Working, after a Fashion
Sigh! It's hard
to be a successful career woman, working in your chosen profession while trying to maintain the proper persona, a mixture of competence, intelligence, grace, and—at times—style
. But it helps to have a personal beautification staff. If the 2006 Academy Awards teach us anything, they show that 1) sometimes parties are part of your profession and 2) it behooves one to dress appropriately.
When I think of actresses and clothing, I like to think that the logic behind their wardrobe choices isn't that different from my own. Actresses perform and must modify their clothing for the needs of a certain role. I teach, and, though I reprise roughly the same role each semester, I judiciously choose clothing which will, for instance, deter students from offering to loan me their Incubus CD collections. What's more, when actresses aren't acting, they slouch around in ill-fitting (but, I'm guessing, highly expensive) jeans, t-shirts, peasant skirts, and sneakers (hey, I've seen The Enquirer
). Similarly, when I'm not teaching, I work around the apartment in fairly inexpensive versions of the same thing—t-shirts, shorts, or, at times, (yes) a nightshirt.
But sometimes, I and my actress friends get dolled-up for the work-related awards show or conference, and here's where our similarities (seemingly) end. At the 2006 Academy Awards, I saw lots of glamour and have also seen the phrase "Old Hollywood" bandied about in the press. And, of course, this description is culled mainly from the clothing choices of actresses
, a useful throwback phrase denoting gender. As actors
(i.e., men) walk the carpet, we see minute variations on the same suit/tuxedo theme. I
n fact, unless you're Johnny Depp or Tim Burton, a guy might as well be a fashion-plate-style removable head on bland, interchangeable suit. On the other hand, actresses vary wildly in style and have more to lose, namely, boob integrity. Though part of me bemoans the greater pressure on actresses to impress us with their sartorial savior faire
, another part of me relishes the ceremonial showing of th
e gowns. Bring on the gowns, I say! Show me the gowns! My vote for this year's "best dressed"? I'm going with Jada Pinkett Smith in Roberto Cavalli (though I'd "runner-up" the gorgeous choices worn by Salma Hayek, Jennifer Aniston, and Ziyi Zhang). What cinched this particular dress for me isn't so much the color or the cut but that Jada is wearing this dress, it isn't "wearing" her. Hot. Damn. She looks fantastic! This, my friends, is fashion
As I dream over the allure of Hollywood clothing, I must confess that my academic realities may never match up. One would never use the words "glamour" or "Old Hollywood" to describe academic conference clothing; indeed, I can't think of one professional journal with a conference "photo" section celebrating academic fashion trendsetters ("Annette Kolodny looks stunning in Vera Wang!"). "But what's 'in' in academic fashion?," you insist. If you're a
t the 2006 Consortium on the Revolutionary Era, the women academics are wearing red and black. I, myself, paired a red cotton long-sleeved shirt by Mixit with black cotton and spandex trousers by Mossimo for the first day of panels. Though I initially felt silly in this outfit (as we were dangerously close to the University of Georgia whose school colors are red and black), I saw this outfit mirrored in many other academics who opted for red blouses or jackets and black pants or suits. I know, I know: riveting. But it just isn't the same for men. The male academics at the consortium were wearing what they always wear—greyblueblack-ish suits with the random bow tie. And, while some of the younger guys wore a royal blue tie here or a pink checked shirt there, we women were the ones left wading through the professional-fashion catastrophes of yesteryear. Yes, I saw shoulder pads; I saw open towed shoes; gauzy-flounced fabric appeared. Dear reader, these combinations made me sick. What the hell are we poor, fashion-challenged academics thinking?
In many ways, we're stuck between the multiple fashion paradigms of the liberal feminist 80s "look like a man" variety and the slut-teral "feminist" 00s "look like a hooker" sort. As evidence, I offer the white buttoned-down, black lace
applique long-sleeved blouse from Torrid. Fashionista and academic unite in me to demand, "What the fuck?" Where the hell does one wear this item of clothing? Only the most tenure-track hating unemployment wannabe would wear it to the office, and only the most body-temperature-challenged post-menopausal club-hopping grandma would wear it "out." It is simultaneously sexy and prudish, and therein lies the academic's dilemma: what outfits look flattering but professional? The answer, of course, depends on current criteria. To adequately hunt down appropriate clothing, then, I believe that women academics deserve a fashion conference, departmental monies dedicated to fashion research, and/or government grants for wardrobe augmentation. It's cool—we'll share the bounty with our Ben-Matlock-ian counterparts and try to mix up men's fashion as well. I'm not asking that academics start contemplating the uses of double-sided tape or buy clothing that prompts them to ask, "Does this suit go 'see-through' when the light hits it?". Really, I'm just encouraging us to mix aesthetic good sense with our already practical dress...dare I say, challenging us to become fashionable