Saturday, December 1, 2007

Downdraft, Clothes for the New Working Wasteland

Novelist and journalist Emma Forrest reflects on the sartorial differences between Los Angeles and London in a Guardian column. Using Victoria Beckham as example, Forrest delineates the social symbology implied in Beckham's choice of garments. Beckham is continuously dressed to the nines, whether in the catwalk catbird seat or attending to more prosaic activities, while all around her Hollywood dresses in a fashion downdraft. As Forrest points out, casual in Hollywood terms is closer to salvage extempore.

While in London, Beckham's brand of dress isn't overtly conspicuous, but in Hollywood the language of Beckham's designer duds brands her as a roturier. The parade of labels then telegraphs both ignorance and arrogance, flouting the cultural convention of sloppiness as next to saintliness. Or messiness as next to morality.

Even though I live in the thick of it and should have the code down pat, I went to two interviews overdressed. I overcooked it while at the same time taking all of its secret language into account. I thought I was dressed with simple elegance, clean lines, and no-bullshit black. I'm not twenty.

Each interviewer commented, suspiciously.

I wore black slacks, a plainer pair of Choos, and a simple blouse. I didn't rattle any pearls, didn't cage myself in blobs of bling. It is tempting to think the shoes were at fault, that the heels signaled a nasty case of Manhattan-style aggression, but their jeans told me otherwise. My choice of apparel caused each person to apologize for his own appearance.

I may as well have had on a sign that read: WHAT, ME WORK?

Short of being a sign of professionalism and respect, my choice of clothing signaled that I wouldn't be atta-girl, and that I would be unable to get my hands dirty.

A corollary might be drawn between this new disheveled trend and the abnegation of Hollywood mores by the members of the Group Theatre, of which Frances Farmer was the primary political exemplification. The actress, who straddled both Broadway
and Hollywood, was a constant aggravation to her studio for refusing to identify with its value system. Farmer hated the dream factory dress-up and cosmetic adornment. "I dress as I like," she announced, wearing an old raincoat. From a philosophical standpoint, Farmer strongly identified with the working-class hero and his ethical struggles against capitalist society.

Forrest contends that Young Hollywood strives to be seen as the bum-bin labor force, because to do otherwise would break the canon of the Protestant work ethic into "want" rather than "necessity." "Want" is an ugly, ambitious word, "necessity" implies grace, stoicism, and admirable values. In dressing sloppily and without stylistic regard, young actors and actresses become, as Forrest points out, one with the people.

Except that those people generally live under bridges, not in $20,000,000. mansions.



WendyB said...

It's fun to be overdressed. Not if it costs you a job. But at other times. I can look like crap in my apartment all day, I might as well make the most of going out.

riz said...

I can't get over how brilliant the writing here is...more comments soon. You are a stellar writer. much of what you write here is what most of us spent hours struggling with in our Graduate Seminar on Marx...I'd much rather be reading your blog!

Suzanna Mars said...

Wendy, I really thought I was just being kind of...spare! White shirt, black slacks, decent heels. I join you in looking like crap in your apt. though. Sometimes that is far more fun for me.

Riz, thanks for your lovely comments. Marx is a tough slog for anyone. Then there's all that French philosophy...

Curella said...

goodness! You write so well! You should so write for Elle or Vogue or Harpers Bazaar! xoxo

Libertygirl said...

Ah - the bliss! An intelligent blog-ette! I linked that Grauniad article to all my friends in London. Your blog is ace. xxx

Suzanna Mars said...

Thank you, LLG, I am a fan of yours as well! You have a human "face" on your blog that is a true pleasure to find in the cybermists.

Plus, I learn what I'm missing in Manhattan, sigh.

Emma said...

Down with the dreary tyranny of the 'not trying too hard' look. I'm glad to live in London where you can wear whatever you like without anyone turning a hair. Although Liverpool is the true home of dressing up - people start planning their outfits for Saturday night on a Wednesday and don't care who knows it...