Monday, April 29, 2013

Whom are you dressing up for?

BFF had some sort of altercation with DB about why girls dress up and/or show off their bodies and whether or not they get bad attention from creeps. I'm not really sure how it went down, but at the very least, I have to be grateful for DB for presenting his unusual world view to me.

But it got me thinking. Why do women dress up? It has been my belief since high school that women dress up more for each other than for men. This view is not shared by men. They feel that women are dressing up for them, or for guys in general, some of whom are creeps who will give the women bad attention.

Saying women dress up for men is like saying men pump iron for women. Sure, that may be why a majority of women/men do so for a majority of the time. But it is certainly not the only reason they do so. So why do women dress up? There are 4 reasons.

1. Impress Men

I'm not going to deny this one. Women assuredly dress up for men. They want to look nice for them. Sometimes they want to look sexy. Sometimes they want men to drool over them, even if they have no intention of giving any of those men the time of day.*

*Society calls these women "teases," but I hate that word. Yes, sometimes women purposefully tease men. Sometimes they just change their minds. Either way, once a women says no or shows resistance, it is unethical to touch her. Remember that, please. No matter how a woman is dressed, DON'T ASSAULT HER!

My BF also points out that a lot of the clothes women wear tends to be designed by men, primarily gay men, so you can think of it as women being dictated to by men. Whether or not the percentage of women designers will increase is hard to say. Personally, my favorite designer is Nicole Miller. I discovered this by browsing designer dresses at Bluefly. Every time I liked a dress, there was an 80% chance it was by Nicole Miller. 
Resort dresses by Nicole Miller
You could also say that women dress a certain way to look professional for work, and that that's for men (or The Man, specifically). It's more of a society in general thing than specifically for men though.
I don't have that much more to say about this, except . . . women spend a lot of time getting ready to go out with men--the hair, the make-up, the clothes--they're famous for making men wait for them. Why? Men don't appreciate this 99% of the time. Maybe women are primping in hopes of that 1% magical walk down the stairs moment? What about all those times a girl gets a new haircut or wears a new dress and the guy . . . doesn't notice it? Can we be that oblivious? Are we dressing against this tide of indifference? Or are women dressing to:

2. Impress Other Women

Female rivalry has deep roots. Sometimes it's about men. Sometimes it's about the lead in a ballet (i.e. career). Sometimes it's about popularity. Sometimes, it's even about clothes. Whatever it's about, clothes become a woman's weapon. This is obvious when it comes to men, but what about for a career or popularity, which includes men and women?

Women are very critical about the way other women dress. This is not always nefariously motivated. Women spend a lot of time thinking about, looking at, talking about, and shopping for clothes. They assess not only their own outfits, but those of the women around them. When women get together, they may look at fashion magazines or Victoria Secret catalogs (or the online version, nowadays) to find women, hair, and make-up to emulate. Or maybe just to envy. Women learn how to dress not by passively buying what gay men tell them to wear, but by observing how other women dress. Some of these women might be models and celebrities, but a lot of them are the real women they see around them. After all, there's only so much money available for clothes.
For women, shopping is a team sport.

And what if a women dresses unusually poorly? If the women are catty, they will talk about her impending demise. If the women are nice, they will wonder what is up and maybe arrange a makeover. A makeover not only requires new hair and make-up, it will inevitably require new clothes, and shopping. That's another reason women dress up, to

3. Celebrate Their Clothes

Here's an anecdote from today. I got dressed, because I had to; I leaving my apartment. I rifled through the clothes on my beside table that I had worn only once and grabbed a pair of shorts. I had checked the weather, and it was going to be fairly warm. Also, I can only wear shorts on the weekend, because they are inappropriate for work. These shorts are pretty short. But! I did not buy them to attract guys.

Okay, I bought the shorts because of other girls. One day I was looking at some pictures of a summer event and I realized that my shorts were longer than those of all the other girls. I also realized that I had had those shorts since middle school (by this time I was in college). I decided I needed to get non-granny shorts.

