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power dressing


And following a series of allegations of sexual assault against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, it seems everybody’s been speaking up. But not always to speak truth to power. In fact, in the case of Donna Karan, who created the ultimate capsule wardrobe to celebrate ‘the power of a woman’ 30 years ago, her original defence of the mogul sounded more like speaking truth to, well, power dressing.

“How do we display ourselves? How do we present ourselves as women? What are we asking? Are we asking for it by presenting all the sensuality and all the sexuality?” she mused.

She’s since retracted this statement, but it was still a shame to hear it from a designer who once said: “Today, fashion is really about sensuality – how a woman feels on the inside.” And who was famous for her pared down collections that artfully skimmed the body of the wearer. I once snapped up one of her dresses in a sale and felt fantastic every time I wore it. I don’t think I would’ve felt as good if it had been sold off the back of her more recent quotes!

Then Mayim Bialik, who I admire for her blog, her acting career which I’ve followed from her starring role as a child actor in Blossom up to her current role in the Big Bang Theory, (*and also just on the principle that I’ll admire anyone who has a doctorate in neuroscience) wrote a piece for the NY Times on being a feminist in Harvey Weinstein’s world.

In it, she stated: “As a proud feminist with little desire to diet, get plastic surgery or hire a personal trainer, I have almost no personal experience with men asking me to meetings in their hotel rooms. Those of us in Hollywood who don’t represent an impossible standard of beauty have the “luxury” of being overlooked and, in many cases, ignored by men in power unless we can make them money.

“I still make choices every day as a 41-year-old actress that I think of as self-protecting and wise. I have decided that my sexual self is best reserved for private situations with those I am most intimate with. I dress modestly. I don’t act flirtatiously with men as a policy.”

Of course, they’re valid choices. But they’re not choices that Mayim Bialik or anybody else should have to make in order to stay safe around men in power. Because, of course, people in power have a responsibility not to put anyone in danger, no matter how they look, no matter what they’re wearing, and no matter how eye catching they may be.

And no matter how many times we’ve read the words ‘statement bag’ (*too many, I fear, in my case) of course, our outfits can’t make a statement. They’re just piles of fabric to wear as we please and cast aside at the end of the day. So rather than asking, as I feel both Donna Karan and Mayim Bialik have in different ways, what is the right outfit, the outfit that says respect me and don’t back me into a corner in a Hollywood hotel room, perhaps we should be asking different questions. Better questions. Questions like: shouldn’t we be expecting more from the most powerful people on the planet than we expect from a dumb, inanimate pile of cloth?

And even if you disagree with me here and feel that we should still be mindful of what our clothes are ‘signalling’, I’d suggest that the people who commit sexual assault are by definition not reading any signals. So even if wardrobes could talk, they really couldn’t help with this one.

Of course, I’m not saying that anyone who indirectly implicates our wardrobe choices in abuses of power is at the heart of the problem either. Clearly, all responsibility for any misuse of power lies with the person who has that power. I just think that it’s about time we gave our wardrobes a break. Unlike that time when they tried to convince us that applying denim twice within the same outfit just might work, this time, they’ve genuinely done nothing wrong.

Image: Courtesy of Buzzfeed.

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  1. Hi there! This article couldn’t be written much better!
    Looking at this article reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He continually kept preaching about this. I’ll send this article to him.
    Fairly certain he’ll have a very good read. Many thanks for sharing!

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