Once again, fashion is in a Must-Have moment. It happens every time the season changes (or promises to, anyway), that transitional moment, such as the one we are in now, when spring hovers just beyond reach like an elusive orgasm.
This is when many of the fashion magazines do their Must-Have thing.
Inevitably, there’s an It Bag (Proenza Schouler’s new Tambourine bag), an It Silhouette (peplums and ruffles), an It Shoe (strappy and cage-like) and an It Look (something, anything, with snakeskin). The It-ness of a new season helps to heighten the anticipation of the change in the way we will be able to dress and feel and move through our day, when the temperatures ease and the snow disappears. And in many ways, the display is lovely, like going on vacation without leaving home.
But don’t fashion editors ever worry that their prescriptive tone might turn a person, even a dedicated fashion lover, Must-Resistant?
Isn’t there a slightly uncomfortable irony in the fact that women who have the means to do what they want are being told what to wear and how to look? Not only that, such a top-down dynamic – with a Fashion Moses or two descending from on high (in heels) to deliver the edits of the season – is completely out of sync with the new, pervasive inversion of influence in the culture, in which the people on the street, armed with the tools of social media, tell those in positions of authority exactly what they like and what they want. (It’s that bottom-up grassroots power that has made fashion bloggers the new stylemakers, after all.)
As I flick through the March issues of the fashion magazines, I will, at a certain point, think, “Must I? Really?” At the very least, I begin wishing that someone in those perfect pencil skirts and of-the-moment ladylike blouses, whose job it is to come up with Must-Have lists, would display a little subversive humour and write a Must-Not-Have list. It could include things like age-inappropriate cleavage, toxic friends, unattractive hangovers and dresses with obvious seamstress darts like those on the front of Anne Hathaway’s Oscars gown.
The March issue of Harper’s Bazaar for example, was positively Must-aholic in tone. Editor Glenda Bailey had a list of Must-Haves (a Chloe cuff, a Saint Laurent bag, a Lanvin necklace, a Dior pump) that only served to suggest an outsized salary. Then there was The A-List of the month’s “objects of desire,” followed by Drew Barrymore’s Must-Haves (she, at least, was plebeian enough to mention a $45 J.Crew top) and the “sharing” of the fashion-features director’s Must-Haves. A few more pages in and we had a spread of Must-Watch films, Must-Visit Exhibitions and Must-Read Books.
By the end, I was suffering from Must-Ennui, to be frank. I understand that in the Must-Know 24/7 age of information, to be au courant not just of the moment but of the nanomoment is somehow a measure of one’s relevancy. And I appreciate that the fashion industry and women’s magazines in general have an intense bestgirlfriend vibe to them, a feeling that women in the know, who presumably have your best interests at heart, are passing along their insights on how to look good – or, rather, look right. Features about how to “pull off” a certain look or capture the mood of the season with a colour or an accessory can feel like initiation rites into a secret sorority of style excellence. Let’s not forget – fashion is still a coded thing that connotes class and character.
What irks me, though, is when the fashion sector picks up the needy vibe of the self-help industry, which is all about Must-Thinking (hello, Oprah!), Must-Mantras and Must-Diets. It’s as if the Bridget Joneslike list of things to do, get, eat and think promotes a compliance to directives that define the only and best, well-lived and most-fulfilling version of female identity.
My solution to this tyranny of mandatory advice is simple, really. Flip through it all, but feel free to reject it when it suits you. Must I say it? Being a modern woman is all about having and exercising choice.
On that note, I must end.