The Babcocks owned their house and a tiny sum in the bank, upon the interest of which they lived. Nobody knew how much it was, nobody would ever know while they lived. They might have had more if they would have sold or mortgaged their house, but they would have died first. They starved daintily and patiently on their little income. They mended their old muslins and Thibets, and wore one dress between them for best, taking turns in going out.
Movies about sex are also movies about power; the way women in these films are dressed says something about the power that comes with womanhood, and the fear this power stirs. In simple, stripped-back outfits, innate sexuality (read power) shines through. Often, clothing is referred to as a woman’s ‘armour,’ but the women of erotic thrillers can be so steely they don’t need armour. They look less dressed and more powerful, wearing the bare minimum.
Katie struggled out of a black vintage high-waisted Vivienne Westwood skirt, cringing when she heard the sound of the zipper pop as she shimmied the silk-lined velvet garment past her fleshy hips. She wanted to wear something archival to impress Claudia, but her face was already showing her anxiety, and a tight skirt would only make it worse. Besides, no-one would even know it was Vivienne Westwood unless she told them, or if they examined the tiny orb etched into the button on the side of her waist. She tossed the skirt on her unmade bed, readjusted her amazon.com thong, and made her way back to the closet.
Celebrities who are famous for being famous often try to distance themselves from the shallowness of their fame by emphatically articulating what they want to be: an entrepreneur, a businesswoman, a DJ. They turn their hobbies into passions, to add depth to their persona and legitimise the attention trained on them. But they do not originate their own fascination: while they benefit from it, we too are implicated. We desire ‘heroes into which we pour our own purposelessness,’ looking to apparently notable people to divert us and amplify the events of our own lives, celebrities thereby functioning as ‘ourselves seen with a magnifying mirror.’
Nose-diving profits mean that Vogue is more than ever beholden to advertisers, which pundits consider a barrier to candid coverage. Yet I’m always surprised when people criticise Vogue and similar publications for a lack of fashion journalism. These magazines were never intended to provide incisive and balanced commentary, and its staff is not made up of journalists. This is worth demarcating, since for the majority at Vogue their job is to protect and attract privilege, to network, organise, promote, publicise, but not to write critically. The actual contents of fashion publications thus becomes of minimal interest. What remains of the name is not a print product but a nebulous structure composed of soft power.
Moving between continents and cultures like I do requires some skill when it comes to dressing. I remember once, six or seven years ago in New York; the first day I went out wearing a kaftan people wouldn’t stop staring at me in the street. And the ones who stared the most were other black people. I felt so uncomfortable, I just turned around and went home to change. But in Nigeria you can get more money wearing trads actually. If I have a meeting in an office I’ll put my trads on and hold my mobile phone in a particular way so as to command power. When I’m dressed like that, I hear ‘Yes sir yes sir yes sir!’ You really get treated differently depending on what you wear in Lagos. If the police stop you, and you’re young but wearing trads, you’re much safer.
Viewed from a distance of more than a century, the nineteenth-century beard fashion looks like a basic historical fact. And yet the arrival of this fashion came as a great shock for those who lived through it. Sweeping much of Europe, North America, and Latin America after roughly two centuries of clean-shavenness, the beard movement was almost certainly the most dramatic development in nineteenth-century men’s fashion – every bit as shocking as if knee breeches and ruffled shirts were to once more become the dominant mode of men’s dress throughout the so-called ‘Western’ world.