Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Chapter 11 - the chapter that made me love this book

Chapter 11 "I Get Into Fashion", is the chapter that made me love this book. Moran, aged 24, finally has enough spare cash on hand so that she can go clothes shopping. Since her backround is grunge, she normally wears the same few clothes over and over again until they wear out, buys clothes at jumble sales, and wears Doc Martens. Now that she has enough money to shop like a grown up, she learns about the need to accessorize and to wear heels.

Thirteen years later, Moran has collection of heels that she doesn't wear because they are excrucuatingly painful and often made her fall down the stairs. To quote Moran:

"Why are all these shoes unworn? Ladies, I'm going to put it on the line. I'm going to say what, over the last 13 years, I have gradually realized, and what we all secretly knew anyway, the first time we put heels on: there're only ten people in the world, tops, who should actually wear heels. And six of those are drag queens. The rest of us just need to...give up. Surrender. Finally acquiesce to what nature is telling us. We can't walk in them. WE CANNOT WALK IN THE DAMN THINGS. We might just as well be stepping out in antigravity boots, or roller skates." (p. 195).

This is actually true. One of the earliest forms of high heels were worn by Venetian courtesans, who needed servants to assist them as they walked down the street. Most prostitutes died young and poor. Some, like the famous Veronica Franco, ended up before the Inquisition.

High heels were also popular among the men of the court of Louis the XIV, France's Sun KIng. Louis deliberately forced his courtiers to move to court and spend their disposable income on frivolous items such as heels, jewelry, and furniture because under previous kings the nobles had stayed home and spent their money on armies, which they then used to try to overthrow the king. Louis realized that getting his courtiers hooked on conspicuous consumption would keep them broke, under his eye, and less likely to try to cause a revolution. It worked.

This also works with women. It is now Fashion Week in NYC. I realize that Fashion Week generates enormous revenues for NYC and helps support the city's reputation as one of the most glamorous places in the world. I've spent the week gazing at the fashion sections of the local papers. Most fashion is aimed at women, who are expected to spend money to stay fashionable - to own the latest trends.

However, fashion is also expensive. Money spent on designer shoes, or even illegal knockoffs of shoes, is money that could be saved to buy an apartment, invested in a retirement fund, or used to pay tuition or start a business. Women over 65 in the U.S. have much higher rates of poverty and near poverty than men. One cause is that women have lower salaries than men, but they also are not investing in retirement plans to compensate for the lower salaries.

There is less pressure on men to spend money on fashion. Male fashion changes less radically; male shoes and clothing are more durable because manufacturers know men want to wear their clothes for more than one season. To quote Moran once again "Indeed, I've pretty much given up on women's shoes altogether. Even women's flats seem insubstantial and sloppily made, compared to mens" (p. 197) Women's shoes are less substantial because in most cases, manufacturers don't expect women to wear them for more than a season. Since they spend less time and money on clothes shopping, men have more time and resources to do other things, many of which earn them money, or they can actually save some money rather than spend it on clothes.

While Moran is on strike against women's shoes, I'm not that extreme. I don't care if other women wear heels - I just don't want to have to buy them or wear them. However, as Moran points out on p. 202, women are judged by what they wear, by men and especially by other women. "How women look is considered generally interchangeable with who we are-and, therefore, often goes on to dictate what will happen to us next." (p. 203).
This last statement is something I'll discuss in tomorrow's post.


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