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Talking about Buffy and thinking about fashion are two of my favourite things and at some point this is going to turn into a short post about costume or the relative lack of it in BtVS season 8. However, it’s my journal and if I want to begin with a massive digression about some random Fred ‘n Ginger movie then I can.

Said movie, Roberta, came out in 1935 but the whole thing (god bless the internet) has been posted on YouTube. In common with many films of the era it has its share of, to modern ears thankfully jarring, forthrightness on social topics. Foreigners are funny unless they’re aristocrats, both xenophobia and class prejudice get a good airing. On gender, however, it’s not quite what you might expect given that it’s a musical about the fashion industry, which makes it sound dreadfully serious and it really isn’t. It’s a piece of candy-floss complete with singing (tolerable if you like that kind of thing) dancing (you like that kind of thing) and fabulous bias-cut frocks (to die for and many small animals probably did). There is, naturally, a makeover sub plot but for once the makeoveree is a male ingénue, the Randolph Scott character (technically Randolph Scott and Irene Dunne are the leads in this movie). Unlike those undergone by his female equivalents, Scott’s metamorphosis from dowdy frump to bird of paradise has almost no discernible relevance to either plot or characterization. This can either be read as re-enforcing the idea that men are not to be judged on mere appearances or as evidence that slicking back his hair and squeezing him into beautifully tailored, form-enhancing evening dress was done purely for eye candy purposes.

More central to the movie is the plot twist revolving around Scott’s ability to see, where none of the female designers could, that one particular black satin creation is in fact a ludicrous piece of skanky tat. Ginger wears an almost identical gown for the final dance number (what a difference a halter neck makes) but the point is elaborated explicitly well before that happens. Scott’s character inherits the eponymous couture house and when asked to explain men’s taste in women’s clothes claims that “men prefer clothes to clothe.” Also that men like pockets and dislike change but the interesting point is his first one. Even apparently simple things such as fulfilling the demands of the male gaze, cannot be easily stripped down to “naked good, more naked more good.”

What men want is more complicated, they want power and so do women. Fashion is a complex signaling system as well as a vehicle for self-expression. Reimagining yourself, flaunting or concealing it, dress and undress are all part of an arms race (or maybe a cold war) between observer and observed each desiring control over the other. Somewhere along the line in Western society conventional male apparel became restricted to a narrow palate, suit and tie or jeans and t-shirt and is that men winning the game by refusing to play? Except that they still play, two buttons or three, Levis or Lee, so maybe it’s more like changing to a new set of secret rules that only initiates can read? What do men wear when only they are looking? Tartan trews and hideous hats in the golf clubs. Spandex and muscles on the pages of a traditional superhero comic.

On not wearing the cheese )


hazelk: (Default)

May 2012



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