Regardless of why I bought the shorts, the reason I am wearing them right now is because I like them, because they are comfortable, and because I hardly get a chance to wear them. One of my favorite sayings is that women don't buy dresses for events. They buy dresses and then find events to wear them to. I have twice as many dresses in my closet as I should have, considering how little I wear them, so a lot of times when going out to something even slightly special, I wonder if it would be overkill to put one of them on. I know I should get rid of some of them (and I will), but the thought of that is difficult because I like them all so much.

The neglected dress. Being enshrined in a closet isn't enough.
So that's another reason women dress up--because they feel like they're neglecting their nice clothes. Lastly and most importantly though, the reason women dress up and/or show off their body is for: 

4. Themselves

Duh. Any time a fashion show wants to talk about why fashion is important, they talk about how fashion affects one's self-esteem. Of course, one's self-esteem can't be completely resurrected by a good wardrobe--nor do I think the wardrobe should even play a large or foundational part. It might help though. After all, one could argue that a woman (or a man) who doesn't care about what she looks like has given up on herself. She has no respect for herself or the people around her. It's not a bad thing to take pride in one's appearance.

Sometimes a women will compliment another woman on her appearance. The first women might say something along the lines of, "I was feeling yucky today." The other women will nod in understanding. Sometimes dressing up can make you feel better about yourself, even if no one admires you but yourself.



Friday, April 19, 2013

20 Reasons Not to Trash the Dress

Ladies, it is your prerogative to destroy anything you own, as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else. That being said, I think it's a stupid idea. See my full meditation here.

Things you can do with your wedding dress besides trashing it:
  1. Do a fearless bridal that won't totally trash it instead 
  2. Save it for a group friend photo
  3. Save it in a frame
  4. Save it for your daughter (at least a piece of it)
    Even if the style is too old-fashioned for her, she can still carry a piece.
  5. Save it for your 10-year anniversary, where you can accessorize it with aluminum jewelry (apparently it used to be valuable)
    From Chloe's Ethical Accessories
  6. Save it for your vow renewal
    Even happier, now that you know what marriage is like. (AinaKai Photography)
  7. Resell it
  8. Donate it
  9. Rent it out to other brides
  10. Rent it out to people who need full-length white dresses
    See your dress on stage
  11. Better yet, lend it out (it will make you happier)
  12. Make stuff out of it
  13. Dye it and wear it
  14. Shorten it and wear it
  15. Convert it and wear it (especially if the dress had a nice bodice)
    Lingerie or daring top?
  16. Wear it when you're feeling sassy
    Dance when nobody's watching
  17. Wear it when you're feeling down
    Remember this?
  18. Wear it for Halloween
  19. Wear it to the Brides of March
    Be truly daring, and wear it while shopping and drinking about town
  20. Wear it out to a different Starbucks every week for free coffee
    Who's to say you're not getting married that day? You're wearing a wedding dress, aren't you?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Why Trash the Dress?

There's an incredible amount of energy put into finding the perfect wedding dress. You even need to say yes to the dress, the way you say yes to your fiancé. In addition to the dress, there are the accessories--the bridal shoes, the bridal veil, the bridal jewelry (besides the wedding ring).

Pre-wedding dresses.
There's not just the dress for the wedding! Just as a wedding ceremony is not just a wedding ceremony anymore, but an engagement party, a bridal shower, a bachelor and bachelorette party, a rehearsal dinner, and a wedding, a bride may choose to purchase not only a wedding dress, but also an engagement dress, a bridal shower dress, a bachelorette party dress, a rehearsal dress, and a wedding dress. Plus there's the silk robe to wear when getting dressed for the wedding. The lingerie to wear after the wedding. Plus an all-purpose T-shirt whenever you are feeling sufficiently (or in-sufficiently) bride-like. 

Why all this conspicuous consumption? It's a two-way street. As much as we would like to place the blame solely on the shoulders of the wedding industry, there wouldn't be such a huge supply if there wasn't at least some demand. Sure, some (much) of the demand was artificially created, but girls sure love shopping, especially for pretty clothes that make them feel special.

What about trash the dress, the post-wedding event? Apparently a Las Vegas photographer suggested it. The idea was that he was bored of normal wedding photos. He wanted to do something fun, like an actual fashion shoot, which includes juxtaposing the elegant with the trashy. So he convinced a bride to do the shoot. Now other photographers are pushing the idea. Why?

