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Let’s talk about sex, shall we? Fashion and sex, that is. First things first: any conversation about sex needs to be an honest one, so let’s cut straight to the chase. Sex appeal will always be an integral part of fashion, even if sexy has become a less straightforward compliment after MeToo. So please, there’s no point pretending that we are too woke to care about looking hot these days. We still care. Nobody is taking vows of sartorial chastity here. But perhaps we are making some progress in how we think about sex and fashion if we are more conscious of
It is Valentine’s weekend, and dressing for date night is the hot spot where the rules of attraction meet the rules of social convention. Which means that some Valentine looks might just be a little different this year, in the MeToo afterglow. The neckline might be altered, or the skirt might be a new length. Or maybe the clothes are the same but you might wear different underwear or decide against the high court shoes with toe cleavage, and look – and feel – different as a result. The way we dress for date night through the years reveals so much about our changing attitudes to sex. Braless under a silk blouse in the midst of the sexual emancipation of the early 70s. Spike-heeled and
It is 18 months – three seasons, in fashion terms – since the MeToo movement was born. In that time, fashion’s
Roland Mouret, a fashion icon for two decades, has recently gravitated away from the siren curves of his Galaxy dress, revisiting the pleats and cascades he learned while working with Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake in his 20s. At his spring/summer 19 show, models wore badges in support of the MeToo movement and
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There will always be cross-pollination between sex and fashion, but MeToo has prompted a conversation about healthy boundaries around nudity and exposure. Changing facilities backstage at fashion shows are one issue being brought into the spotlight. It was long considered perfectly normal for an assortment of well-wishers, journalists, celebrities, friends of the designer – most, of course, with a camera phone in their pocket – to crowd immediately after a show into the open-plan backstage area where models were scrambling out of their show looks and into their own clothes. A year ago, New
The meteoric impact of MeToo on what it means to dress up and look your best became clear a year ago, when the Golden Globes was the first red carpet to turn black. It was a gesture of female solidarity from Hollywood’s women, in an industry reeling in the Weinstein fallout. A black dress for black tie is hardly revolutionary, yet the dresses became the story of the night. The winners’ list is now a distant memory, but the red carpet blackout remains a landmark moment. The world was reminded of the power of an outfit – even one that stays within the guardrails of
But if the first half of 2018 belonged to a swelling tide of demure black-tie dressing, the second half was dominated by an angry backlash against catwalk near-nudity. The exit of Phoebe Philo from Céline after 10 years had been felt as a body blow by women who had held dear her philosophy that catwalk fashion could be an elevated woman-friendly wardrobe rather than date-bait. It was with unfortunate timing that her successor, Hedi Slimane, unveiled a debut dominated by doll-sized party dresses – one that seemed the polar opposite of what the house had stood for under Philo – on the very day of the Brett Kavanaugh sexual misconduct hearings in Washington last September. Emotions were running high, and Slimane’s dolly-drop aesthetic became a lightning rod for female fury.
Male designers mansplaining female sexuality to the women who buy their clothes is not new. But the context has changed, and in fashion, context is all. Engagement with the world is what makes fashion more than simply clothes. It is, quite literally, what makes it fashion. Two months after Slimane’s show,
London fashion week has never been afraid of controversy. While other cities have reacted to the new climate by shying away from the idea of sex altogether, designers Christopher Kane and Michael Halpern are among those tackling the new rules of sexy dressing
A frank curiosity about sex has always been part of Kane’s aesthetic – his spring 2014 season featured sweaters embroidered with illustrations of the reproductive organs of flowers – and in February last year, he waded into the MeToo debate with a collection adorned with drawings and quotes from the seminal 70s manual The Joy Of Sex. Six months later, he was back with a spring 2019 collection soundtracked by a David Attenborough narration about sexual
Penny Martin was almost a decade ahead of this shift when she launched The Gentlewoman magazine back in 2010. “It was the zenith of the
Although certain sections of the media would love to frame this debate as a catfight, there is little appetite in the fashion industry for s**t-shaming of women who choose to wear tiny, revealing dresses. (To paraphrase Voltaire: I may not like what you wear, but I will defend to the death your right to wear it.) What we wear for date night is part and parcel of sexual politics, but surely there is room for making the point that a woman’s erotic impact is not all that she is, without policing anyone’s wardrobe. “My take on it, as editor of Elle,” says Anne-Marie Curtis, “is that a modern woman wants the freedom to look sexy when she wants to. But that fashion can’t be about having to wear a pencil skirt to get a promotion, or having to wear a low-cut dress to make your boyfriend happy.
Every single image that goes into Elle goes through our modern, feminist lens. If I am looking at a shoot and there’s a pose that I feel makes the model look vulnerable, I won’t run that picture. We just did an edit of a shoot and there were images that I took
But unlike a longer hemline, fashion’s stronger attitude cannot be measured in inches or plotted on a graph. “It comes down to intention,” Halpern says. “What makes my friends and the women in my family feel empowered is self-worth, self-definition. It’s about not letting someone else put you in a box.”
For generations, teenage girls’ teachers have used the does-it-touch-the-floor-when-you-kneel test to establish the
Sex as something unspoken, as a scent caught on the air, is part of fashion’s magic spell. When the zeitgeist is embracing a new era of informed consent, the sheer-black-stocking vibe of fashion’s traditional date-night mode can feel like an uncomfortable hangover from another era. A new dress may not change the world. But it could make date night a triumph. The rules are up to you.
Gallery: The Best Runway Looks at New York Fashion Week Fall 2019 [Harpers Bazaar]