Last weekend I attended a local fashion show, which might as well be held in a high school gym: with few exceptions all the models were teens. Bored and provocative ones. Youth culture glorified for an hour and a half while all I could think was here we go again. I mean really, is Lolita as far as we are ever going to aim for in women’s fashion? Must we be subjected to one slouched anorexic 15 year old after another in lieu of confident and poised women? Don’t get me wrong, youthful designs inspire me, a reminder that life can begin again and rejuvenate endlessly, but there is a vacancy that I object to, a detached apathy, as if our greatest achievements are better shrugged off. Kate Moss has that practiced look, as does her younger version Cara Delevingne as evidenced in their latest ad campaign. Smudged eyes, messy hair, with a “Oh? You’re here to look at us?” look. No matter that they are sporting ONE $2,000. Burberry trench for the TWO of them, we feel only disdain under their gaze, as if we are the intruders in their private game and not, as they are, only models used to sell some thing.
In the recent September issue of Elle an article titled “On Being Lolita for Life” writer Stephanie LaCava justifies this latest trend of “the sexy schoolgirl look.” “Their beauty is not about perfect symmetry or womanly curves, but rather is based on a sense of mystery, of haunting, premature world-weariness.” But all I see is a glossy irony. Not a weariness born from the world, mind you, but the illusion of it. Penciled dark eyes, rather than those we acquire from adult worries. Once you have had real trouble, the kind that leaves you flattened, you sure don’t want to show that reality with dark circles or dull hair. But to rise from those real worries? After months, the strong among us cultivate a small sliver of hope, and every day add more and more to it until they finally stand, then walk, then open the door to breath life again. That’s the strength I want to see in woman’s fashion.
Instead marketing campaigns our underage daughters into “a taste for darkness” as LaCava calls it. “On the fall runway at Saint Laurent, there were Madeline-perfect peacoats, Courtney Love circa “Doll Parts” velvet dresses with white collars, plaid minis, liberal polka dots, thick black school-girl tights, and shiny Maryjanes—every piece worn by a slip of a girl who looked a bit disheveled, as if she’d thrown it all together before heading out to the Paris streets. In his four seasons helming the house, Hedi Slimane has kept returning to the fascination of youth, the magnetic power of girlhood” (LaCava). Forever 21? Is this what we want to feed our girls and how we should clothe our women?
As I add another decade to my years, I look for role-models to lead me along this uncharted course. I need women who embrace substance and style yet who care less about looking like an adolelscent than looking like the very self they have lived through trial and celebration to cultivate.
My inspiration comes from the women Ari Seth Cohen chronicles in his Advanced Style blog. There is no shortage of pizzazz from these “advanced” women, in fact, there is whimsy and panache in their personal styling but no attempt to hide their years. There is no feigning angst either; these women showcase years of overcoming real worries with joy and wisdom bursting their life lines. Apathy didn’t get them to where they are, and they wouldn’t pretend otherwise for a single second.
Looking at their eclectic mash of eras and styling sense, of their favorite years blended with their toughest, one sees a compelling course for those of us lucky enough to outlive youth. Bring me that fashion show. That catwalk. I’d be happy to see these women strut.