lot of the Women’s World Cup, with a fervor that surprises even me. I’m an unlikely soccer fan to begin with; sports, personally speaking, have traditionally been something to be avoided and/or feared. But after I shocked myself last summer by watching literally every single World Cup match—including dual-screening it for games that overlapped—I surrendered in full to the beautiful game. Women’s soccer, though? I didn’t follow it. I supported it politically, of course, but it was rare to find a women’s game on TV. I muddled through a couple of U.S. Women’s National Team matches, but I didn’t know the players, which detracted from its appeal. Knowing that the Fox networks were going to broadcast all the… Read More...

Beauty Didn’t Birth the Beast

Good looks as liability—and as a lens, one of many.
Sally Draper, preachin' truth.  I swear I will one day blog about something other than Mad Men. But until that time comes! This episode was interesting in that two separate characters referred to Don's good looks as a liability. One of the creatives at the agency says to him in anger after Don suggests he might want to work on some character-building, "You don't have any character, you're just handsome—stop kidding yourself." And then toward the episode's end, his daughter says that both he and first-wife Betty are exactly alike, in that "anyone pays attention to either of you—and they always do—you just ooze everywhere." (Two of Sally's friends, totally separate from one another, had each attempted some amateur seduction on both of Sally's parents in this episode, so this wasn't out of nowhere.) The first one was interesting, but mostly just in the… Read More...

70 Years Ago Today

"[Y]ou saw them wandering about with nothing but a blanket over their shoulders, but with scarlet red lips."
Women and children in one of the huts at Bergen-Belsen, postliberation, April 1945. Seventy years ago today, British troops liberated the Nazi concentration camp Bergen-Belsen. In the days and weeks following the liberation, British and American soldiers took to treating and relocating the thousands of desperately ill prisoners. One of those soldiers, Lt. Col. Mervin Willett Gonin, among other recordings of that time, wrote the following in his diary:   It was shortly after the British Red Cross arrived, though it may have no connection, that a very large quantity of lipstick arrived. This was not at all what we men wanted, we were screaming for hundreds and thousands of other things and I don't know who asked for lipstick. I wish so much that I could discover who did it, it was the action of genius, sheer unadulterated brilliance.… Read More...

“Mad Men” Beauty Musings

In Peggy and Joan's swipes at one another, we actually see how similar they are.
  There’s much to say about Mad Men in general, and about last night’s last-season kickoff, and about the relationship between Joan and Peggy, and even about their conversation in the elevator (burn it down, Joan!). But what’s most relevant in this particular wheelhouse is one exchange that comes between Peggy and Joan after a business meeting in which a group of male colleagues make lewd jokes at the expense of Joan, specifically at the expense of her generous bustline: Peggy: Should we get lunch? Joan: I want to burn this place down. Peggy: I know, they were awful, but at least we got a yes. Would you have rather had a friendly no? Joan: I don’t expect you to understand. Peggy: [With demonstrated doubt] Joan, you’ve never experienced that before? Joan: Have you, Peggy? Peggy: I don’t know—you can’t have it both ways. You can’t dress the way you do and… Read More...

The “Man’s Woman,” the “Woman’s Woman,” and Other Apocryphal Creatures

We've spent 120 years trying to define the "man's woman" and the "woman's woman"—and we still don't know who she is.
These women look suspiciously alike, eh? Some years ago, my then-boyfriend said that Drew Barrymore was the ultimate “woman’s woman.” His reasoning: She stars in romantic comedies (née “chick flicks”), she seems like she might be vaguely feministy/ish (because of Charlie’s Angels, I guess?), she has her own cosmetics line, and her production company is named Flower Films, for crying out loud. Most of all, he claimed, “no men like her.” Now, I was willing to buy most of this, even though it was clear that by “no men like her” he simply meant he didn’t like her: A chronicle of one rando dude’s quest to go on a date with Drew Barrymore became a successful documentary, she was perpetually on those “Hottest Celebrities” lists from various men’s websites until she “aged out” by hitting thirtyish. But I understood the larger point. Drew catered to women in her… Read More...

Laurie Penny’s “Unspeakable Things”

Penny's electrifying polemic isn't for "the good girl." Then again, the good girl might not exist.
There are two reasons it’s taken me longer than it should have to write out my thoughts on Laurie Penny’s newest book, Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies, and Revolution. The first is technical: I’ve been ostriching from pretty much everything for the past couple of months while working on other projects, and am only now coming back to things like blogging and social media and leaving the house. The second is personal: It made me mad. At this point, for readers who—we’ve all done it—prefer not to voyage beyond the first two paragraphs of a piece, allow me to assure you that Penny’s book is excellent. But it might make you mad, and not only at the patriarchy. If you’re a good girl, it might make you a little mad at that very fact. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Instead,… Read More...

Masstige and Bargain Beauty

Motivations for buying bargain beauty products and high-end products are more similar than they seem. The sweet spot? Masstige.
The price may be right, but what else drives your beauty buys? I’ve been thinking about high-end beauty products as inconspicuous consumption, and what that means for displays of wealth among women. In doing so, I ignored the other end of the scale: bargain beauty products. The idea I was exploring a couple of weeks ago was that high-end beauty products signaled an investment in beauty, as opposed to a temporary gussying-up; think top-notch dermatology and expensive retinol creams, the benefits of which only really show up after long-term use (and therefore hundreds—or thousands—of dollars in). But it’s not like buying bargain beauty products means that you don’t regard beauty as an investment. Most obviously, it could be that your budget is limited (which, given the price of even the most basic quality anti-aging cream, is probably the case for… Read More...

Beauty and (In)Conspicuous Consumption

Are beauty products forms of conspicuous consumption, or of the opposite?
It wasn't just her last name that marked Gloria Vanderbilt as one of those Vanderbilts. I've been enjoying participating in this month's structured conversation on visual persuasion and the state at Cato Unbound. Virginia Postrel (whom regular readers will recall authored the excellent The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion, which I reviewed here) wrote the lead essay, in which she argues for the use of glamour, iconography, and visual appeals in politics; Grant McCracken, Martin Gurri, and I were invited to write responses from there. Much of the discussion is relevant to readers here, particularly McCracken's musings on sprezzatura and Postrel's thoughts on the true danger of glamour—and, hopefully, my own thoughts on what the faces of our politicians say about the nature of beauty, the glamour of the therapeutic narrative, and why we appreciate… Read More...