fashion harkened back to blatant cover-up
As autumn approached, journalist Olivia Baker coined the ‘‘Britney
effect,’’ alleging that trendsetting starlets like Ms. Spears, Mariah
Carey, and Jennifer Lopez were creating mother – daughter ‘‘back-toschool
battles.’’ Baker poses provocative mock questions: ‘‘Does
Britney’s racy style have a bad influence on young girls?’’; ‘‘Would
you let your daughter dress like Britney?’’ (1).
In effect, such media spin served as a commercial ensuring that for
another season or two the style would remain mainstream attire. It only
began to wane in the summer of 2003, after the US invasion and occupation
of Iraq. Following the November 2, 2004, presidential election,
it became passe´. Hollywood’s Academy Awards show on February 28,
2005 dramatically exhibited the fade-out. Ella Taylor mocked Oscar
award winner Hilary Swank’s gown—a backless, ruched, high-necked
and long-sleeved Guy Laroche design—as ‘‘a pneumatically enhanced
Speedo with a fish tail and a get-thee-to-a-nunnery front’’ (10). The
apparel at ‘‘Oscar at 77’’ definitely eschewed any raunchy exposure of
The spring 2005 fashions also spurned outrageously porous designs,
shocking shades, and bold patterns. The new arrivals featured subtle
sophistication in the form of classically tailored jackets, romantically
pretty dresses, neat black pencil skirts, and pastel-shaded skirts finished
with a gentle sheen and embellished with delicate metallic embroidery.
Mirroring the ultraconservative choice made by fifty-nine million US
voters, fashion harkened back to blatant cover-up.
These conservative styles parade as major values: secrecy, security,
and the right-winged Christian dread of raw flesh and condemnation of
unbridled sensuality. Long gypsy skirts, worn with a belt as an accessory,
drape the truth of the flesh. So do pleated skirts, accompanied
by a cardigan sweater. The tastefully chic short skirts are demure, not
racy. Pretty tunic tops hide the torso from neck to below the midriff.
Cropped slacks and trousers expose just the woman’s ankle—minimally
seductive no matter how nicely turned. With the return of the Empire
style in the summer 2005, the waist of dresses migrates from just above
980 Richard J.Alapack
the hips to just below the solar plexus. Ads crow that their conservative
designs ‘‘flatters your curves and creates a shapely silhouette while simultaneously
draping the navel. Empire waists haven’t been this popular since
Napoleon set up housekeeping on Elba’’ (MSN Shopping, 3). Within a
six-year span, styles had flip-flopped 180 degrees. By the time Hurricane
Katrina hit, the radical shift to reactionary clothing was complete.
Such unblushing epiphany followed by severe veiling requires interpretive
probing to uncover psychosocial – political significance. ‘‘Are
these clothes flattering, or beautiful?’’ ‘‘Is the ‘butt-crack chic’ appealing?’’
If so, what is the logic of the lure? Roland Barthes describes the
erotic triggers: ‘‘Is not the most erotic portion of the body where the
garment gapes? The intermittence is erotic . . . skin flashing between two
articles of clothing . . . this flash is erotic, the staging of appearanceas-
disappearance and disappearance—soon-to-reappear’’ (9 – 10). Spring
Snow exemplifies the basic structure of such lure. The young protagonist,
Kiyoaki, ‘‘reels’’ in the face of Princess Kasuga’s ‘‘dazzling burst
of elegance . . . a great fan of white fur a-glow fading to the sound of
music, like a snow-covered peak first hidden then exposed by the fluid pattern
of clouds’’ (Mishima 7).
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