Vancouver photographer Darcie Radtke says, “A lot of people are interested in trash-the-dress shoots but when it comes to their own dress, they have a fear of actually doing it. But most women have these dresses and put them in their closet and never look at them again. This is a way to have beautiful, lasting images of your dress.”

But don't women already have beautiful, lasting images of their dress from their wedding pictures? I hardly think they need more. It might also be better to have a beautiful, lasting dress (hence many women's fears of trashing them).

Romantically tragic.
I have to admit, as financially irresponsible as the idea is, some trash-the-dress pictures look pretty nice. Besides the romantic and sexy ones (which, again, could occur at a wedding), there are some effects that are hard to achieve without a body of water. Some seem Ophelia-esque (just be careful to not actually become like Ophelia). Some seem daring. How many times are you going to jump off a cliff into the ocean? Maybe a few times. How many times are you going to jump off a cliff into the ocean wearing a thousand dollar dress? Only once, likely, even if you are in the habit of buying thousand dollar dresses.

Once in a lifetime plunge. Literally. Even more so than the wedding itself.
There's a reason for that. Why ruin a thousand dollar dress that you spent months searching for (and then having tailored to your body)? Personally, I wouldn't even trash a hundred dollar dress. I spent money on that dress! I'm going to wear it again. I'm going to wear it until the cost-per-wear is under a dollar, even if I have to wear it to my neighbor's kid's birthday party to do it.

Trash the dress, with friends.
There's other things you can do with your dress besides trash it, even if you aren't going to wear it every day for the next six years to make the cost-per-wear worth it. For one thing, you could save it for a fun friend photo (after all of your friends are married, knock-on-wood).

You could donate it to goodwill or a bride-in-need. Or you can donate it on a more temporary basis to be used in school plays and graduations, or let your kids trash it when they use it for dress up (that's what my fiancé's mother did, and her dress is still in pretty good shape).

You could wear it again when you renew your vows. You can save it so that your daughter (or granddaughter) can wear it (or at least some part of it). You could have the skirt shortened and dye it another color and make it your go-to formal dress.

Suddenly measuring out one's life in coffee spoons doesn't seem so bad.
Maybe that takes away from the singularity of the dress? Maybe. But isn't that what marriage is? The turning of an extravaganza into the quotidian? Isn't that a good thing?

At the very least, you can always try putting on your dress again and head over to Starbucks for a free coffee.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Why are Weddings such a Big Deal?

Pinterest has a whole section devoted to weddings. Women not even engaged yet (sometimes not even with a partner!) pin their dream weddings. Why so much investment in this ideal? Why is it so pervasive and so overblown?

I have two theories: singularity and identity.

By singularity I mean that for most women, this is the biggest party they will ever throw in their lives, and for many women this is the first party they will throw. For some it will be the only one. At least it seems this way. Both tradition and the wedding market encourage this. Traditionally, getting married is a major milestone. This was when you not only committed yourself to a person for eternity, but also became an adult and moved out of your parents' house and started having sex.

The singularity of the event means that women will pour in a lot of effort to make sure that this day is the perfect day. They will muse about the menu, cogitate about flowers, and agonize over the dress, because there's only one chance that they can get this right--and it will be photographed and filmed for future posterity and facebook.

I found that it takes a lot of pressure off to not think about the wedding as the only party I will ever plan. If something doesn't make the cut or is too prohibitively expensive, I can file it away for some future party, such as an anniversary, my bridal shower, or a friend's wedding (at the risk of becoming a bridemaidzilla). Bacon-wrapped canapes don't fit the theme? I can make them for a dinner party. Peonies too expensive? Hint to husband that they would make a nice anniversary gift. Tulle canopy held aloft by balloons not appropriate for an indoor wedding? Save it for a friend's bridal shower (or birthday).

It's very liberating. Instead of agonizing over whether or not I'm making the best choice, I can put it down to deliberating about the right choice, and comfort myself with the idea that I can still experience all those other photo-worthy displays some other time in my life (if I still care).

