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Barbara & Shannon Kelley

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Are We What We Wear?

Posted: 07/05/2012 2:26 pm

Does fashion reflect culture, or does it sometimes shake it loose?

I bring this up because we were recently on a decadent vacation and somewhere between a tamarind smoothie and a full body massage, I picked up the latest issue of Vogue and found a fashion spread entitled "Risky Business." What did I find within those ten glossy pages? Shoulder pads. Lots and lots of shoulder pads.

The caption under a photograph of a woman dressed in a bold, blue, big-shouldered coat with the collar flipped up and a take-no-prisoners look in her eye reads:

In the eighties, padded shoulders were meant to make women look more mannish (read: powerful) in the boardroom. Today we wear a broad shoulder because we're comfortable (read: powerful) enough to dress creatively in the office, too.

I am old enough, and enough of an unrepentant fashionista, to remember the last time we bought into the broad-shouldered look. (I also have a number of blazers to prove it. My favorite: a bright yellow shawl-collared number that I wore with a prim white shirt buttoned up to my neck -- and a black leather mini-skirt. What was I thinking? clearly, I wasn't.)

Back then, when we women were trying mightily to find our niche in the workplace, many of us became men in skirts. The idea was to blend in, to refrain from calling attention to our feminine side, to be one of the boys. And part of that fitting in was our clothes: Big shoulders, prim buttoned-up shirts and silly little bow ties. All of which became the uniform of the woman on the way up, a symbol of where we stood in the world of work.

And yet, we found that wasn't right, either. If what it took to be taken seriously was to be more like a man, well -- couldn't men do that better? No matter how we camouflaged our femininity?

As we explored in Undecided, could our differences, in fact, be our strengths? We vote yes.

Which leads us back to Vogue and all those shoulder pads. To be sure, the shoulders are structured and broad as a wooden clothes hanger. But manly? Not even close.

And so I got to thinking -- if indeed thinking is even possible after a full body massage -- about what all this "risky business" might mean. What I think these chic chicks, with their wild hair and red slashes of video vixen lips, are telling us is that whether we plan to copy their look or not, we've arrived in the workplace.

Or at least, we're on our way.

 
 
 

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