What about identity? After all, a wedding is now less of a community event and more of an expression of the bridal couple (or at least the bride). It could express how they have money, or it could express that the couple enjoy the irony of wearing expensive outfits and drinking fancy signature cocktails out of mason jars in a barn. Seeing that this is a large gathering of realtime people, the couple probably want to represent themselves well. It's an expression of what they value, calculated by what they choose to spend their money on.

Offbeat bride celebrates this. The introduction to the book talks about how it was important for the wedding to convey how the bridal couple were, instead of going through the motions of wearing a veil and walking down an aisle to appease family and community. One Perfect Day warns that this is not only a marketing tactic, but a harbinger of a breakdown of community. An Atlantic article warns that just because your wedding isn't unique, doesn't mean you aren't getting married.

My take aligns more with offbeat bride. Even though a wedding is in some ways more about the people invited than the bridal couple, if the community didn't accept the couple for who they were, I don't think they would go. Also, a lot of the hipster ideas regarding rented barns and mason jars are, in fact, ways of saving money, though the wedding industry has proprietized those practices. As for the Atlantic article--isn't that the point? To express oneself while still participating in something that, even 50 years from now, you can point to in your outdated video to your grandchildren and still have them recognize it as a wedding?

Anyway, I wanted a lot of things for my wedding, not out of practicality, but because I had an idea of it in my head or because I thought it went with a theme I liked. I spent a lot of money on flowers because I wanted a bouquet (as did my bridesmaids). I didn't want all-Asian catering, even though it would have been cheaper. I am going to get married in an Asian-American Museum, not only because it's relatively cheap and the right size and I'm afraid of getting married outside because of the weather, but because I thought it was appropriate for my identity. That's why I stuck with those choices even when costs and hidden charges got racked up.

Vera Wang's 2013 red bridal collection. To aim at the Chinese market?
I also considered wearing a red dress (one part practicality, one part tradition, two parts because it matches the venue). My friend asked me, why not get married at city hall if I'm not going to wear a white dress? Why have any of it? Why invite people from both sides of the Pacific to this thing where we pay for them to eat fancy food and unlimited wine and beer, in the process coordinating headache-inducing schematics including timelines, spreadsheets, websites, and $200 worth of flowers, for the love of all that is good and holy? (My fiance wonders this whenever I try to coordinate with him.)

Well, because I still wanted a wedding, even if it's not completely traditional. To say that a different colored dress would invalidate that was pretty insulting.

It will be (I swear) the most expensive party I will ever throw in my life. It will have the largest number of guests (that I personally invite and know of). It is the only time I will ever rent out a venue or hire a caterer. It is (hopefully) the only time I will ever get married.

It is also a chance to express myself, my culture, and my love for my husband-to-be.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Why Commit?

When marriage first came up between me and my boyfriend, I freaked out a little. I was loved my boyfriend, but thought we hadn't been together long enough to test-run the relationship. I practically lived with my boyfriend, but I thought I was too young to marry. I had always thought I would be one of those women who would focus on her career and marry after she was 30. After all, those women have more intelligent children (it's in the first book--take my word for it). Besides which, the subject had come up out of the blue.

So I dealt with my feelings of unease the way I deal with all of my problems. By reading a lot of books about the subject. These books helped me in different ways. No Cheating, No Dying made me realize that a relationship is still dynamic and fun after marriage. Committed's gem was this:

It's a crazy-cool story with aquamarine analogies and everything. There's also an anti-cheating hack (basically don't keep more secrets with someone else than with each other). However, the book never really elucidated to me why it made sense to be committed, especially if you're not going to have children. It did lay out the problem pretty neatly though: "The problem, simply put, is that we cannot choose everything simultaneously. So we live in danger of becoming paralyzed by indecision, terrified that every choice might be the wrong choice."

I decided to make the leap anyway. It's always an emotional choice anyway, no matter how you try to analyze and categorize it. I knew when I could not only think about marriage without anxiety, but with excitement. And this week a letter to The Atlantic explained it all:

Freedom in commitment is a beautiful, paradoxical idea. It reminded me of Barry Schartz's Paradox of Choice. Once we stop wanting to have it all, you can focus on how to cultivate what you have chosen. You can now imagine your life together--what your house will look like, how you will raise your kids. Also realize that you can still do a lot of the things you used to do as a single person or a childless couple when you're married with kids.

What about my children? Well, I'm assuming the fact that I considered getting married after 30 is indicative enough of my intelligence that I will be able to pass on those genes. What about my career? Well, after reading Penelope Trunk, I'm now worried that I'm not going to start having children soon enough.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Sure, Blame Feminism for the Hook-up Culture

Interesting article in The Atlantic magazine today about how interviewer Freitas determined the hook-up culture is not all that it's cracked up to be. It argues that hooking up is, well, boring most of the time, or leads to unsatisfying sex. This makes sense. How are people supposed to get good at sex if all of their experience are drunken one-night stands?

Stereotypes aside (the article features much anecdotal evidence, if no statistics), it's an interesting way of giving people and excuse to opt-out of the hook-up culture without seeming like a Puritanical prude. It reminds me of something (god help me) Stephanie Meyer once said about Edward and Bella's relationship (before all the BDSM of their marriage night),"I get some pressure to put a big sex scene in," Meyer says. "But you can go anywhere for graphic sex. It's harder to find a romance where they dwell on the hand-holding. I was a late bloomer. When I was 16, holding hands was just--wow" (Time).

Sounds pretty good. Why settle for mediocre sex when you can get great hand-holding (and more)? This reminds me of "The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy" from The Vagina Monologues, where it is stated that "moans are connected with not getting what you want right away."

When we fall in love, a smorgasbord of chemicals in our brains make us lose appetite, develop OCD, but also make us very, very happy. That only lasts for about a year though. Some scientists have used that as evidence that humans aren't made for monogamy. There are even love addicts now, that go in search of a new partner as soon as the hormonal and neurotransmitter high fades. In a way, this may seem like an endorsement of of hook-up culture, but hey--a year. That's a long time to be with someone in these hook-up times.

In any case, assuming that hook-up culture is boring, what is one to do? The article argues that the solutions Freitas are not viable. That's reasonable when the only proposed solution seems to be for adults to warn young adults of the dangers of unsatisfying hook-ups. Any viable inroads on this subject probably have to come from within the generation itself, such as in young adult TV (Girls portrays sex as pretty mediocre most of the time), facebook groups, etc.

My real issue with the article though, is that it states Freitas "feminism a pass, even while acknowledging that many feminist writers have welcomed the destruction of the traditional date, because such courting rituals 'propped up patriarchy,' as one feminist critic quoted in the book put it."

Since when has feminism ever gotten a pass? Most people don't even know what feminism is, or at least it's definition is very much in dispute, with people all up in arms every time a celebrity like Zooey Deschanel or Stephanie Meyer or Marissa Mayer choose to embrace or not embrace the label. The problem is that there have been at least three movements of feminism, and they don't always agree with each other.

It's probably somewhere between the 2nd and the 3rd movement that the traditional date was destroyed though. It probably propped up patriarchy because . . . men asked women out? Men paid for the dates? Sorry, but it seems pretty easy to resurrect the traditional date with feminist trappings: go Dutch! And yes, women can ask men out too sometimes (even if most date books which dabble in evolutionary psychology advise against this). And yes, women can arrange dates as well!

My boyfriend (now my fiance) and I did all three. I told him that I liked him, and we mutually decided where to go for a date. At the end of the date I told him that I believed in going Dutch, which he had no problem with (though he subverted the practice by buying me chocolate bars). When we go out nowadays? The planning? All me. Which seems to be the norm among married couples. (It's called "invisible work.") Every once in awhile in complains, but then again he doesn't have any alternatives (besides staying home, and since we stay home 80% of the time, I win the 20% of the time I arrange dates).

In short, while "it seems legitimate to wonder if feminism has unwillingly equalized the sexual playing field to allow women the freedom to behave with as much recklessness as men, as Ariel Levy argued in Female Chauvinist Pigs" whatever's done can be undone. The pendulum continues to swing. While, sure, feminists want the freedom to act like chauvinist pigs without any more condemnation than male chauvinist pigs, that doesn't mean that we all want to be chauvinist pigs, anymore than all men want to be chauvinist pigs. I don't believe feminism is women becoming like men. I think feminism is men and women becoming like each other. Somewhere in that middle ground, maybe we can not participate in hook-up culture without becoming Puritanical prudes.